Written by contributor Nicole Bennett of Gidget Goes Home.

With the holidays approaching, I’m sure lots of us are about to ramp up our cooking and baking. As my family transitions to a more traditional diet, I’m always looking for ways to modify family recipes so I don’t have to abandon those comfortable favorites. We can even make just small recipe changes to pack a more nutritional punch into our dishes.

Here are a few of my favorite basic substitutions to start with:

  • Real (ideally grass-fed) butter in place of margarine or shortening
  • Coconut oil in place of vegetable or canola oil
  • Brown rice syrup in place of corn syrup
  • Whole wheat flour (or pastry flour) in place of about half the white flour (and unbleached white flour for the other half)
  • Whole cane sugar in place of white granulated sugar

The Challenge of Condensed Soup

When I first started substituting and modifying my recipes, one of my biggest stumbling blocks was the infamous condensed “cream of…” soup, that is a main ingredient for many comfort food dishes, like casseroles, enchiladas, pot-pies and more.

Photo by Robert Couse-Baker

Condensed soup has, believe it or not, been around since 1897, which is probably why it appears in even many of our passed-down family recipes. But in our modern industrial food system, the recipe has been “perfected” to often include unwanted ingredients such as MSG, modified corn starch, soybean oil, dried milk, and high fructose corn syrup.

Recently, Wardeh at GNOWFLIGNS had an informative post linking to a variety of recipes for homemade “cream of… soup” substitutes. I want to share my own version of the condensed soup substitute, adapted from a great cookbook for from-scratch cooking using basic ingredients, the More-With-Less Mennonite Cookbook

. It’s essentially a basic white sauce, made thick enough to substitute for condensed soup.

As the cooler season begins, I plan to make a few batches of this with various add-ins, and freeze it for easy casserole- and enchilada-making.

Better-Than-Condensed-Soup White Sauce

makes about the same as one 10-oz. can

3 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons unbleached flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk, stock or combination

  1. Melt butter in heavy saucepan.
  2. Blend in the flour and salt, cooking until bubbly.
  3. Stir in your choice of milk, stock or a combination of the two, using a wire whisk to prevent lumps.
  4. Cook until just smooth and thickened.

Optional flavors and add-ins (replacing various “cream of…” condensed soups):

  • cheese: add 1/2 cup grated cheese and 1/4 t. dry mustard
  • tomato: use tomato juice as liquid (instead of milk or stock); add a dash of each: garlic salt, dried onion, basil and oregano.
  • mushroom: saute 1/4 cup chopped mushrooms and 1 T. finely chopped onion in the butter, before adding the flour.
  • celery: saute 1/2 cup chopped celery and 1 T. finely chopped onion in the butter, before adding the flour.
  • chicken: use chicken broth/stock as half the liquid. Add 1/4 t. poultry seasoning or sage, and diced cooked chicken, if desired.
  • for other varied flavors, try: curry powder, garlic/onion/celery salt, grated nutmeg, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, chopped or blended vegetables, chopped parsley, chopped chives, chopped hard-cooked eggs.

Do you have any favorite healthy substitutes you can share with us?