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Chinese Cooking - Ingredient Substitutions

It can be so frustrating. You're all set to impress friends and family with your wok cooking skills. Everything is going along smoothly, until you check the cupboard and discover that the five-spice powder you were positive was tucked behind the sage has disappeared.

What can you do? First, don't despair. Of all the international cuisines, Chinese cuisine is probably the most open to creative solutions born of need and circumstance. Many of the ingredients that we now see as integral to Chinese cuisine - such as fiery red chile peppers - weren't native to China, but introduced by other cultures. Why not try substituting another ingredient? The recipe's creator will never know, and you can still enjoy a tasty dish. The taste will not be quite as authentic, but that's okay.

Here are some food substitution suggestions for ingredients commonly used in Chinese cooking.

Ingredient Substitute
(An Asian gelatin substitute that doesn't require refrigeration)
Bamboo Shoots White cabbage
Bok choy celery or Swiss chard
Chili Sauce 1 cup tomato sauce, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 2 tbsp. vinegar, 1/4 tsp. cinnamon, dash of ground cloves and allspice**
Chinese five-spice powder Equal amounts cinnamon, star anise, cloves, fennel, and Szechuan Peppercorn. If Szechuan peppercorns aren't available, use freshly ground black peppercorns
Cilantro or Coriander (Chinese parsley) Parsley (for decoration only, not taste) Can add dash lemon juice
Coconut Milk whole milk in equal amounts, if possible with coconut extract. For coconut cream, substitute half and half or whipping cream (with coconut extract if possible).
(used in Thai Cooking)
Fresh ginger
Fresh Ginger Candied ginger
Garlic Cloves 1/8 tsp. garlic powder
Hoisin Sauce
Equal amounts ketchup and molasses
Also, sweet bean sauce
Hot Red Chili Crushed red pepper
Lemon Grass
(Used in Thai Cooking)
Zest of a lemon
Lotus Root flour Cornstarch (Cornflour)
Mushrooms ( Straw, Clouds Ear) Fresh mushrooms (the taste will be different)
Oyster Sauce Soy sauce
Rice Wine Vinegar (also called Rice Vinegar) Dry sherry, white wine vinegar, malt vinegar
Sesame Oil 1 Tbs. Sesame seeds fried in 1/2 cup vegetable oil
Soy Sauce Japanese tamari or Worchester sauce.
Water Chestnut Jicama (commonly found in the Southern United States)

**From the Kansas State University site

Below are recipes for some popular Chinese sauces - making your own is one way to ensure you'll never be caught short-handed!

This Week's Recipes

Brown Sauce
Chile Sauce 
Hoisin Dipping Sauce
Hot Pepper Oil
Peanut Dressing - Asian (made with peanut butter and coconut milk)
Peanut Sauce - with mint and cilantro
Sweet and Sour Sauce
Sweet and Sour Fish Sauce (Vietnamese)

Any comments, questions, or suggestions?  Please send me an email.

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