Much is uncertain in these uncertain times, and one of those things is the availability of some items at the grocery store.
When the coronavirus panic first hit, flour and yeast flew off the shelves like they were toilet paper. Everyone seemed to decide at once that if they were going to be home, they might as well bake some bread.
The availability of eggs has been spotty, too, as well as butter. There have been blank spaces in some sections of the produce department. At the beginning of the panic, stores sold out of garlic, which I can’t begin to understand.
Flour, yeast, butter and garlic. Was everybody making garlic bread?
Fortunately, the supply chain has mostly caught up with demand, or perhaps demand has slowed down until the supply chain could catch up with it. But there is always a nagging question or two when you go to the grocery store: Will it be out of something I need?
For just such a case, we are offering some food substitutions — things you can use to cook what you want when the store is out of what you need.
Fresh herbs: If you can’t find the fresh herb you want, obviously you can get by just fine with dried herbs, and there doesn’t seem to have been a run on any of those.
Just remember that dried herbs are a lot stronger than fresh, because the flavor is concentrated. They are typically about three times stronger, so if a recipe calls for a teaspoon and a half of something fresh, use a half-teaspoon of it dried.
Don’t forget that dried herbs lose their potency in time. If you have had them for more than three years, it’s time to get new ones. And never store them over the stove; heat makes them lose their potency, too.
Butter: For nearly all purposes, including baking, you can substitute margarine for butter. Cookies made with lower-fat margarines will spread on the sheet and are more likely to burn because of it, however, but margarine that is 80% fat and above should be fine, according to Smithsonian magazine.
But what if the store is also out of margarine? Or if you just have to have that delicious butter flavor?
You can always make your own. All you need is heavy cream and a little salt — and you don’t even need the salt.
Onions: The best substitute for fresh onions is fresh shallots, though they are milder in flavor. They are also considerably more expensive, if you have to use a lot of them. Dried onion flakes and onion powder are also effective substitutes.
Similarly, if you don’t have shallots, you can always use onion — but use half as much as the recipe calls for.
Garlic: For some reason, when garlic sold out no one seemed to buy the minced version that comes in a jar. It is literally garlic that has been minced and put in a jar. It’s fresh, more or less, and you use it in the same proportion that you would use with garlic that you mince yourself.
If you don’t want to use the jarred minced garlic (and I will admit that I did not buy it myself when I was looking for garlic and it was sold out), you can always use garlic powder or garlic flakes, if you can find them. If you use garlic salt, be sure to reduce the amount of salt you add to the rest of the recipe.
Yeast: Yeast is all around us, floating in the air. When ancient Romans, for instance, baked bread, they did not go to their local Shop ‘n’ Spend and buy a three-pack of Fleischmann’s. They mixed flour with water and waited for the yeast in the air and on the flour to react, which allowed the bread to rise.
You can do the same thing at home.
As I write this, I am making a fourth attempt — this one following the instructions from King Arthur Flour. I cannot personally vouch for the recipe (yet), but on the assumption that it works we’ve provided a recipe.
Buttermilk: If you don’t have yeast and you don’t want to go to the time or trouble to make a sourdough starter, you can always make soda bread, which does not need yeast.
It does, however, require buttermilk. And if the store is out of buttermilk, it is quite easy to make a substitute. All you need is milk and lemon or vinegar.
Mix one cup of milk with one tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar. Let the mixture curdle for about 10 minutes, and then stir it all together. The result very closely mimics the taste of buttermilk.
Feel free to use it in soda bread, pancakes, biscuits, corn bread or even fried chicken.
Eggs: If you’re looking for a substitute for eggs for breakfast, you can always use products such as Egg Beaters or Liquid Eggs. These are, in fact, egg whites that are colored yellow to resemble scrambled eggs or omelets when cooked.
For most baking, you can use unsweetened applesauce instead of eggs (if you use sweetened applesauce, simply reduce the amount of sugar used in the rest of the recipe). One-quarter cup of applesauce is the baking equivalent of one egg.
You can also find powdered eggs, which have their place. Like, if you have to feed an entire battalion. But that’s really the only example.