When substituting ingredients, consider the eater

The Washington Post Food staff; chef Martin Yan; food writer and cookbook author Grace Young; chef, restaurateur and podcast host Nong Poonsukwattana; and aspiring pastry chef Hamza Khan recently answered questions about all things edible. Here are edited excerpts from that chat.

Q: When cooking foods with ingredients that are not readily available, which way do you lean: substitute with readily available so you can have an approximation more often, or spend more time and money to get “the right thing?” And is your answer different if you’re writing recipes for people from outside your culture, to introduce them to your foods?

A: It’s important to know tradition, but I don’t think adaptations or substitutions are any less of “the right thing” if they give a result as good or even better. And I think the answer differs less about the type of people I’m sharing the recipe with, but more about their location and what they have access to.

– Hamza Khan


A: After a while, you kind of get a feel for which ingredients can are irreplaceable, can be substituted, or should just be omitted if you don’t have them. For example, my mom relies on Kashmiri red chili for almost everything. I have some at home, but I know if I ran out, I wouldn’t completely ruin a dish by using a different type of red chili powder, so long as I reach for something that’s similar enough. And if I don’t have coconut for when I want to make her green bean dish, I can leave it out and it’ll be fine, because its a garnish. But I wouldn’t make pakora (a type of fritter) without chickpea flour. It just wouldn’t be the same, or close enough to feel right. It takes time to develop a sense of it, and when trying a new cuisine, it helps to read cookbook intros, where chefs and cooks write about which ingredients are crucial, how to substitute, and when to omit.

– Kari Sonde

– – –

Q: In making pot stickers is it better to steam or fry first? Most sites say fry first, but I think the texture is better steaming first.

A: I always pan-fry the potstickers first. I preheat my wok, add about 1-2 tablespoons of oil, add the dumplings (they can be touching each other) and fry them over medium high heat for 1 to 2 minutes. Be careful when you add about 1/3 cup of water because you’re going to get sputtering and spattering. Cover with a lid and lower the heat to medium and let it go for about 5 to 8 minutes until most of the water is gone. When you hear sizzling, remove the lid and let the dumplings pan-fry for another 1 to 2 mins to crisp up the bottoms again.

– Grace Young

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Q: I always seem to order one more banana than I can eat before it gets overripe, so now I have five in my freezer. Aside from banana pancakes and regular old banana bread, what are some good ways to use up bananas that get mushy when they’re thawed? I’m not a big fan of smoothies. Thanks!

A: Perhaps you can use it as a filling for a sweet egg roll. Combine banana sweet shredded coconut and chopped peanuts or walnuts; make it as an egg roll, then deep-fry to golden brown .

– Martin Yan

A: You could also try Chocolate and Tahini Dipped Frozen Bananas.

– – –

Q: Is it possible to freeze prepared horseradish? This is the kind that is just grated horseradish and vinegar in a jar, not the kind that is creamy.

A: When you try to preserve anything – including horseradish – to preserve it longer, vinegar is just one of the ingredients to include. Also a tiny bit of salt, along with vegetable oil. Combine the vinegar, salt and oil with the horseradish – heat up to kill the enzymes. Cool, then refrigerate to store. Of course, fresh horseradish is always the best.

– M.Y.

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Q: I received way too many carrots in an online grocery order. Do you have any recommendations for recipes to use them?

A: Have you tried to make papaya salad but use carrot instead? Julienne carrots or zoodle it; the dressing is lime juice, fish sauce and a bit of sugar.

– Nong Poonsukwattana

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