Vegetarian Substitutions

Spicy Slow Cooked Tomato Chickpeas with Burrata, toasted Focaccia and Fried Leek Strings

I have begun to document the substitutions I make in some popular recipes, and how I recreate non-vegetarian flavours. This list will grow over time, so bookmark or pin and check back.

Vegetarian Substitutions


Item Substitution
fish sauce
  • dark miso paste with umaboshi vinegar;
  • miso paste with wakame or kombu
  • add some funky fermented tofu to the above suggestions
  • a little soy sauce can also be added to any of these, but just a little. You may find it is not needed.
  • Or simmer 10g dried mushrooms in 3 cups water with 3 Tblspn salt and 2 Tblspn soy sauce until reduced by half. Will keep in fridge for a couple of weeks. This will be salty like fish sauce as well as have an umami flavour. You can also add some kelp, kombu or wakami with the mushrooms.
oyster sauce
  • dark miso paste with dark Kepak Asin soy sauce
Worcestershire Sauce
  • Tonkatsu Sauce, a Japanese alternative to Worcestershire sauce that is usually vegetarian (check the ingredients). It is a sauce normally associated with a Japanese non-veg dish, but is amazingly close to Worcestershire sauce. Source from Japanese and Asian groceries.
  • Use a little Tamarind.
shrimp paste
  •  miso paste with fermented bean paste
  • for the taste of anchovies (ie cooked in a recipe) use kombu and add a little miso and/or tamarind
  • when including anchovies, eg in a salad, I use earthy lentils cooked with kombu, for example beluga lentils or horse gram lentils, or even Chinese black beans. You only need a sprinkling of them. It doesn’t replace the taste but adds salty texture and interest.
Eggs Substitution
fried or poached eggs topping a dish Burrata
egg used as a thickener or binder
Often chickpea flour will work well. I use per egg: 1 Tblspn chickpea flour, 1 Tblspn cream, 0.25 tspn eno.
egg based batters or dipping for deep frying A batter from chickpea flour with a little eno or baking soda to aerate it works well. Mix with cream or milk. It is excellent for French Toast too.
egg custard Besan Payasam
rice pudding with eggs Greek Rice Pudding
mayonnaise Condensed Milk Mayonnaise or Creamy Dressing or Yoghurt Dressing
Meats and Stocks Substitution
meat in some dishes with a gravy or sauce
  • Okra
  • Eggplant
  • Deep fried tofu (you can buy deep fried tofu from your Asian shop, but it is easy and better to make it yourself from very firm tofu).
  • Paneer

Add a small amount of cumin seed or powder with these replacements.

A little dark soy (eg Kepak Asin) can be added to the gravy or sauce.

meat stocks What you want to add to dishes that use  meat stocks (rather than chicken or fish stock) is the deep earthy flavours of meat. I use a selection of cumin, black cardamom, bay leaf, Indian bay leaf, juniper berries, allspice berries, a few black peppercorns, Kepak Asin, and dried shiitake mushrooms. You can add a little dark miso as well.

This deeply flavoured coconut stock will work for SE Asian and some other dishes.

chicken stocks Often plain water will do, but I also use a light vegetable stock. This Indian one is simple and very good. Here is an Asian Flavoured stock. Add a little umaboshi plum or a dash of umaboshi vinegar to the stock as well if you like – just a small dash.

Light miso makes a great stock.

It is surprising how well a stock made from left over sweet corn kernels and cobs substitutes for chicken stock.

I keep vegetable stocks in the freezer (here is one made from peelings), but if I have run out I add some herbs and spices directly into the dish to create the stock flavour while the dish is cooking. The point with veg stocks is that you don’t want the stock flavours to be punchy and overwhelm the dish or alter the flavours of the dish. It needs to highlight and lift a dish with background flavours. Subtle and unassertive.

A turnip added to a vegetable stock when making it lifts it to the next level. A little acid is good too – a wedge of lemon or a dash of umaboshi, red or black vinegar.

dashi stock Use this seaweed based vegetarian dashi.
prosciutto when used for flavour in cooked dishes use bay leaves, cumin and black cardamom instead.
chicken cauliflower florets

Substitutions when the Cupboards are Bare

Ingredient Substitution
dry white wine
A mix of verjuice and mirin
marsala (port wine) prunes, chopped and soaked. They can be pureed.
rice vinegar I sometimes use a palm vinegar for rice vinegar or wine vinegar, as I love the taste
harissa chilli paste
reshteh noodles udon, soba or chinese flat noodles
sushi rice south Indian short grained rice like Pooni rice
tomato paste tomatoes pureed in the blender
yellow lentils channa dal or toor dal, depending on the recipe
yellow split peas these are mator dal – the dried peeled and split seeds of Pisum sativum. There are yellow and green varieties which are mechanically split so that they will cook faster. They are very different from toor dal or chana dal although they look similar. Mator dal is relatively common in Bengal.

If it is difficult to find mator dal, use chana dal.

yuzu juice lime + cumquat juice
yuzu powder citrus rind

Fruits and Vegetables Substitution
alphonso mangoes mixture of papaya and other mangoes
broad beans edamame
edamame broad beans
jicama (yam bean) kohlrabi
kohlrabi jicama (yam bean)
pomegranate kernels barberries from the Afghan shop
prunes marsala (a port wine)
shimeji mushrooms pearl mushrooms (baby)
sorrel watercress, purslane
dried sour cherries barberries from Afghan shop, goji berries
tomato paste tomatoes pureed in the blender
watercress sorrel, purslane, nasturtium leaves