Recipe Writers Listen up!

Joined May 5, 2004
[rant mode on]

Well, I'm not a chef, just a backyard broiler. But I have a beef with cookbooks and recipes in general.

Invariably, I will have a recipe I want to prepare, but am lacking or cannot find some of the ingredients. I usually substitute something in the ball park, but it doesnt come out right, or does it? I dont know... but what I would really like to see is more substitution suggestions.

For example, instead of ground coriander, what? Or "coriander leaves and twigs" **** I cannot find this anywhere... and its just Thai chicken wings for cryin out loud!

Theres others... Sesame oil... cant find it... Balsamic vinegar? $40 bucks a bottle, i dont think so!

Am I off track here when thinking that some of these exotic ingredients are a bit much for the home team to use? Truffel oil?

Does anyone have a good site or reference for alternatives to hard to find ingredients?
Joined Jan 5, 2001
Where do you live?? Being a city dweller, I guess I take for granted that all these ingredients are available at my local supermarket. Are there any ethnic food shops where you live? You can definitely find any spice there. If you are able to find $40 balsamic, you should be able to find the $8 one too, maybe in a less "gourmet" shop. A good mail order source is: Penzys.
Joined May 26, 2001
Hey, BurnedAFew, you forgot to turn off the rant mode. :p

[cookbook editor mode on]
Recipe writers assume -- for good or ill -- that people will follow the recipe as written if they want the dish to come out as the writer intended. They hate it when a cook says something like, "I didn't have any tomato paste, so I used tomato juice instead and it came out weak and way too runny." And they have every right to hate that. They are presenting the cook with directions how to make a very specific dish; if the cook doesn't follow those directions, it won't be the same dish. If a mashed potato recipe calls for truffle oil and you don't use it, you won't have truffled mashed potatoes; you may love or hate what you made, but you won't have what the writer wanted you to make.

But writers also have the responsibility to be as clear as possible in telling the cook what to use and how to use it, and also to make it clear to the cook what substitutions can be made without turning the dish into something completely different. Sometimes there are NO substitutions possible without completely changing the dish, either the flavor of it, or causing it to FAIL. The writer has to make sure the cook understands that.

[cookbook editor mode off]

Substitutions work only if you know what the ingredient you're replacing is like, and that what you want to use instead is very similar. If you are trying to follow a recipe and don't have something, or even know what it is, those sites that Kyle gave links for are great. And if you absolutely can't figure it out, or can't get what's needed, please, don't attempt that recipe; it will only make you mad. :mad: :(

And as Anneke said, if you are anywhere near a good supermarket, you can find reasonable versions of lots of "fancy" ingredients. Just remember that using, say, $3 supermarket balsamic vinegar will give you a different end product than if you had used the $40 stuff. It might taste fine to you, but it won't be what the writer had in mind.

"Coriander leaves and twigs" ???? :eek: Whose recipe is THAT? Sheesh, that's just cilantro -- but the writer should have made sure you knew that.
Joined Dec 30, 1999
I agree. If you can't find the ingredients and it's frustrating for you, don't try it or go to

Choose cookbooks/recipes which have ingredients you can find and you won't be so frustrated.

I'm also wondering where you live. Many cities have ethnic grocery stores and you may be surprised to find a wealth of variety of ingredients. And of course, there is always mail order.
Joined Apr 28, 2003
Cookbooks that calls for items like truffle oil, madagascan vanilla beans, or cuts of alligator are nothing but coffee table books for guests to read for me. You really can't substitute ingredients and stay true to the recipe your trying to reproduce with out changing the end product into something different. Its another thing if I'm experimenting though.
Don't get worked up over not being able to find the foreign and exotic or not being able to afford it. These items have only been introduced to the average supermarket over the past 3-5 years. If your in a small town, it'll probrably take a couple extra years.
Joined May 2, 2004
Anneke, you lucky thing to still be in an urban area! Gradually this neck of the woods is getting a few things, but the Chinese families still drive Atlanta (5 hours away) monthly for ingredients! Although I completely understand the point that a recipe will not turn out as the author intended, I'd still rather try a substitution than be doomed to a diet of green jello salad and Twinkies. :D

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