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Easy ingredient substitutions you can make

Running low on your usual supermarket staples? Have a look in your cupboards before going shopping – plenty of ingredients in recipes can be easily switched around to suit what you have. Substitute your macaroni for penne, your baked beans for butter beans, and more with our handy guide to easy ingredient swaps.

  1. Pasta

    Can’t find the right shape of pasta in the shops right now? Don’t worry, most pasta recipes will work with whatever you have in your cupboard – just mix and match your favourite sauce to what you have on hand. In pasta bakes, short pastas are easily interchangeable: fusilli, rigatoni, macaroni or penne would all work equally well instead of conchiglie shells in this Bolognese pasta bake. If you’ve got long pastas, pappardelle or linguine will always work in place of spaghetti – just adjust the cooking time to the pasta pack instructions.

    Can't find pasta at all? Spoon Bolognese sauce onto jacket potatoes or even homemade pizzas, use noodles instead of spaghetti or use thinly sliced aubergines or sweet potatoes for a veggie lasagne without pasta. Veg makes a versatile pasta replacement – use a peeler to thinly slice courgettes into courgetti instead of spaghetti or try thinly slicing butternut squash.

  2. Flour

    If you fancy baking but only have one bag of flour, don’t panic. If you have plain flour, you can make self-raising by just adding 2 tsp baking powder for every 150g plain flour. A small quantity of wholemeal flour can replace a proportion of plain flour to add extra fibre and a nutty taste to bakes. In reverse, if you don’t have wholemeal, just use all plain flour in these pancakes or this citrus cake. Ground almonds make a great gluten-free alternative to flour that will keep cakes super moist - try this whole orange and almond cake.

    Don't have any flour at all? There's still plenty of delicious treats you can bake if you're craving something sweet - make a cake without flour with this decadent gluten-free chocolate and coffee cake or bake sweet coconut macaroon nests for the biscuit tin.

  3. Dairy

    Don’t want a fridge full of different milks, yogurts and cream? The good news is, these are easy to swap if you can't find what you need. If you can’t find buttermilk, use yogurt or milk with a squeeze of lemon juice to provide the acid. Crème fraîche and soured cream are largely interchangeable and even a dollop of Greek yogurt would work instead – try it in mash. One thing not to swap: single cream will not whip or thicken like double cream does, so use it for pouring only. Coconut milk makes a fragrant alternative to cream in a curry and can be used as a tropical (and vegan!) alternative to whipped cream for desserts.

  4. Tinned beans

    Tins of beans are a popular storecupboard staple – not just because they last long a time, but because they are flexible and can be swapped in and out of recipes depending on what you can find. In casseroles and stews, beans are used to bulk out the meal and absorb all the flavours, so don’t stress if you can’t find exactly what a recipe calls for. Chickpeas or butter beans would work just as well in this sausage and cannellini bean casserole, mix up black beans for kidney beans or pinto beans in Mexican dishes or add dried lentils to slow cooked stews. Even tins of baked beans can be added to casseroles, with the added bonus of the tomato sauce for extra flavour!

    Tinned beans
  5. Onions

    An onion is the simple starting point for so many recipes – but you can easily mix this up. Spring onions, red onions and leeks are all part of the same allium family and will do the same job of filling your meals with flavour. Finely chop and fry gently in oil until soft just as you would a brown onion for the start of pasta sauces, stews and soups.

  6. Grains

    Looking to make healthy lunchtime salads? You don’t need to have a cupboard full of different grains. This Greek-inspired couscous salad would work just as well with quinoa, bulgur wheat, giant couscous or even tinned lentils. Orzo and pearl barley can be used instead of risotto rice – see this pearl barley risotto for inspiration – and you can mix up brown, red or wild rice for side dishes.

  7. Meat

    If you’re feeding the family every night, you can get flexible with the meat you’re cooking for dinner. Don’t have mince to make meatballs? Snip up sausages instead. Swap chicken breasts for chicken thighs (removing the skin and bone where necessary) in curries and tagines, and vice versa! Turkey steaks would work instead of pork in this simple traybake, or use chicken breasts instead in this sage pork and mash recipe. If you don't have any meat, swap in hardy veg - make cauliflower steaks and try serving with your favourite steak side dishes and sauces.

  8. Potatoes

    Potatoes are a versatile ingredient that most of us don’t usually think twice about buying. But if you’ve run out, try switching up your sides. Sweet potatoes make great wedges and fries, or swap your jacket potato for a sweet one. Root veg such as carrots, parsnips or cauliflower can also be used to make a healthier version of mashed potato – perfect as a side or for topping pies.

  9. Rice

    From basmati and jasmine to arborio and carnaroli, there’s plenty of different types of rice out there. But you don’t have to have them all – pudding/paella rice can be used in a risotto (or even orzo) and brown rice makes a healthier alternative to white rice, just bear in mind that it will take longer to cook. If you’re totally out of rice, try blitzing a cauliflower or broccoli in a food processor for the bonus of extra veg – try it out in this egg-fried cauliflower rice. You can also experiment with grains – couscous, bulgur wheat and pearl barley all make good sides to curries and stews.

  10. Vegetables

    If you’re all out of a vegetable that a recipe calls for or you’ve got fussy eaters to cook for, feel free to switch out veg for your favourites. Neutral root vegetables such as parsnips, swede, turnip and celeriac can all be mixed and matched and provide similar flavour and will cook in the same time as long as they are cut to similar sizes. Mediterranean veg such as aubergine, peppers and courgettes can also be mixed and matched in ratatouilles and traybakes. Swap broad beans for peas, turn carrots into fries if you don’t have potatoes, do broccoli steaks instead of cauliflower – the opportunities are endless!