"Substituting Ingredients: An A to Z Kitchen Reference," Epstein and Klein

Pros: It may have the substitution notes you need
Cons: Some substitutions are ridiculously obvious (or just ridiculous); some leave out important information
Rating: 2 out of 5

First published 12/30/2000

If you like to cook, then how could you not want a book on substituting ingredients? Everyone runs into recipes that call for ingredients they can’t find. Or you thought you had something, only to discover that it’s gone bad or gotten infested with something, or your housemate threw it out or ate it last night.

“Substituting Ingredients” is a decent start to that endeavor – but that’s about all. It’s only 147 short, narrow, not-well-filled-up pages. For a thoroughly revised third edition, that’s fairly pathetic. There are so many ingredients that we could use help with, from the standard to the exotic, along with information about the circumstances under which it’s okay to substitute one thing for another.

This book spends a lot of time on things that are useful in their own way, but not as useful as other things would have been. The sort of information I would have welcomed if other, more pressing things had been included. Such as, 1 lb of shelled Almonds yields 1 to 1 1/2 cups of almonds; 1 lb in shells yields 3 1/2 cups. Useful information, yes, but not when it’s keeping us from actually getting what the book promised – ingredient substitution information. (And is anyone else suspicious about the fact that a pound of almonds-in-shells is supposed to yield MORE almonds than a pound of shelled almonds?)

There are some useful things in here, and I would recommend keeping it around for those times when it will be able to help you. For instance, it tells you that you can substitute fennel, dill, or cumin for anise. However, it’s missing that necessary circumstance information. It would be nice if it mentioned that anise is often used in “sweet” recipes, and that in those recipes, fennel, dill, and cumin might not go so well.

We have a handy chart on which apple varieties are considered sweet/mild, tart, and tart/sweet, which I certainly appreciate. The substitutions for baking powder are actually quite useful indeed, and well-thought-out.

You’ll find a few basic recipes in here, such as barbecue sauce. It would be nice, however, if the list of substitutions for ground beef got a little more creative than just “ground turkey, ground pork, ground veal, ground lamb.” I think almost anyone, however dense, could have figured that one out, and if you’re out of ground beef, you’re just as likely to be out of ground veal, if not more so. So in some places they’re insultingly general and vague, while in others they avoid the obvious like the plague: the substitutes for blueberries are huckleberries and elderberries. You know, I don’t have access to those, and I’ve found that raspberries + sugar or strawberries work quite well most in blueberry recipes.

This book really doesn’t give us enough information, as I mentioned with that babbling about circumstances earlier. Take, for instance, “Butter, in baking.” We’re told that applesauce and prune puree work as substitutes. Last I knew, there was a limit to what percentage of the butter you could trade out for fruit puree and have it still work.

In fact, there’s a free Cook’s Thesaurus on the web that works better than this book. For instance, it will tell you that you can only substitute fruit puree for up to 3/4 of the butter, and it’ll even tell you where in the recipe you should add it, and will suggest that you reduce the sugar if the applesauce is sweetened.

The authors could have produced something truly amazing, but instead they gave us a mildly useful, sometimes misleading pamphlet.

Posted in Cooking, Reviews

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