How to Modify a Recipe (and still make something that tastes good)

This weekend we hosted our annual winter potluck and we were responsible for the main course.  My husband signed up to make a roast which I knew would be amazing (it was).  And I hunted around for an inspiration recipe that would be easy (because parenting is hard), substantial (in case anyone didn't want beef), and colorful (because vegetables are good for you).  

I came across a recipe for Orzo with Roasted Vegetables from Ina Garten.  It was basically what I was looking for yet I was missing many of the ingredients.

The final dish ended up being a really great example of how to use your ninja-like-improv-skills yet still capture the essence of a recipe.   

Original: Courtesy of  Food Network

Original: Courtesy of Food Network

Real Food House version

Real Food House version

If you find yourself in this situation, here are some tips for how to modify yet still make something that tastes delicious.

  1. Use items that are a similar size and texture.  
    • The original recipe calls for peeled eggplant which I didn't have (and didn't want to peel) so I used zucchini.  
  2. Swap items within the same family of foods.
    • I didn't have red onion so I used a shallot.  A yellow onion or scallions would've also been fine.  
    • I didn't have orzo so I used bowtie pasta but any pasta or grain would work.  For example, quinoa or rice would be delicious and fit in a gluten-free menu.  
    • The recipe calls for pine nuts and I had some but any mild-flavored, similar-sized nut or seed would be good here (sliced almonds, sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts). 
  3. Add and subtract based on what you and your guests like to eat.  
    • I like roasted broccoli, it adds flavor and crunch so I added it in.  
    • The recipe calls for minced garlic and raw scallions.  Since I was already using a shallot, and since some people don't like foods that are too garlicky or oniony, I left those out.  
  4. Keep herbs, dressings, and sauces similar to the original to best capture the essence of the dish.  
    • Herbs, dressings and sauces add a huge punch of flavor so these are the items you'll want to keep closer to the original recipe.  Especially if you're new to cooking.  
    • If you want to change things up, or if you're missing an herb, check out this sweet little herb substitution guide.  

And that's how Orzo With Roasted Veggies became my revamped Potluck Pasta with Roasted Veggies.     

One of the many benefits of being an improv cook is that you can look to recipes for inspiration but still feel comfortable modifying based on what you have on hand and what you like to eat.  Meaning you won't have to run to the store at the last minute and you'll like your food even more. 

Hope this potluck season is treating you well, my friends. 

Happy Cooking, 


P.S.  If you want to hone your ninja-like-improv skills, go here