Cooking Your Favorite Cuisine In Mexico: 8 Substitute Ingredients

Before I moved to Mexico, I lived in Southern France. The dish I missed the most was
enchiladas. At the time, the only Mexican imports you could find in a French supermarket were
tequila and flour tortillas. Still, my hankering for enchiladas wouldn’t go away. So, I bought a
bunch of substitute ingredients, and went about creating what I called, ‘Mexican Lasagna.’
My masterpiece was a three-layer casserole. From the kidney beans to the Pyrenees cheese to
the Pace-Picante-style sauce, there was nothing remotely Mexican about my creation. But in
the end, it didn’t matter. Everyone loved it. Even to this day I still get requests to cook up a tray
of my ‘Mexican Lasagna’ even though I now live in Mexico.

That’s the important thing to remember when you’re making a recipe and you can’t get your
hands on everything you need. Nothing can substitute the original ingredients, but if you
combine new ingredients in a similar way, you may end up with a new dish you will enjoy for
years to come.


So many American favorites call for buttermilk: biscuits, flapjacks, fried chicken. It’s
that secret, sour, something that adds a little extra to a recipe.
You can make a substitute by combining 1 cup of milk with the juice of half a lime. Stir the
mixture together, and then let it set in the refrigerator for ten minutes.

Sour Cream

You’ve got a serving platter of chips and raw vegetables laid out on the table. All
you need is a bowl of your favorite dip to go with it. Sour Cream is the base for so many dips:
French Onion, Spinach Artichoke, Sour Cream and Chive. Luckily, crema (found throughout
Mexico) has a similar consistency to sour cream.
Like the buttermilk substitute you can add half a lime’s juice to 1 cup of crema. Alternatively,
you can use Greek yogurt as a substitute. However, yogurt usually drastically changes the flavor
of the dish.


In many parts of Mexico the Asian food section of the supermarket consists of soy sauce
and Sritacha. If you’re going to cook up some pad Thai or sushi, you’re going to need some
substitute ingredients.
When a recipe calls for mirin (rice wine), I replace it with 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar and ½
teaspoon of sugar. You can also substitute it for 1 table spoon of dry white wine and ½
teaspoon of sugar.

Rice vinegar

Rice Vinegar is a lite-tasting vinegar compared to most of its cousins. The closest in flavor
would probably be apple vinegar. I often use this as a replacement, but I’ll water it down with 1

teaspoon of water per 1 tablespoon of vinegar. Another substitute is pickle juice (from dill
pickles). Pickle juice is similar in acidity to rice vinegar, but the addition of dill and other spices
may not work well in all recipes.

Fish Sauce

Fish Sauce can change a Thai green curry from ‘ok’ to ‘impressive.’ Some folks will tell you
Worcestershire sauce (Salsa Inglesa) is the same as fish sauce. But my taste buds say they don’t
have the same flavor at all.
I find the best substitute is fish bouillon powder (or powder from fish bouillon cubes). Sprinkle a
pinch on your dish and taste the difference.

Chili Powder:

When I moved to Mexico I expected to see chili powder for sale in every corner
store. I always thought it was the base for most Mexican cuisine. Turns out I was wrong.
The seasoning is not one ground-up chili, but rather a mixture of several spices. While these
spices may be used in many Mexican dishes, the seasoning, chili powder, is mostly found in
American recipes like Texas pulled pork, chili con carne, and Buffalo wings.

Here’s my chili powder recipe. Combine the following ingredients, and then store the mixture in
an airtight container.
2 tbsp. Cayenne Pepper (use less for a less spicy mix)
2 tbsp. Garlic Powder
2 tbsp. Cumin
2 tbsp. Paprika
2 tsp. Onion Powder
2 tsp. Oregano


There’s something about the texture and spiciness of horseradish that makes my
mouth water. I suppose it reminds me of New Orleans. I’ll never forget the first time I ordered
deep fried mushrooms. They came with a side of horseradish sauce. As soon as I’d finished the
first order, I went up to the counter and asked for another carton.
Outside of Japan most wasabi paste is just horseradish with green food coloring. It can make a
good substitute if you’re looking for the flavor and spiciness of horseradish. I’ve tested it in a
bloody mary and I’ve gotten good results.

Cheddar Cheese and Mozzarella

Cheddar cheese and Mozzarella can both be found in large Mexican supermarkets these days.
However, the versions you will often find are not real, but rather processed cheeses. If you’re
whipping up some mac and cheese, you may want to use a local, unprocessed cheese.

Chihuahua is the closest Mexican cheese to cheddar. It’s a hard, cow’s milk cheese, with a
cheddar-like sharp flavor. Imported gouda can be a good substitute as well. It usually tastes like
a mild-cheddar.
Oaxaca cheese is a wonderful replacement for melted mozzarella. If you tear it into long
strands, and evenly place it, you’ll find it melts perfectly. Try using it on pizza or a tray of
lasagna. You’ll wonder why they don’t export it to Italy.

In Conclusion…

While living in Mexico you may find it difficult to recreate the dishes you miss
from your home country. But if you try cooking with these substitute ingredients, I’m sure you’ll
find a new cuisine you and your family will enjoy for years to come.

Nathan Feuerberg