Thursday, May 15, 2014

Dairy Substitutions

When my family can't eat a certain ingredient, my tendency now is to simply drop it, pick different recipes than I had before, and move on. But sometimes, you have a nostalgic moment and you want a substitution for an ingredient you had before. Or you have a recipe idea and you need to figure out what ingredients can serve the same purpose as the ingredient you can no long eat.

When that happens, it's nice to know substitutions.

Dairy Free Cream of Mushroom Soup

When substituting, consider this:
1. Think about all the components that your original ingredient provided.
 What did dairy do for the dish?  Dairy products can add flavor, especially umami. The fats can thicken when heated. The sugars in milk can tenderize dishes like baked goods. It can add moisture or liquid to a dish. The proteins can provide strength for batters so that they can rise. It can add a creaminess in look or texture, for soups and sauces. I'm sure there's more.

2. Remember, your goal is tasty food.
I've said this one before, because the goal is not 'food that tastes exactly the same as it used to.' That's just not going to happen. But you can get good tasting food.

Dairy substitutions for the variety of reasons people can't use it

Note for those new to avoiding dairy:  the term 'dairy free' on a package does not mean it's actually free from all dairy. It's more an industry label indicating that there is very little dairy. Still plenty enough to cause an allergic reaction, though. Might be of more use for those with lactose intolerance or a sensitivity.
  1. Just omit it. If dairy is more of an afterthought in the recipe, like a sprinkling of cheese on a salad, just leave that stuff out. It won't taste as good, but it's easy.
  2. Processed dairy substitutes - I can't have these, but if you can, there is a huge range of dairy substitutes out there. Fake cheeses and ice creams and butters are especially popular. There are also brands that make dairy free goodies, like EnjoyLife brand cookies. For those with allergies, though, pay very close attention to some of the fake cheeses. Because some cheeses with primary ingredients from things like, say, rice, will have added dairy. 
  3. Another dairy ingredient - If you are avoiding dairy because of lactose intolerance, you may be able to substitute one dairy ingredient for another, if you choose your brands carefully.  Fermented and cultured dairy, like sour cream or certain cheeses or buttermilk, are made when bacteria eats all the lactose so the final product is often fine for those with lactose intolerance. At least, if you make it yourself or live in the right country. Sadly, the USA is not the right country. Here, most food companies sort of cheat, so rather than give the bacteria enough time to eat all the lactose, they stop it early and simply add thickeners or souring agents to make up for it. If this has happened, you'll see ingredients like pectin, various gums, various acids (like citric acid), vinegars, even sometimes powdered milk, so the product has even more lactose by the end than it started with!  Making your own dairy or finding companies that haven't done this is your best bet (usually, smaller or local companies, or European imported foods, are what you'll be looking for).
  4. Water - if dairy is being used for the liquid and there isn't a lot of thickening required, like in a pancake recipe, you may be able to substitute water for the dairy. This tends to take away some of the tenderness, though.
  5. Water and a fat or oil - This can help when you need something to be more tender, like muffins, say, but it doesn't need too much structural support (this doesn't work for a loaf of bread, for example).
  6. Grain or nut milks - A nut or grain milk is usually good for a bit of added flavor and a pale color and a liquid. It's good for things that need a lot of moisture, like smoothies or milk over cereal. It won't usually thicken up like dairy, though. Almond milk, rice milk, soy milk, hemp milk, and sunflower milk are all available at grocery stores. However, you can make your own grain milks and nut milks pretty simply, out of most grains or nuts, with varying flavor results. I've made my own pecan milk and rice milk. Homemade grain based milks are usually insanely cheaper if you make them yourself. Nut milks, I'm not so sure. 
  7. Fruit juice - Again, good for added flavor or color, plus liquid, like in a smoothie or a sauce or a frozen desert. For a creamy texture in something frozen, you'll need to add a fat, as well.
  8. Cashew cream - For a thickener, this works insanely well. Like, I can't even tell you how well. This is a good recipe for it. It's essentially soaked cashews blended up really, really well with some water. Sometimes strained, if you want it really smooth. Due to the fats, it thickens up a lot and can be a good substitute for dairy that is used as a binding agent or a thickener after heating, often where you might use cream or cheese. I've even seen it used to make a melted cheese substitute over nachos, before. I believe you could also use other nuts for this, but the soft texture of cashews seems to play a big part in how nice a texture it makes.
  9. Mashed silken tofu - Silken tofu specifically (as opposed to firm) can be mashed up to give a texture somewhat reminiscent of cottage cheese. If spices are added, it can work for when there are other flavors and textures surrounding it, like if it is needed for a casserole or lasagna.
  10. Ground nuts plus spices - For crumbled dairy that is mixed in, this can work quite well. A good example would be in a pesto sauce. Making this without parmesan cheese but simply adding in a little more groundmild flavored nuts and some spices is quite nice.
  11. Cooked and blended up fruits or veggies - This can add moisture, binding, thickening and texture to a recipe. Some examples would be using applesauce in muffins, or cooked and blended up zucchini and spices as a layer in a lasagna instead of cheese, or blended up squash in a soup.
  12. Nutritional yeast - This can be added for the flavor of cheese, that umami flavor. Easy to find at a health food store, and it's simply a powder. 
  13. Tofu - make a kind of Dairy-free Indian Paneer from tofu.
  14. Nut or rice milk plus vinegar or lemon juice - Replacement for buttermilk. Need an added fat if you need more tenderizing in the recipe.
  15. Eggs - these can be increased in the original recipe or added when you need a good binder, like potato dishes or pancakes, or to replace cheese, although usually you may need some seasoning changes to adjust for the change in flavor.
  16. Ground Chia or flax seed - often listed as an egg substitute, these can still be useful if a binding agent is your main priority.
  17. Processed egg replacer, like Ener-G - again, for times when a binding agent is needed.

This list will grow as I remember/come across more dairy substitutions! ^_^

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