If you cook much, you know the feeling: you get started, but then you go to your cupboard, spice rack or pantry, and a key ingredient is missing.
I know the basic rule of mise en place: have everything ready to go, before you start. It makes eminent sense. I just don’t always do it. Or I try to do it, only to discover as I’m getting everything ready that I’m missing a key ingredient. And I may not have the time or desire to go to the store to get it.
So what’s a home cook to do? The best alternative, if it’s possible, is to come up with a substitute ingredient. Sure, for some things there are no easy substitutes, but if comes down to a teaspoon of coriander or oregano, there must be some way around it, right?
At that point, I tend to get online and start searching for substitutes. That’s fine, but it can be time-consuming, especially when you start to find contradictory advice.
So it’s nice to have an authoritative book on hand to answer these questions. And that’s why I was so happy to receive a complimentary review copy of The Food Substitutions Bible, by David Joachim.
Joachim is the co-author of The Science of Good Food, has won the International Association of Culinary Professionals award and been nominated for a James Beard award, and has been involved in the writing of more than thirty cookbooks. So he knows whereof he speaks, foodwise.
This is, literally, not a lightweight book. It runs close to 700 pages, and lists more than 6500 food and ingredient substitutions. For sheer comprehensiveness, it warrants the “bible” monker.
There are the basics, of course, like brown sugar, eggs, and evaporated milk. But the book goes well beyond that. One of the pleasures of thumbing through this book has been to read about the myriad ingredients I’d never even heard of, like Bryndza, cupuaçu, and kefalotyri. Get familiar with these terms, and you’ll be a Scrabble champion in no time.
The list is not limited to ingredients, either. There are also entries about equipment, like rice cookers, electric mixers, and cheesecloth.
If that’s not enough, there are several excellent appendices. These include sections on measurement equivalents, and ingredient guides covering coffee, chiles, rice and other kitchen staples. One of the handiest is the guide to pan size equivalents, so you’ll quickly know, without needing a calculator and geometry formulas, whether your rectangular cake pan holds more or less than the round pan called for by the recipe.
I keep my cookbooks in a couple of places, with my frequent go-to books close at hand, and the “occasional” books on a shelf further from my stove. (Anything below “occasional” gets given away to my local library for their book sale.) This one’s going on the go-to shelf. It’s terrific.
The Food Substitutions Bible, by David Joachim
Paperback: 696 pages
Publisher: Robert Rose; (2nd ed.)