The Not-So Humble Substitute
What do you think of when you hear the word “substitute”? For many people, that word means sub-par, mediocre or “not the same thing”. While that can sometimes be true, I see substitutes as a path to a new way of doing something, or a window into a new way of looking at something.
I’ve come to view substitutes this way because of cooking - as I’ve explored the rich world of food substitutes, I’ve learned that substitutes do not limit us, and they certainly don’t have to mean mediocrity. When it comes to diet restrictions, especially, a substitute can open up a world of possibilities we might previously have thought were closed.
Substituting Is Easier Than You Think
In the world of home cooking, substitutes are surprisingly easy to come by, and often you have more than one choice. There are a lot of reasons why we might need substitutes. Perhaps you’re out of milk but want to make a recipe that calls for it, or perhaps you’ve discovered or developed a lactose intolerance but still crave ice cream.
Beyond such defined limitations, like a missing or impossible ingredient, substitutes can make unhealthy foods healthier, making you feel like you’re indulging without undoing weeks of hard work sticking to a diet. For instance, did you know that bananas can sweeten muffins subtly in place of sugar? Or that parsnips and cauliflower make excellent healthier mashed potato stand-ins? Have you discovered that almond milk makes just as tasty a chocolate pudding as regular milk does?
Learn to Substitute and Cut Down on Waste
The more you learn to substitute one ingredient for another, the less you’ll find yourself thinking you need to go to the store in order to cook something - you’ll learn to use what’s in your fridge before letting it go to waste. In fact, the more you do it when cooking, the more you learn that all substitution really is expanding your repertoire.
My go-to resource for looking up basic food substitutes is the Cook’s Thesaurus. This simple website has been around for years, and it’s a great reference for finding alternatives to something you don’t have on-hand, or simply can’t have. Try looking up “all-purpose flour” some time - there are at least 20 options, complete with suggestions on when to use them and exactly how to use them as substitutes in common recipes.
The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) Diet
One diet that might make one begin researching substitutes is the AIP diet. It aims to reduce or eliminate foods that cause inflammation or relieve symptoms of autoimmune diseases, which can cause inflammation since autoimmune diseases cause the immune system to attack healthy tissues and organs when they’re not supposed to.
For instance, someone with rheumatoid arthritis - an autoimmune disease - may find that nightshade vegetables worsen their pain, since nightshades contain solanine, a glycoalkaloid that some believe causes inflammation and makes the pain of arthritis worse.
Often seen as an extension of the Paleo diet, the AIP diet is all about eliminating foods that may worsen the symptoms of a disease, and then noting the effects as those foods are slowly reintroduced, to pinpoint which ones bring symptoms back.
One does not need to have an autoimmune disease to follow the AIP diet, however - if you feel you have diet-based inflammation (much inflammation is diet-based), the AIP diet may be an excellent way to determine how specific foods make you feel when eliminating and then reintroducing them to your diet.
Substituting to Follow the AIP Diet
As someone eating primarily AIP compliant and Paleo, substitutes are my bread and butter - literally! They allow me to have some of my favorite foods - like tortillas - while sticking to the diet. In fact, because of substitutes, I have graduated from feeling like I am on a diet at all to feeling like eating AIP is just the way I eat now.
Although practice and patience has made eating AIP compliant much easier, it definitely took some time to get used to it. It can be difficult to go “cold-turkey” on or off any habit, and that certainly includes what we eat and crave. For me, the single most difficult thing to give up has been my beloved sourdough bread. Oh, how I miss it, even now!
To make the transition to an AIP compliant and Paleo diet easier, I began looking into ways to eat bread-like foods with substitutes. Tortillas, with their simple ingredients and quick prep and cooking time, seemed like a great way to fill the void, so I began researching AIP compliant ingredients that might allow me to “indulge” in a healthier tortilla option to satisfy my cravings for sourdough.
Enter cassava flour. Cassava flour is one of those AIP-friendly ingredients that opens up doors that were previously closed. Cassava flour is made from cassava - a starchy tuberous root vegetable that is native to the tropics of South America. It is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, like vitamin C, riboflavin, thiamine and niacin. It is gluten-, grain- and nut-free, and high in carbohydrates.
More similar to wheat flour than most gluten-free flours, cassava flour is sometimes considered the holy grail of gluten-free flours. However, it’s important to know that not all brands of cassava flour are the same. Some are better for certain recipes than others. We use Otto’s cassava flour for the recipe below because it performs better than other cassava fours do.
Otto’s cassava flour makes some excellent tortillas, and these tortillas are delicious whether filled or eaten plain as a snack (try toasting them with a bit of coconut oil). I like eating them dipped in bone broth for breakfast, or as a snack. Because cassava flour is similar to whole-wheat flour in texture and shape, cassava flour tortillas taste a lot like whole wheat tortillas.
So, if you’re specifically looking for some AIP-compliant recipes or just want to try out a new type of tortilla out of curiosity, try substituting cassava flour for regular flour, and give your tastebuds something new to savor!
- 1 cup cassava flour (Otto’s)
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 2 1/2 tablespoon olive oil (or coconut oil)
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon rosemary powder (or whole dried rosemary, crushed)
- Coconut oil for greasing the griddle
- Pour the warm water into a bowl and stir in the sea salt.
- Combine the flour, saltwater, olive oil, garlic powder and rosemary in a bowl and mix with a spoon first and then with your hands.
- Transfer dough to a smooth surface and lightly knead until the dough is compact and does not crumble.
- Separate into 4-8 balls, depending on your preferred tortilla size. (I like to make them smaller.)
- Heat the griddle and lightly grease it with coconut oil. Keep the temperature 300-350 degrees F.
- Press each ball a few times between 2 pieces of parchment paper in the tortilla press, turning 90 degrees between each press.
- Carefully remove the parchment paper and cook the pressed tortilla on the hot griddle. Cook until bubbles form, flip over, and cook the other side until browned.
- Repeat with all remaining balls.
- Serve immediately or cover with a cloth and reheat in the microwave.
Makes 4-8 tortillas, depending on size.
Let me know if you make them and how you use them!
One of our favorite ways to enjoy these? With some chopped up Lamb Meat & Veggie bars, and a simple veggie slaw, dill, and mint for an at home gyro!