How to Easily Modify Recipe Ingredients

How to Easily Modify Recipe Ingredients

Have you ever looked at a recipe, thought that it looked delicious, but it either contained ingredients you don’t like or don’t have?

Be Afraid… Be VERY AFRAID!

There is no need to be afraid of making recipe substitutions – it’s relatively easy for most dishes.

Some ingredients may be essential to a recipe when they are needed for binding or rising, e.g. a soufflé is a complex dish, because it requires egg yolks and whites to rise. If you’ve ever made a soufflé you know how much care is required in the cooking process so that it doesn’t fall.

When making bread and desserts if you change ingredients the entire recipe might not work. Baking involves more chemical processes to create a reaction, e.g. yeast or baking powder to help flour rise.

There is hope! It’s easy to make changes to most roasted or cooked meats, pan frying, pasta and rice dishes, vegetable dishes, etc.

Tips to Modify Recipe Ingredients

Onions and Garlic

You can use any type of onion (yellow, white, red, shallots, green onions) or none at all. Onions are a staple aromatic that bring flavour to most dishes and not one that I would choose to omit.

One caveat – if you’re making a white cream sauce you might want to use white onion for appearance, but if that’s not important to you, don’t bother.

Some people can’t stomach garlic (that makes me sad – I love the flavour of garlic!) and others can’t get enough!

I remember once someone telling me I had garlic breath and they thought that it was gross. Meanwhile they were puffing away on a cancer stick. Really? I’d rather kiss someone with garlic breath than ashtray mouth!

Slicing Garlic

Spices and Herbs

Let’s say you’re averse to most things spicy. If the recipe calls for chili flakes, cut the amount in half. If the recipe calls for Cayenne pepper, know that there are various degrees of hotness for some spices, Cayenne pepper being one of them.

At most grocery stores you will find the mildest form of cayenne pepper (not hot at all in my opinion). Go to a better store or a health food store and you will find some extremely hot cayenne pepper options, if that’s your thing.


Changing the type or cut of meat – a slow cooker recipe may call for a beef roast but why couldn’t you use lamb or pork? You may or may not need to adjust the spices that work well with a particular meat. For example Indian spices work well with lamb. Experiment and have fun changing things up!

White Potatoes

If the recipe calls for potatoes there are many varieties besides white, e.g. Yukon Gold, red, purple and fingerling. Or you could omit them entirely and replace them with another starchy vegetable like sweet potatoes, yams, squash, or a healthy grain like quinoa, bulgur, etc.

washed mini potatoes

Washing the mini potatoes for the slow cooker roast chicken recipe

White Sugar, Honey, Molasses

One of my favorite modifications is to remove any form of sugar from a recipe, where possible. If I’m cooking a main dish as far as I concerned there’s no need for added sugar.

[Tweet “If you want to make a meat or vegetable dish sweet do it naturally by adding whole fruit.”]

For example, see my baked mango chicken recipe.

Mango Chicken Breasts

Mango chicken breasts ready to bake

I use a lot of lemons and limes to play with sweet-and-sour against the natural sweetness of other ingredients. I will sometimes add oranges (note the many varieties of oranges that offer very different flavours), peaches, figs etc.

In baking, sugar may be essential, but it can usually always be reduced. I often use an organic, non-homogenized honey in place of sugar and reduce the volume by 50-75%. In loaves you can add plain canned pumpkin (unsweetened), which brings a natural sweetness and allows you to reduce the total amount of sugar.

Vinegars and Wine

Flavouring for the mango chicken

Flavourings for the mango chicken

These can be easily modified. I have a few types of vinegar that are my standards for cooking – they include organic white wine vinegar, organic apple cider vinegar with the “mother” and Balsamic vinegar.

Balsamic vinegar is one ingredient you should spend a little extra money on. Don’t buy the cheap $3 large bottle from the grocery store. Get a quality Balsamic that will probably cost $12-$20 (some Balsamics are like rare wine costing over $50 and well into hundreds of dollars!).

If you do a taste test of the cheap (fake Balsamic) and a real Balsamic vinegar you will realize the difference immediately. The cheap one is harsh and it’s basically white vinegar that has had flavorings and colours added to it. A true balsamic vinegar is made from scratch. It has a smooth, rich, and almost sweet taste with more intense flavours.

Sometime you can replace a vinegar with a wine or vice versa.

Soups and Stocks

I’m lazy. No that’s not true. I’m not a fan of making soup stocks because I usually don’t have bones lying around. I’m efficient. I prefer to buy boneless, skinless chicken breast and boneless roasts.

When I find a recipe that calls for stock – vegetable, beef or chicken – I don’t bother. I use water and increase the spices. Sometimes I’ll add white or red wine depending on the meat, e.g. red for beef and white wine for chicken or fish. Or I might use coconut milk in place of stock for an entirely different flavour (it will also thicken up a soup or stew).

Milk and Cream

Have a milk allergy or lactose intolerant? Sometimes you can replace milk with water, but other times the milk is needed to add flavour and thickness to a sauce.

For example, you can’t make a cream sauce with water and good luck trying to do that with almond or soy milk, but coconut milk works beautifully as a milk replacement. It’s already a bit of a thicker consistency so it may not need to be reduced as much as milk for a sauce. If you’re adding it to a soup in place of milk start with 50% less coconut milk vs. milk and taste the sauce to see if it’s to your liking.

Jalapeño Peppers

I love them, but as I’ve grown older it seems like my stomach can’t handle them as much as it used to and the next morning can be a little fiery “down below”. But the flavour is wonderful and you can cut the heat with one simple trick.

Cut off the stem end of the jalapeño and slice lengthwise. The heat in a jalapeño comes from the inside flesh where the seeds are attached. With a sharp pairing knife carefully slice underneath the seeds to include the fleshy attachment and remove. Now you’ll get all the flavor without the fire!

jalepeno cut in half

Jalapeño adds flavour to my Curried Quinoa and Carrots Pilaf

Oils and Fats

My go-to oils include extra-virgin olive oil, virgin coconut oil, sesame oil, organic butter (grass-fed when available) and yogurt. Use different oils for different flavours.

In baking you can often use a full fat yogurt to replace vegetable oil and in some cases you can use avocado.

Like bacon? Next time you cook it save the run-off grease. Use this sparingly, but it will add a rich flavour to certain dishes, can be used for frying and it’s a nice option for eggs in the morning!

What Did I Miss?

I would love to know about your favourite ways to change recipe ingredients. Leave me a comment below.

Eat well to be well!