How to Make a Recipe Work If You Don’t Have All the Ingredients

By Bettina Makalintal

While it might not make sense to go to the store for just one ingredient, all is not lost: Here's how we adapt recipes to end up with meals that are still satisfying.

Have a well-stocked pantry.

Think of items in categories and figure out how they might be interchangeable. Instead of calling for both olives and capers, think of them in the umbrella of "briny things."

Think about what each ingredient adds to the dish.

A categorized pantry lets you figure out shared qualities between ingredients and make swaps from there. If you do this, you can figure out what can be replaced or cut out entirely.

Some ingredients can be approximated.

Veggie and chicken stock, for example, are really just salty, flavorful water, so if all else fails, replacing them with salted water is totally fine, too.

Adjust your expectations.

While a lot of root vegetables can be replaced for one another, some have a stronger flavor than others. This will make your modified dish a little different than intended.

Be creative.

When you adapt a recipe—whether it's out of necessity, or because you want to put your own spin on things—you've gotta do the thinking. It's your own personal cooking show.

Accept that some things just can’t be swapped.

Don't fool yourself: There's a limit to adapting a recipe, of course. A recipe for linguine with clams, obviously, won't be the same if you don't use clams.

You might fail, but just cook more.

If you accept imperfect dishes as part of the process, cooking becomes something to practice, and you'll get better the more you do it. You've got this.

For more awesome food tips, check out MUNCHIES by VICE.