I’ve been writing my use it or lose it posts for some time now – long enough that they have their own page!
When I write a use it or lose it recipe I try hard to come up with something that doesn’t need you to buy a lot of extra ingredients. To me that defeats the purpose – when I realise I need to use up some yoghurt I don’t want to have to go out shopping and buy lots of new things just to use something else up before it goes off, that is an inefficient use of my time and might lead to more waste.
To me Use it is or Lose it is about making a complete meal or most of a meal, or something you can put in the freezer
But there are times when instead of building a quick store cupboard recipe around a Use It or Lose It item I just substitute something I have that is about to go off for something else. I want to use up the tiny bit of leftover yoghurt instead of opening a brand new pint of milk. Once I’ve opened the milk the clock starts running before it goes off, so I want to put that off for as long as possible. And if I don’t the yoghurt up now I’ll probably have to throw it away.
Sometimes we have a guest who is vegan, gluten free, or has a dairy allergy and substitutions need to be made. It is fairly easy to substitute a part of a meal on a plate swopping out pasta for potatoes if someone is gluten free. The tough challenge comes when you are substituting an ingredient like eggs, or you have some sour cream about to go off and you are about to make a recipe with a more complicated set of chemical/biological processes like bread.
The key to substituting is understanding the role that the ingredient plays in the recipe and then choosing something (or a combination of things) that will do the same job.
I think there are 5 ingredient roles:
1. Flavour (e.g. garlic, cheese, herbs, spices)
2. Texture (e.g. lentils, potatoes, pasta)
3. Structure (e.g. gluten)
4. Binding agent (e.g. eggs, chia seeds, sometimes just water/milk)
5. Raising agent (e.g. bicarbonate of soda + acid, baking powder, eggs)
(This is a theory in progress, I’m sure I’ll end up changing this list. If you think of anything then let me know!)
I’ll show you how I do it with a very simple case study: Hummous
Hummous – this is a great one for substituting and an easy starting point. Here is the basic recipe with the ingredients broke down into roles.
A) 1 tin of Chick Peas (Texture, Flavour, structureA)
B) 1 tablespoon of Tahini (Binding and Flavour)
C) 2 tablespoons lemon juice (Flavour)
D) Olive oil to blend until required consistency (Binding, Texture and Flavour)
E) Seasoning to taste (Flavour)
F) Clove of garlic (Flavour)
Put all the above in a food processor and blitz until you get your desired texture.
Here are the ways you can substitute. You can pick almost any combination of these as long as the flavours work together and you use the same – it might not be true “Hummous”, but it will be a tasty, homemade recipe that will be nutritious and enjoyable and hopefully avoid waste or an extra trip to the shops.
A) Any tinned beans like butter beans, cannellini beans, black beans, kidney beans (not baked beans or anything in a sauce), dried chickpeas or beans (soaked and cooked), defrosted frozen broad beans/peas or cooked fresh broad beans/peas.
B) Any nut or seed butter e.g. peanut butter, almond nut butter etc. Here is my recipe on how to make your own nut butter so you could go a step further and substitute this step just with nuts and oil as long as you make it into nut butter first.
(bonus tip: you won’t have to wash the food processor in between!)
C) Any fruit juice that is a bit sharp (but not orange or grapefruit – that would be too weird a flavour with the garlic) I’ve used pear, apple and pineapple with great results but you could use water in a pinch. (Thanks to Free Our Kids for this tip – everyone loves the apple juice version!)
D) Any oil. I’ve use Rapeseed with great results. I also think this is a good place to use up the fancy oils you buy for a recipe that needs 1 tsp and nothing more or the oils you get bought in those posh salad dressing gift sets. Because of this I’ve tried walnut and hazelnut and they have both been lovely!
E) Pick herbs and spices that go with the juice and beans you have chosen, we have a low salt diet because of R at the moment so instead of salt I’ve used lemon rind and fresh coriander, fresh mint and smoked paprika.
F) this is the garlic bit, you could substitute a garlic flavoured oil at D above, or add garlic chives or even just chives. But in a worst case scenario leave it out.
Obviously how the above combine will matter. If you make a “hummous” with peanut butter, chick peas water, olive oil and no garlic it will taste completely different than if you use broad beans, lemon and mint. You do need to develop a sense of which flavours go together and I started to do that by just switching out one ingredient at a time and seeing what worked.
Also use your imagination if you can imagine the combination of garlic and orange tasting pretty unpleasant then it probably will be (at least it will be to you!)
Some of the substitutions might just stick. Now I make Hummous with almond nut butter and apple juice as standard because everyone prefers it that way here at Westwick.
The Undisputed Champion of using up food and making substitutions is of course the amazing Jack Monroe from A Girl Called Jack. She is one of my favourite bloggers and has such a great mind for thinking sideways and using ingredients really creatively. Go and check her out!