Let’s talk a bit about substitutions!!! This is what got me excited about paleo-cooking/eating in the first place! How can I take something blatantly non-paleo and make it paleo!? Because of my Italian upbringing, an easy place for me to start was with Italian food. Now I know what you’re thinking — Italian = CHEESE!!! Sorry to disappoint, but in terms of greasy, melty, stretchy mozzarella on top of chicken parm, there is no paleo replacement 😦 What I’m talking about is more along the lines of breading, meatballs and pasta.
If you haven’t already realized this, nuts are HUGE part of paleo cooking and especially when it comes to substitutions. Almond flour and coconut flour are used in the majority of baked goods that I make, but the nuts don’t stop there! When it comes to breading, nuts are key. And if you use the right nuts and the right spices, whatever you’re breading won’t taste super nutty. You can buy almond and coconut flour (which is just the nut finely ground into a meal or flour) in all health food stores, or you can make your own. Other ground up items I’ve used to make breading are pecans, walnuts, flax-seed and plantains. If you want something with a little texture to it, then unsweetened shredded coconut is a great component to a paleo breading! My pecan-coconut-curry shrimp and haddock piccata are some of my favorite dishes that use a paleo-friendly “breading”. ** I REALLY need to think of an alternate word for breading – bread is exactly what we’re avoiding here but I can’t think of anything clever at the moment to replace it with!
In terms of meatballs or meatloaf, almond flour works perfectly in place of bread crumbs. With this substitution you could fool anyone into eating paleo without even knowing it!
Pasta is a fun and controversial substitution topic. There are actual paleo-friendly pastas out there that you could order online or perhaps find in a specialty food store, but I’m all about practicality and staying economical, as well as getting in extra veggies wherever possible, so I’m not talking about those at the moment. Most people will tell you spaghetti squash is the way to go for a pasta-like vehicle for your favorite sauces… well let me tell you about my beef with spaghetti squash.
1- it’s like $6-8 for a decent sized one- they’re HUGE (although it does yield a lot of “pasta”)
2- it is SO hard to cut in half… even if I cook it for a bit beforehand it is almost impossible to cut into and I almost stab myself
3- it takes FOREVER to cook, unless you use the microwave which changes the finished product for the worse
4- after all that work and time, it tastes too squashy and sweet and really can’t compete with many of the sauces you’d put it with.
I’m not completely against spaghetti squash, but there’s a time and a place. I think it works okay with creamy, strongly-flavored sauces (see photo of Artichoke Lemon Pesto Pasta w/Chicken – thank you Juli Bauer!) My pasta substitution of choice is zoodles!!! Its a noodle made from zucchini! How FUN! And so much easier to make, plus way less time consuming. They also have a much milder taste than spaghetti squash so they pair better with more mellow sauces. The only trick here is that you need 1 of 2 tools to make zoodles. Either a mandoline or a julienne peeler (or spiral vegetable slicer). With the mandoline you can slice your zucchini into thin, flat strips, then use a knife to cut to the thickness of your choice. With a julienne or spiral slicer they basically do all the work for you. Both are easy. Only sort of downside is that when doing this with your zucchini, you kind of have to stop once you hit seeds because the noodle will break apart once the seeds are involved – so think of a delicious and creative way to repurpose the middle of your zucchini! I have a few photos up of dishes that involve zoodles – Zoodles with meatsauce, shrimp scampi and langostino tail scampi – but the options are endless!
So those are my favorite, and Italian-ish substitutions, but that is barely a dent into the world of paleo-friendly substitutions! Here are some other favorites of mine –
Coconut oil and/or ghee instead of butter for sauteing and in recipes
Bacon grease for frying or sauteing
Pumpkin puree or overripe bananas in baked goods instead of oil
Coconut milk instead of regular milk in curries
Cauliflower mash instead of mashed potatoes AND cauliflower rice instead of traditional rice
…and the list goes on! Anyone have any favorite substitutions that I’ve forgotten??