If you’re new to Paleo and wondering how the heck you’re going to keep from reinventing the wheel and finding brand new recipes for everything, this is the post for you. The easiest version of Paleo is to stick to meat and eggs, veggies and some fruit and healthy fats but with a few basic swaps, you’ll recreate flavors and textures that you thought were off limits (minus the gut irritation and inflammation).
Easy Paleo Recipe Substitute #1: Instead of cream or milk, use full-fat coconut milk.
If you’re not eating dairy anymore, that means staying away from milk and cream in recipes. Certain dishes will lack the creamy, unctuous mouthfeel that you’re familiar with and wind up tasting, well, watery. Full-fat coconut milk makes a darn good sub for whole milk or cream and while it does have a slightly coconutty flavor, I don’t find it overpowering. The best part? If you use coconut milk instead of milk, it’s almost always a 1 to 1 substitution.
If you’re allergic to coconut or don’t care for the taste, another great option is homemade almond milk. To make it extra rich, I cut the water in the recipe down from 4 cups to 3. Sure you can buy pre-made nut milks in your market’s refrigerated section but most of them have preservatives and other pointless ingredients.
Here are a few of my favorite recipes using coconut milk:
Easy Paleo Recipe Substitute #2: Instead of butter, use ghee or coconut oil.
If you’re not down with butter, alternatives exist to mimic both the texture and / or flavor. (Note: grass-fed butter finds its way into some Paleo kitchens but some folks who are ultra sensitive to dairy proteins avoid it). The good news is that ghee (essentially clarified butter that’s been cooked a bit longer to have a caramelly, almost butterscotch flavor) gives the conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and vitamin K2 in butter without the potentially problematic proteins. It’s basically butterfat. You can make your own or find jars in your market’s butter section. Bonus: it has a really high smoke point, making it ideal for high temperature cooking.
Avoiding all dairy? Coconut oil, which is mostly saturated fat, is a great butter stand-in because it’s solid below 77°F and has a moderately high smoke point. Sure, it tastes nothing like butter, but it’s really versatile (even great as a moisturizer, a body butter, a hair mask, a make up remover, etc.). Read more about coconut oil – which to use and which to avoid – in my article here.
Bonus: ghee is part of the Whole30, so if you’re planning to do one in January with me, stock up now!
Easy Paleo Recipe Substitute #3: Instead of soy sauce, use coconut aminos.
So no…cavemen didn’t use coconut aminos, but they didn’t use soy sauce either. Remember, Paleo’s not a historical re-enactment of exactly what our ancestors ate. Soy sauce is responsible for that savory umami flavor that forms the background of so many dishes, Asian-inspired or otherwise, but soy sucks for so many reasons and is one of those “health” foods to avoid. What’s a savory-seeking saveur to do?
Use coconut aminos instead. Made from the fermented sap of the coconut tree, this savory liquid isn’t an *exact* doppelganger for your beloved bottle of soy sauce, but it’s the next best thing.
Here are a few of my favorite recipes that use coconut aminos:
Easy Paleo Recipe Substitute #4: Instead of rice, use cauliflower “rice”.
If rice is off the menu because you’re eating strict Paleo, consider using “riced” cauliflower instead. Simply put, cauliflower rice is created by grating, blending or processing the white veggies down into rice-sized bits. Anything you put rice in, you can switch out for cauliflower instead. It becomes a blank canvas upon which you’ll create layers of flavor by adding spices, meats and other veggies.
My favorite way to rice cauliflower is putting it in the food processor though some folks swear by putting large cauli chunks in a blender full of water, blitzing it, then straining the “riced” pieces out. A cooking tip: small pieces cook faster and won’t get water-logged. Also, don’t overload the pan.
Great recipes to try with cauliflower “rice”:
Easy Paleo Recipe Substitute #5: Instead of white flour, use coconut flour.
This one’s tricky because coconut flour is mega absorbent so you can’t use it in a 1 to 1 ratio in recipes that call for white (wheat) flour. You can bake with it, use it as a “breading” for chicken or fish and use it as a thickener, but remember this ratio:
1 cup white flour = 1/4 cup coconut flour
Sometimes, it’s more like 1/3 cup coconut flour, but this general range works.
A word to the wise: if you’re planning to do a lot of Paleo baking (which I don’t recommend) coconut flour is expensive. It’s also made from dried, very finely ground coconut meat so it’s pretty dense in calories. I use it sparingly, mostly as a thickening agent.
Here’s my favorite way to use coconut flour as a breading: Paleo Chick-fil-A
Easy Paleo Recipe Substitute #6: Instead of wine (for flavor), use homemade broth.
Many recipes call for red or white wine in soups, stews and sauces because it adds a layer of flavor. And whether you side with Julia Child or not (she famously said, “I enjoy cooking with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food.”) there is a way to substitute for the alcohol in your recipes: use homemade broth. Sure, you could do store-bought broth if you’re in a pinch, but you’ll want to find a brand that’s pretty squeaky clean.
My favorite way to make homemade broth: save the bones from chicken thighs or a whole chicken (or you can buy grass-fed beef bones, lamb neck bones, etc….whatever you fancy), put them in a crock pot and cover them with water (sometimes I add a halved leek or other veggie trimmings like the nubby tops of carrots or leftover celery) for flavor. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar (bonus if you add a bit of fish sauce like Nom Nom Paleo does). Keep on low for 24 hours, strain and use. Can be frozen or used fresh. As an added bonus, it’ll be rich in minerals and gelatin. Bone juice, for the win!