24 January 2015

Ersatz Cooking - Kitchen Substitutes for the Expat Cook

The problem with moving from country to country is that ingredients for food you like to cook and your family like to eat can be hard to find.  Sometimes you have to use something else instead – some substitutions work remarkably well, others change the taste a little.

Many of the hints and tips on my Ersatz Kitchen page explain how to get around things like baking without baking powder etc but here is a collection of substitutions that, while handy, are not complex enough to merit their own blog post.

Fish Sauce:  Useful for a lot of Asian cooking.  Substitute a mix of soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce.

Palm Sugar:  Again popular in Asian dishes.  Muscovado sugar is a suitable alternative.

Ketchap Manis:  Necessary for Nasi Goreng and many Malaysian and Indonesian dishes. There is no real substitute but it is easy to make your own.  Heat Soy Sauce and Brown Sugar in a ratio of 1:1 until the sugar starts to dissolve.  Add water (.5 ratio) diced ginger a star anise and a cinnamon stick.  Continue on the heat until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Strain and store in the fridge.

Crème Fraiche: substitute high percentage sour cream for savoury and marscapone for sweet dishes.

Marscapone:  If you want to make Tiramisu but can't find Marscapone you can substitute a block of cream cheese mixed with sour cream and heavy cream - start the additions reasonably small and add more to get the taste and consistency you want. 

Lard: you can use butter, goose fat or strained bacon dripping depending on whether you need a savoury or sweet recipe.

Zaatar:  mix thyme, majoram, oregano, toasted sesame seeds, salt and sumac to taste.  Adds flavouring to dried tomatoes and is very tasty when mixed with olive oil and toasted on pitta. 

Koekkruiden:  Dutch mixed spice – a mix of Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Allspice, Ground Cloves, Ground Ginger, Ground Cardamom, Ground Star Anise and Ground Mace.  I use in a lot of baking recipes that call for mixed spice.   Also tasty in recipes such as Christmas Pudding and Mince Meat. 

Shortening:  substitute butter or lard. 

Buttermilk: you can make butter and buttermilk by agitating raw milk in a sterile jar until it separates out.  This is time-consuming but a great activity for a kid who wants to ‘help’!  Alternatively add a tbsp. of lemon juice to milk and leave on the counter for 15 minutes to curdle.

Galangal:  This is used to impart flavour in a lot of South East Asian cooking.  If you do not have any you can substitute ginger.

I have subsequently added this to Life With A Double Buggy's  Expat Linky- click for even more Expat treats.....

Expat Life with a Double Buggy

And to the Practical Mondays linky hosted by the Practical Mom

Click  on the picture for more posts on the challenges of the expat kitchen.

Ersatz Expat


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  2. This is a fun list. One of my difficulties is that most of my cake recipes are English using SR flour which doesn't really exist in France. I never quite know how much baking powder to use instead and my cakes are often rather hit and miss!

    1. Hi Phoebe - I have pretty much got so used to plain flour that I never bother with SR flour even if it is available. You should use about 11/2 teaspoons per 125g, I have a guide here http://bit.ly/16fybsE

  3. Great post - I'm intrigued that you can make Ketchap Manis. It's something I had never had before I moved to the Netherlands. It's now something I would miss if we were to move away!

    1. Its yummy isn't it and a real staple, my mother and her family used to use it liberally. I am guessing that you have a similarly eclectic fusion of Dutch and English recipes. I have recently become a convert to Toad in the Hole with Rode Kool met Appel and have started to think that Yorkshire Pudding will be an excellent (if carb heavy) addition to Stamppot or ghehaktballen.

  4. This is really a wonderful post.

  5. This is fantastic! Never thought about it, but isn't Kecap Manis Soy + Sugar anyways? And is ginger & galangal that similar? I thought they only look similar. (BTW I went a whole year cooking with turmeric roots thinking they're ginger ...shh!)

    Tweeted & Pinned to the Practical Mondays board. Keep these gems coming! :)

  6. ThAnks! You need the spices to get the real kecap manis taste but you can vary them to yours if that makes sense. Galangal and ginger are reasonably interchangeable in that ginger will do if you have none but it does change the taste slightly. How funny about the turmeric, they are all part of the same family though. I get you had yellow hands!