Cooking for an Allergy–Free Lifestyle is a book with a difference. It is written by me, a person with allergies for people with allergies, but the recipes in its pages are as delicious as any dairy-laden, wheat-ridden, egg-loaded dish.
Most importantly, this book is for easy cooking. It is not an exercise in paint by numbers: it offers outlines for you to add and take away, mix and match to create your own original. My aims are that you don’t spend hours in the kitchen cooking, yet still produce allergy-friendly, delicious foods and to help you to alter your own ‘family favorite’ recipes to make them ‘allergy safe’.
If you or someone close to you suffers from allergies – this book is useful to have.
I’m 40, married (to Larry) and have great sons: Joey, 11, Lennie, 10 and Sam, 7. My career journey began as an artist and fashion designer. Marriage, and then children, shifted my focus and I was no longer drawn to fashion design. I decided to take time off to be a mom. During this period we immigrated to Seattle, USA and then back to Cape Town, South Africa. I taught preschool, ran summer camps and, in between, encountered major allergy issues.
I have a sensitivity to wheat, gluten and sugar. Then along came my first-born, Joey, who was breastfed but still managed to suffer from wheat and dairy issues (with some mould and dust mite sensitivities thrown in too). Lennie, who came second, had to avoid gluten and dairy … OK, add (actually take away) orange, pineapple, kiwi, strawberry, white potato (no chips!), tomato, peppers, aubergine … and anything including these items. A few years on came Sam … egg, soya, dairy, wheat, nuts, peanuts (don’t worry, we’re doing better – he can now have wheat and soy) … and all of these with the threat of anaphylactic shock hanging over our heads. Heavens, you say, what did they eat? Good question, because with all the processed food around, they still manage to eat a ton of wonderful food.
I want to share with you our family secrets and recipes because I know how hard it is to be ‘alone’ with allergies – your own or your children’s: to be unable to eat what other people are eating; to be afraid to send your children to places where they might encounter a substance which seems innocuous to others, but which could be fatal to them; to be judged ‘difficult’ or ‘weird’ by others who don’t understand why you can’t just do what everyone else is doing. Well, there are ways to be able to have your cake (even if it is wheat/gluten/ egg/ dairy-free) and eat it too. This book makes it easy, and shows how my family, all with our weird allergies, lives a normal life. People often stare at me in disbelief and pity: you can’t have x and y and z and more? Well, this book is filled with yummy foods which are yummy regardless of allergies, and it gives alternatives which are easy and delicious.
Food is the very first pleasure we experience. The preparation of food is an act of love – the sharing of it with family and friends, its consummation. The main ingredients for successful cooking are enthusiasm, perseverance, spirit of adventure and anticipation of joy. These ingredients are essential to every recipe. Having said this, you need a well organized and well stocked pantry too!
I am a firm believer in being organized. When you’re baking a batch, bake two, freeze one for those last minute play-dates, school lunches etc. Have a few extra casseroles and soups in the freezer. Wheat-free breads freeze well and save the schlep when you can’t just pop in to your local café to buy a loaf – I know, it saves my sanity over and over again.
The book also includes a shopping list for stocking your pantry to use as a guideline for making your own master list. I keep mine on computer and print it out each month. Having a stock of items is insurance against having to rush out and buy an exorbitantly expensive ready-made item (like gluten-free biscuits), and allows you always to have an alternative at hand for those one or two children who can’t have x, y or z.
Cooking for an Allergy-Free Lifestyle is a highly practical book, with emphasis on convenience and quality of cooking. We live in the age of information. Despite its many benefits, we sometimes find it difficult to distinguish the practical, useful ideas amidst the flood with which we are constantly bombarded. I hope that this book provides clarity in the ‘how to’ of living a balanced and affordable allergy-friendly lifestyle. By returning to the basics and simplifying our choices (and our recipes), we can eat delicious food that maintains our good health…and not go broke or crazy in the process.
A few recipes from the book:
TAMMI’S WATER CHALLAH – egg free, nut free and dairy free
"The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight..." M.F. K. Fisher, The Art of Eating.
I learned to make this dense and delicious Challah bread in Seattle. Americans call it ‘water challah’ as challah is usually made using egg and extra water is substituted. It is eaten up to the last crumb and I highly recommend a slice eaten with and dipped in soup. The dining table is compared to an altar and challah bread to the sacrifice; it is so good it is like manna and the smell of fresh baked bread will fill your home. This bulk recipe makes six loaves. Freeze the extras, when cooled, in plastic freezer bags; when you need, defrost and just before serving warm a loaf in the oven wrapped in foil. It will taste freshly baked and straight out of the oven.
1 x 2.5 kg bag of bread flour
3 x 10 g sachets instant dry yeast
5 – 6 cups warm (not hot) water
1 ½ cups sugar
1 – 1 ½ cups oil (sunflower or olive)
1 TBsp salt
Place yeast and sugar in a large round flat bottomed bowl and cover with water. Leave for 5 to 7 minutes to allow yeast to prove (bubble) to show that it is active. Then add oil and salt and stir. Add flour, about 2 cups at a time, reserving a ½ cup for dusting your hands and the surface you will be working on. Start by mixing with a wooden spoon till a ball of dough forms. Dust your hand with flour, then knead and turn the bowl by ½ turns until smooth and elastic (knead for about 10 minutes).
Then cover dough with a damp dish cloth/towel and leave to rise in a warm place until dough has doubled in bulk (approx. 45 minutes to an hour), on a cold day dough will take longer to rise than on a warmer day. Challah dough without egg rises much faster than dough with egg.
Then literally punch down the dough in the bowl, turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead again. Remove a small (olive sized) piece for the hafrashat challah. Using a bread knife, divide dough by cutting it into ½ and then into thirds – making six equal sized pieces. Then divide each piece again into three or four pieces (according to your braiding choice).
Roll each small piece into a ‘snake’ and braid – don’t forget to tuck the ends under.
Place on a greased or floured baking tray to prevent sticking. Using a clean paint brush or pastry brush, brush each loaf with a little water. When you have braided all six loaves leave to rise for 10-15 minutes, while heating the oven to 180c. Put it in the oven and bake for 30 -35 minutes until tops are lightly browned. This recipe freezes really well.
Tip: I keep an empty spice container filled with flour handy for sprinkling surfaces or my hands with extra flour as needed. A spray bottle filled with water is also a useful tool with which I mist the inside of the oven before baking. This ensures an even baked crust. Another empty spice bottle can be filled with an equal amount of cinnamon and sugar, very useful in baking.
I completely relate to the quotation below – bread making brings me to a state of wonderful relaxed Mindfulness:
"[Breadbaking is] one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world's sweetest smells...there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread." M.F. K. Fisher, The Art of Eating.
SWEET POTATO BREAD – gluten free, sugar free, yeast free and dairy free
This batter bread is versatile and delicious.Bake it in muffin pans or loaf tins.
1 large sweet potato, cooked and peeled
1 cup rice flour
1 cup finely ground yellow polenta meal
1 cup soya milk
2 TBsps sunflower oil
1 heaped tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt or herb salt
Preheat the oven to180c. When preparing for this recipe, leave the potato whole; prick it all over with a sharp knife or fork, then steam for about 25 min or until soft. Or you could steam it in a microwave for 8 -10 min instead. Roughly chop the cooked, peeled sweet potato and put it in a food processor with all the other ingredients. Using the blade attachment, whizz the mixture until smooth, then transfer it to a small oiled loaf tin and bake for 40 mins or until beginning to brown on top.
CHUNKY POTATO PESTO SALAD - wheat free, dairy free, nut free, egg free, sugar free
8 potatoes or 1 kg baby potatoes
½ tsp sea salt
Black pepper – freshly ground
1 bunch fresh basil washed and dried
2 -3 large cloves garlic crushed (or 1 heaped teaspoon crushed garlic)
1 cup sunflower seeds dry roasted in a pan (must watch carefully as they burn easily)
¼ cup olive oil
MethodBoil potatoes till fork tender not mushy. Drain and leave to cool. Then cut each potato into large chunks leaving skin on. Alternatively use baby potatoes. Do not peel.
Place in wide shallow bowl. Pour over a little olive oil and grind over black pepper.
With a kitchen scissors cut up basil. Mix with crushed garlic, toasted seeds and olive oil. Leave to stand for an hour to allow flavors to develop and combine. Spoon over the potatoes and serve cold or at room temp.
Tip: Pesto will keep in a jar in fridge for up to a week – pour a little extra olive oil over the top to seal before closing lid.
SUSHI RICE SALAD - WF; DF; GF; EF
I love Sushi and do enjoy making it, but find all the rolling and assembly really time consuming. This salad has all the makings of sushi, but thrown together in a salad form - now that's something I can handle! It's very easy and sure to satisfy those sushi cravings. It makes a delicious and very impressive starter – or main course for a dinner party.
Ingredients: Sushi Rice
3 cups uncooked sushi rice, 3 cups water
½ cup Japanese rice vinegar (sometimes I use apple cider vinegar instead)
½ cup sugar
1 tsp salt
Remaining Salad Ingredients
1 large English cucumber, quartered lengthwise, cored and chopped into ‘sticks’
1 purple onion cut in half and sliced finely
2 carrots cut Julienne style
1 TBspn sesame seeds, toasted
1 large ripe avocado
2 sheets nori (paper thin sheets of dried seaweed), cut into thin 5cm long strips with a scissor
1 package smoked salmon offcuts (optional)
To prepare rice, rinse rice thoroughly in a sieve. Drain well. You used to have to rinse rice to remove talc that was used to coat rice. Now rice is coated with a cereal starch instead, so this isn't strictly necessary, but I find I get better results when I rinse my rice. If I don't, the rice doesn't end up as sticky as it should be. Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan; add rice. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.
While rice is steaming, in a small saucepan bring vinegar to a boil with sugar and salt, stirring until sugar is dissolved and remove from heat. The idea behind the sugar is to cause the tartness of the vinegar to be lessened, while the salt is to bring out the flavor of the vinegar while cutting the sweetness a bit.
In a dry small pan toast sesame seeds over moderate heat, stirring, until golden and fragrant and transfer to a small bowl.
Once your rice is cooked, uncover and cool to room temperature. Place rice in a large flat bowl, I use a large glass casserole dish. Evenly sprinkle your sushi vinegar mix over the rice, and using a spatula, mix the rice and vinegar by cutting through the rice with the blade of the spatula. Try to avoid using metal as it will change the flavor of the rice. Be careful not to break the kernels of the rice or to flatten the rice or it won't have the same look and feel to it. Once it's well mixed, using a fan or a plate, fan the rice down to room temperature. By doing this, the rice will have the right glossy look while still being nice and sticky. If you don't fan it, the rice's hull won't remain intact as well and kernels will break when you use it. At this point, your rice is ready to use.
Tezu is important when preparing sushi. Many people don’t like the stickiness of the rice on their hands so they spread the rice with a wooden spoon. The best way to handle rice is with your hands, and the best way to keep it from sticking to your hands is to use tezu. Tezu is simply a mix of one part water and one part rice vinegar. Apply it to your hands slightly sparingly, and you'll be able to handle rice without it sticking. Also soak some into a rag, and use this rag to clean your knife after every few slices when cutting rolled sushi.
Use a deep medium sized round bowl, rinse bowl with cold water, do not dry. Transfer rice into bowl and pat down into the mould. Turn rice out onto a platter. Peel and pit avocado, quarter avocado and cut crosswise into thin slices. Arrange avocado, cucumber, onion, carrot (and smoked salmon if using) around salad. Sprinkle over the toasted sesame seeds.
Serve salad sprinkled with nori strips and drizzled with dressing of your choice.
Sushi rice salad – photographed by Larry Forman
Choose one of these salad dressings for sushi salad, they are all delicious:
GINGER Dressing- –WF; VE; DF; GF; EF
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1 TBsp vegetable oil
1 TBsp soy sauce
1 tsp grated peeled fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 to 3/4 tsp prepared wasabi (Japanese horseradish), optional
Place first five ingredients and wasabi in a small bowl and whisk together – drizzle over the salad.
Soy free dressing
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup rice vinegar (or apple cider)
1 tsp grated ginger (or ½ tsp powdered ginger)
½ tsp crushed garlic
Pinch of salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Place all ingredients in a glass jar and shake well.
JAPANESE SALAD DRESSING - VE; DF; GF; EF
1/2 cup minced onion
1/2 cup peanut oil
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
2 TBsp water
2 TBsp minced fresh ginger root
2 TBsp minced celery
2 TBsp ketchup (tomato sauce)
4 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp white sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
Place all ingredients in a medium sized bowl and whisk together. Pour over
salad and enjoy. This recipe makes enough for two salads, the extra keeps well in
ONION SALAD DRESSING - VE; DF; EF
3TBsp rice wine vinegar
4TBsp vegetable oil
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
1TBsp grated onion
Place all ingredients in a medium sized bowl and whisk together.
Make this dressing the day before if possible and chill in the fridge before using.
Stir just before using to re-blend ingredients – drizzle over salad and enjoy.
SIMPLE & EASY SOY DRESSING- VE; DF; EF
¼ cup rice or apple cider vinegar
2TBsp soy sauce
½ cup olive oil
2 TBsp water
1 TBsp honey
Pour ingredients directly into a salad dressing bottle – or empty clean mayonnaise jar. Shake well and drizzle over salad. The dressing keeps well in the fridge and is delicious over any green salad.
Tammi Forman lives in Cape Town, South Africa.