We’ve all tried to make a new dish and skimmed the ingredients list to find something we’ve never heard of or can never find at the store.
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Some recipes allow you to "wing it" by substituting vastly different ingredients or leaving them out, and then there are those recipes that fall apart without that one thing you can't seem to find anywhere. The results can be disappointing, especially after you've spent so much time and effort following very complicated instructions with a million different steps, only to taste the final results and discover the flavor is off.
This is a mistake many novice cooks can make when they are in a rush and really wish to create the meal they had in mind. It can be a lot of pressure.
It’s super annoying and can alter the taste of an otherwise delicious dish if you don’t include it but, there are ways around simply skipping an awkward ingredient altogether.
This article will focus on substituting chili paste. Chili paste may not seem that exotic, but it can actually be pretty hard to find at your local grocery store, despite how often it’s used in classic dishes like spicy soups and curries.
Which substitute you use will depend on why you’re using it. Sometimes recipes include chili paste simply to add some spice to the dish, other recipes require it to alter the overall consistency of the dish. Fortunately, we’ve found substitutes for both!
Keep reading for the best substitutes for chili paste. Most of them can be found at your local grocery store or may even already be in your cupboards!
What Is Chili Paste?
Chili paste is a flavoring, typically used in cuisines such as Asian. The paste is based around chili peppers and at its most basic level, chili paste can literally just consist of the pulp of ground chili peppers.
But, it can also be much more complicated and can be flavored, thinned, and mixed into sauces, flavoring agents, and more.
The varieties of this condiment are endless, although some of the more common versions are Thai chili paste, red chili paste and green chili paste.
Chili paste can make or break a dish and its flavors can vary from sweet to savory, mild to spicy, it all depends on what you add to it. Typically, chili paste is used to add flavor and/or spice to dishes such as curries, soups and even meat dishes by rubbing the paste on meat such as poultry or even fish.
Your average chili paste will at least consist of a mixture of chilies, oil, spices, salt and some type of fish paste or sauce. Manufacturers in the U.S. tend to use green chilies more, but the red variety is also very popular.
What to Substitute for Chili Paste
Finding chili paste in your local store is not always easy as it's not as popular as hot sauce or regular tomato paste, but that doesn’t mean you have to miss out because fortunately there are plenty of ingredients you can use that work as great substitutes.
Here’s our favorite substitutes for chili paste:
- Crushed pepper flakes
These work particularly well if you only need to add spice to a dish rather than a change in consistency. Crushed pepper flakes are a staple in most homes, so this is a nice easy option to start us off.
This simple substitute consists of just dried crushed cayenne peppers, but they pack a punch. Adding just a pinch of crushed pepper flakes can intensify a dish.
If you do need more of a paste consistency, simply add some crushed pepper flakes to some regular tomato paste and mix until combined.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to use a tomato paste, try mixing crushed pepper flakes with some soy sauce and sugar to create a paste.
- Ground cayenne pepper & Ketchup/tomato paste
Another easy option that you will likely already have in your cupboards, ground cayenne pepper and Ketchup will do the trick and will come close to the same consistency as chili paste.
Simply add some Ketchup or tomato paste/purée to a bowl and slowly add the ground cayenne pepper until the desired flavor and spice level is reached.
This is a great option for dishes that require cooking, like stews and soups, but can be used as a dip if you like.
- Hot sauce
Similarly to crushed chili flakes, using hot sauce as a chili paste substitute is fine if you only need it to add some spice to a dish as the consistency is not similar to chili paste at all.
Its flavor is the most similar to chili paste, but if you need to replicate the thicker consistency of chili paste then the previous substitute is probably best for you. However, if you’re determined to use hot sauce in your recipe, try adding another spice to thicken it such as paprika or maybe even a small amount of corn flour to create a paste.
- Make your own!
Of course, before relying on a substitute, the best thing you can do is make your own. You only need a few ingredients, most of which you might already have at home. Plus, it won’t take long to make!
Depending on the taste you’re going for, the ingredients required may differ slightly but most people in the U.S. tend to use green chilies or Mexican hot chilies, but you can really use whatever chilies you wish.
Here’s the ingredient you’ll need:
- Chili peppers of choice
- Oil of choice
- Onion or garlic
- Fish sauce/shrimp paste/something similar
The process is pretty simple, the two main ways for making chili paste is:
- Simmering dried chilies in a mixture of vinegar and tomatoes
- Blending chilies until they reach a paste consistency and add extra ingredients including oil, spices, sugar etc.
We’re going to show you the latter. Here’s how you do it:
- Step 1: using a blender or food processor, add chili peppers of your choice and onions until they are finely sliced
- Step 2: add the mixture to a pan with a splash of oil and cook on a medium heat for about 15 minutes and stir
- Step 3: as the mixture cooks, slowly add in the spices, sugar, salt and fish sauce. You can also add a little more oil if you think it needs it
- Step 4: add the cooked ingredients to the food processor/blender and blend until you get a smooth, paste-like mixture, and you’re done
- Step 5: add to your dish and enjoy!
Chili paste is a super versatile condiment and should not be simply left out of a recipe if you can help it. If you run out of chili paste or struggle to find it at the store, don’t settle for a less tasty dish, using one or all of these chili paste substitutes will save your dish!
When it comes to picking which one will best suit your dish, always take into consideration the desired consistency before deciding. If you’re struggling to create a paste-like thickness, you could always add some additional spices like paprika or even flour.
Chili Paste Substitute: Our Chef Answers Your Questions
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