How to substitute ingredients you can’t find


  • When I’m out of Thai basil I use Italian basil. This achieves similar results but the dishes don’t turn out quite as fragrant as when I use Thai basil.
  • Once you’ve tracked down some kaffir lime leaves, you shouldn’t need a substitute (they’ll last for a year in the freezer without losing flavour, so you can buy a really large pack) but, if you do find yourself without them, try thin slivers of lime peel instead.
  • Similarly, lemongrass can be substituted by lemon zest. Use the zest of one lemon per two stalks of lemongrass.
  • Green papaya can be expensive and hard to find. Try making som tam with swede instead. The taste and texture is very similar. Try this recipe for swede salad
  • Palm sugar can be replaced with light brown sugar or muscovado sugar.
  • No roots on your coriander? Substitute five coriander stalks for every root in your recipe.
  • Fish sauce is essentially seasoning so, if you haven’t got any in the kitchen, you can always use salt. Your dish just won’t have the same depth of flavour. Try adding some anchovy paste mixed with water for a closer substitute.
  • Can’t find shrimp paste? Use 1 tbsp fish sauce for every ½ tsp shrimp paste.
  • You can use Mediterranean-style (purple) aubergine instead of the green Thai ones in most dishes, as long as it’s not one that uses them raw. You’ll lose the authentic bitterness but the texture is similar.  
  • Kale and spring greens can be cooked the same way as morning glory. Your dishes will be different but still delicious.
  • Pandanus leaves have no good substitutes. If you can’t find these, leave them out or try a different recipe. 
  • Galangal can be difficult to find. The closest substitute is a very young ginger; older onese will be too peppery for your dish.
  • Please don’t substitute Thai jasmine rice with the processed long grain stuff. Basmati rice would be a better choice.