If the grocery store is out of a key ingredient or what you’re looking for isn’t in season, it’s handy to know what to use in its place. And trading a less-appealing type of produce for one you love is the perfect way to make a dish more delicious. Substitutions can also help you stay on budget—you can tweak a recipe just a bit and use up the produce in your crisper rather than buying something new.
In the case of fruits, veggies and herbs, there aren’t a lot of hard-and-fast rules for making substitutions. There’s plenty of room to play with different options to create a new dish just by switching up a single ingredient.
Sometimes you can make a substitution without changing the recipe at all. Other times, your swap will require a small tweak to create a brand-new take on a recipe you love. Let your palate be your guide, and enjoy the creativity that substitutions bring to your cooking.
Sweet peppers: Sweet green peppers are not as sweet as red, yellow or orange peppers, but they are otherwise identical. Cubanelle peppers are equally mild and make good substitutions, too.
Mushrooms: White (or button), cremini and portobello mushrooms can all stand in for one another as long as they’re cut to the size the recipe indicates. Less common mushrooms, such as shiitake, oyster and king oyster, work well in stir-fries, soups and more. Rehydrated dried mushrooms are a good alternative, plus you can use the soaking liquid as a flavour booster in sauces and soups.
Tomatoes: Cherry, grape and cocktail tomatoes are all delicious in salads. Larger field tomatoes are a summertime treat; out of season, use hothouse or imported tomatoes. Fresh plum tomatoes make excellent pasta sauce.
Stone fruits are interchangeable. To make the most of in-season fruits, you can easily switch up peaches, plums, apricots and nectarines in desserts and baked goods.
Experiment with citrus juices. If you’re out of lemon juice, sub in a smaller amount of more acidic lime juice. Or try grapefruit or orange juice for a different twist.
Try sliced napa cabbage instead of bok choy. Napa is mild like bok choy and turns slightly sweet when stir- or pan-fried. Thinly sliced green cabbage is another good alternative, though it has a stronger flavour than napa cabbage.
Swap easily between broccoli, cauliflower and broccoflower. They all cook in about the same time. Broccolini and rapini are other good options, although rapini has a bitter edge. Both have thin stalks, so they cook more quickly than broccoli and cauliflower.
Root Vegetables and Tubers
Serve parsnips instead of carrots. Young, tender parsnips are sweet and can be roasted, stewed or puréed like their orange cousins.
Exchange rutabagas for turnips. Large yellow-fleshed rutabagas are sweeter than smaller white-fleshed turnips but similar in most other ways.
Use whichever potatoes you have on hand. Just keep an eye on texture when you make changes: Waxy red-skinned, or white- or yellow-fleshed potatoes all work in salads and for boiling to enjoy as a side dish, while russets and other baking potatoes are great for frying and roasting.
Swap leafy greens for ones with similar textures. All sturdy head lettuces, such as iceberg, romaine and leaf, work equally well in salads. Delicate leafy greens, like baby spinach and spring greens, are also tasty on sandwiches. Arugula is a good choice for salads and sandwiches, though some find it a little bitter. Keep in mind that although these greens are interchangeable, they will alter the overall flavour of your salad.
Swiss chard, kale and green cabbage can stand in for one another in cooked dishes. Cabbage and Swiss chard get tender more quickly than kale, so reduce the cooking time when substituting.
Switching up leeks, shallots, onions and green onions is easy. Green onions are mild, so use a smaller amount of more pungent shallots or onions to replace them. Leeks and onions are a better choice than green onions for longer cooking. Onion powder or dried onion flakes are also alternatives to fresh onions for flavour in cooked dishes.
Use the dark parts of green onions in place of chives. Chop them very finely as a garnish, but use less to compensate for their stronger flavour.
No garlic? Use 1/4 tsp granulated garlic or 1/2 tsp dried garlic flakes in place of one clove of fresh garlic in cooking.
Butternut squash is a great substitute for all squashes. Try it baked or mashed in place of sweet potatoes and winter squashes. Roasted and puréed, it also stands in for pumpkin in baking recipes.
Use yellow zucchini or summer squash in place of green zucchini. They’re tasty both cooked and raw. If your summer squash has large seeds, scoop them out before slicing the flesh.
Beans and Peas
Switch snow peas for sugar snap peas. Plumper sugar snap peas take a minute or two longer to cook.
Use edamame in place of green peas or lima beans. These green, slightly starchier soybeans work well in stir-fries, fried rice, soups and stews.
Beans are interchangeable. Tender white cannellini, also known as white kidney beans, are tasty in place of navy beans in soups and stews. If you don’t have red kidney beans, try creamier pinto beans or earthier black beans—they’re wonderful in chilies.
Swap green beans for asparagus. Asparagus can be pricey and is only in season for a short time. Fresh green beans are an inexpensive supermarket staple and an easy substitution year-round. Trim off the ends and cook until just tender-crisp.
Try bok choy or fennel bulb in place of celery. Bok choy and fennel have a similar tender-crisp texture when sautéed. Fennel also adds a licorice flavour.
No red radishes? Add a pop of colour to salads by substituting thinly sliced red cabbage.
Switch up fresh herbs for a new twist. Some fresh herbs can stand in for others without changing the flavour of a dish: You can swap curly parsley for flat-leaf parsley or marjoram for oregano and not even notice. Other herbs have distinctive tastes that don’t have an exact match, but that’s a good reason to unleash your creativity. Try tarragon instead of dill with fish, or use cilantro or mint instead of basil in your favourite pesto recipe.