During most every cooking class I’ve ever taken, the teacher has at some point stressed the fact that recipes are not written in stone. They are guidelines for you to follow or change according to your tastes.
Don’t want to use chicken stock in an otherwise vegetable soup? Fine; use a vegetable stock you like instead.
Allergic to peanuts? Substitute something you can eat, such as almonds or cashews.
Just think about the substitution before you start and modify any other changes to suit the overall flavor of the dish.
I thought about this the other day when I went to make a recipe out of a new cookbook that friends had given me. It is titled “Cotton: The Cookbook” (Blue Tree, $14.95), and it features recipes from a restaurant in Manchester, N.H., that the couple had visited on their honeymoon.
They sang the praises of chef Jeffrey Paige’s crab cakes and the wild mushroom-port wine sauce they had sampled one evening. Both are in the cookbook and both will be tried when the weather gets a little cooler.
As for me, I jumped immediately to the recipe for Watermelon Gazpacho, a raw dish that seemed particularly easy to put together on a summer evening. I had most of the ingredients on hand, so I figured I’d dive right in. Anything with watermelon is always welcome on my table.
But I noticed almost immediately a few ingredients that just weren’t to my taste. One was sugar, which, to me, isn’ t needed if you have juicy, sweet watermelon. So, I eliminated it. Another was a substitution. Paige calls for red wine vinegar. I prefer the San Antonio method of using lime juice as an acid whenever possible. (I also left out the red bell pepper simply because I didn’t have any growing in the backyard or stashed in the fridge.)
So, here are are two variations on the same cold soup, an easy dish that’s sure to please, no matter which version you make: