10 Easy ingredient substitutions to rescue your recipe

Jun 22, 2015 at 11:30 a.m. ET
Image: Olgakr/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Nothing's worse than realizing you're out of a crucial ingredient at the last minute. Here are some last-minute hacks to keep dinner on schedule.

Weeknight cooking can be stressful enough, even if you love to do it. There's virtually no time to pop out to the grocery store if you find that, mid sauté, you're missing something vital to your recipe. But back away from the takeout menu, because there is hope.

1. Cilantro

1 bunch of cilantro = 1 bunch of flat-leaf parsley + 1 teaspoon of honey

Cilantro is a love-it-or-hate-it ingredient. If you hate it, then good news: You can usually leave it out altogether. But if you love it, then you can replace it with parsley. Parsley is more bitter, though, so tempering it with honey can get you close to cilantro without affecting the overall flavor of a dish.

2. Ketchup

1 cup of ketchup = 1 cup of tomato sauce + 1 teaspoon of vinegar + 1 tablespoon of sugar

I'm not one to judge a ketchup lover, since I myself am one. Whether you're using it in cooking or as a condiment, it's pretty easy to replace, and you can adjust the sugar and vinegar until you're happy with the way it tastes.

3. Mayonnaise

1 cup of mayonnaise = 1 cup of low-fat Greek yogurt

Greek yogurt is having a pretty big moment right now and can fill in for lots of missing ingredients, so it's always a good idea to have some in the fridge. Just be aware that you'll be getting a slightly tangier taste with this substitution.

4. Mustard

1 tablespoon of mustard = 1 tablespoon of dry mustard powder + 1 teaspoon of water + 1 teaspoon of vinegar + 1 teaspoon of sugar

Don't write off mustard as an ingredient even if you hate it as a condiment. It goes great on roasting meats before you pop them into the oven and is easy enough to whip up even if you don't have a jar on hand.

5. Panko breadcrumbs

1 cup of panko = 1 cup of cracker crumbs

What makes panko different from regular breadcrumbs is its texture; it's coarser and more consistent. You can mimic that texture by using anything from cracker crumbs to crushed tortilla chips. You can also go the distance by toasting and shredding bread slices, but you'll easily go through half a loaf to yield 1 cup of panko.

6. Sour cream

1 cup of sour cream = 1 cup of plain Greek yogurt

Greek yogurt saving the day again. Greek yogurt on its own comes pretty close to the taste of sour cream, but you can always get it one step closer by straining it through a cheesecloth-lined sieve or strainer to thicken it.

7. Fresh herbs

1 tablespoon of fresh herbs = 1 teaspoon of dried herbs

If you've ever wondered if you can fudge a recipe by swapping fresh herbs for dry, the answer is yes. You'll need a little less of them, though, since dried herbs have stronger flavors.

8. Lemon grass

1 stalk of lemon grass = 1 tablespoon of lemon zest

Lemon grass is commonly used in Asian dishes and can be hard to find in a run-of-the-mill grocery store. It's also tough to work with, so if you're in a hurry, consider using this cheat.

9. Chicken or beef stock

1 cup of chicken or beef stock = 1 cup of homemade vegetable stock

When you don't have canned or homemade stock on hand, it's easy to make a quick vegetable stock that will do in a pinch. To make it, boil 2 cups of water with a bunch of aromatic vegetables and spices — whatever you have on hand will do. Let it simmer down to 1 cup of stock, strain, and you're good to go.

10. Soy sauce

1/2 cup of soy sauce = 4 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce + 1 tablespoon of water

Let's be honest: There's no replacing soy sauce altogether. It has a flavor that can't really be imitated. But if the goal is to get dinner on the table, then this easy substitution will keep you on track.

More on cooking substitutions

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5 Food substitutions for a lean physique
Healthy ingredient substitutions for family meals