Mark Bittman’s Master List of Interchangeable Ingredients

Put this list on your fridge

Photo: Romulo Yanes

For the rest of March, Heated is focused on cooking. With so many Americans holed up at home for an indefinite period, we want to highlight recipes, tricks, and techniques to make life easier during these uncertain times. We’ll still run profiles and reported stories, but we’re trying to meet people where they’re at: in their kitchens.

People ask me ALL the time, “If I don’t have X, can I use Y?” X = rosemary, Y = Thyme. X = sherry vinegar, Y = red wine vinegar. X = apples, Y = pears. You get the idea: They’re asking about ingredient substitutions, but really they’re requesting permission to ignore or defy parts of a recipe. My answer, 99.9 percent of the time, is “Go for it!”

Learning to swap in ingredients that we have on hand for ones that might require an added expense or an extra trip to the store is one of the most powerful things we can do as cooks. It makes us flexible and adaptable in the kitchen, which (I’m convinced) is the most sustainable, productive, and enjoyable way to cook. This list of interchangeable ingredients, below, is a good place to start: a rundown of pantry and fridge items (featuring lots of produce) with suggestions for what to use in their place when they’re called for in a recipe but you don’t have them around.

Here’s what this list is not: 1) Comprehensive; I wanted to keep it manageable to start. 2) Foolproof; cooking times and quantities can vary, and some of the substitutions will require your better judgment (for instance, wine can be a wonderful substitute for stock if you need to deglaze a pan, but is less appropriate for making soup). It’s not a silver bullet, but a way to build stronger habits in the kitchen; not a call to replace recipes, but a tool for making the recipes we use much more useful.

Whenever a recipe calls for something you don’t have, use this list for Plan B. The ingredients, not in bold can be substituted for those in bold and vice versa. Cooking times may vary a bit, but building some flexibility and adaptability into your everyday cooking will not only make it faster but more enjoyable.

Print it out and put it on the fridge (if you’re old school), remember from time to time that it’s here, or just use it as inspiration to color outside the lines.

Pantry and fridge staples

  • STOCK: Water, wine, beer (to taste, of course)
  • NUTS AND DRIED FRUIT: Any nut or dried fruit can be substituted for another.
  • VINEGAR: Any type will work; lemon and lime juice too.
  • FISH SAUCE: Soy sauce
  • DRIED OR FRESH RED CHILES: Red chile flakes or cayenne
  • COOKED/CANNED BEANS: Totally interchangeable
  • SOUR CREAM: Yogurt
  • HEAVY CREAM: Half-and-half (unless you’re whipping it)
  • CANNED/JARRED TUNA: Canned sardines

Herbs

  • CILANTRO: Parsley, basil
  • TARRAGON: Dill, mint, chives, chervil
  • ROSEMARY: Thyme, sage, oregano
  • SHALLOTS: Onions, leeks
  • LEMONGRASS: Lemon or lime zest

Meat, poultry, and seafood

  • GROUND BEEF: Ground pork, lamb, chicken, turkey, or duck
  • MEAT FOR STIR-FRY: Flank or sirloin steak; pork shoulder, leg, or loin; lamb shoulder; boneless chicken (preferably thighs)
  • MEAT FOR STEW: Boneless beef chuck or round, cubed beef brisket, pork shoulder or fresh ham (pork leg), leg of lamb or lamb shoulder
  • PORK CHOPS: Bone-in chicken thighs (which will require more cooking) or pork medallions cut from the tenderloin (which will cook more quickly)
  • BONELESS, SKINLESS CHICKEN BREASTS: Boneless chicken thighs (they generally take a little longer to cook); pork chops or steaks; turkey or veal cutlets; tofu steaks
  • SALMON: Trout
  • COD: Halibut, hake
  • SNAPPER: Catfish
  • SHRIMP: Scallops, squid
  • MUSSELS: Clams (they’re heavier, so go by count not weight)

Produce

Winter

  • BEETS: Turnips or rutabagas
  • CAULIFLOWER: Broccoli, broccoflower, Romanesco, or broccoli rabe
  • BRUSSELS SPROUTS: Cabbage
  • FENNEL: Celery
  • ORANGES: Grapefruit, pomelos, clementines, tangelos, or tangerines
  • COOKING GREENS LIKE KALE, CHARD, ESCAROLE, MUSTARD, BEET GREENS, OR BOK CHOY: All interchangeable; cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of their leaves and stems; or use cabbage
  • LEEKS: Onions, shallots, or scallions
  • JÍCAMA: Radishes, especially daikon; kohlrabi
  • PINEAPPLE: Oranges

Spring

  • ASPARAGUS: Green beans, snap peas, or broccoli rabe
  • LETTUCE AND SALAD GREENS LIKE ARUGULA, MESCLUN, ICEBERG, ROMAINE, SPINACH, AND SO ON: Raw, they’re all virtually interchangeable
  • TENDER GREENS FOR COOKING, LIKE SPINACH OR ARUGULA: Watercress or Napa cabbage
  • RHUBARB: Cranberries or tart cherries
  • FAVA BEANS: Lima beans or edamame (frozen are fine)
  • SNAP OR SNOW PEAS, OR FRESH PEAS: Frozen shelled peas

Summer

  • MANGO: Papaya or cantaloupe
  • BASIL: Cilantro, mint, chives, or parsley
  • PEACHES: Apricots, plums, or nectarines
  • CHERRIES: Currants, raspberries, blueberries, or grapes; for tart cherries, try cranberries
  • CUCUMBER: Celery, kohlrabi, or water chestnuts
  • CORN: Frozen corn
  • TOMATOES: Canned tomatoes
  • APRICOTS OR PLUMS: Dried apricots or plums
  • BELL PEPPERS: Mild cabbage-like Napa or Savoy, or frozen bell peppers

Fall

  • SHALLOTS: Any onion, especially red, or the white part of leeks
  • EGGPLANT: Zucchini or summer squash; celery root
  • APPLES: Pears
  • SWEET POTATOES: Carrots, parsnips, or winter squash
  • PARSNIPS: Carrots

Has published 30 books, including How to Cook Everything and VB6: The Case for Part-Time Veganism. Newsletter at markbittman.com.

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