Top 10 Staples for Cooking with Food Allergies

One of my favorite things is figuring out how to make eating with food limitations work, deliciously.  Oh, it wasn’t always that way, but after an initial bout of “why me?!?” and a decade of navigating a veritable obstacle course of later-in-life food allergies – gluten, soy, dairy, nightshades, eggs, you name it! – I have learned that there’s almost no dish I can’t have . . . with a few adjustments, of course!

My secret?  Flexibility, an attitude of plenty rather than deprivation, and some key ingredients that reinforce my view that anything is possible.  Believe me, I’ve tried the other ones, those products that make a hunger strike start to sound appealing . . . not these!  These secret weapons are what I use and recommend to my own nutrition clients, a curated short list of tried and true staples to enrich your eating style, whatever it may be.

Please note that I have no affiliation with these products or companies! I just want to share some great ones I’ve discovered:

  1. Coconut Aminos – if you can’t have or choose not to eat soy, BUY THIS NOW, in bulk.  It is a soy-sauce substitute made from the bark of coconut trees, and has lower sodium than even low-sodium soy sauce, plus cool prebiotics and other good stuff.  And for those who – like me – loathe coconut, fear not: no coconut taste whatsoever.  Don’t eat sushi?  Buy it anyway, for all those recipes where you used to use soy.  http://www.coconutsecret.com/aminos2.html See below for a super-easy “Mongolian beef” style crockpot recipe.
  2. Kite Hill products (highlight: cream cheese, ricotta cheese, and plain Greek-style yogurt)  – Kite Hill, oh, how I love thee! Their almond-milk based ricotta cheese?  Tastes EXACTLY like, well, ricotta cheese.  It would take a more talented chef than I to make homemade ravioli with it, but you could, right?  I use it in omelets and other dishes, but I’m in love with it as a decadent, dairy-free “cheese” option.  And their cream cheese?  Ditto!  Oh, but don’t mistake this miraculous item for the rubbery Daiya version (sorry, Daiya – but I like some of your other products!) or the (equally rubbery) Kite Hill faux-brie (their only product that I loathe).  Last but definitely not least is the plain, Greek-style yogurt.  0 sugar, 14g protein, tart tanginess that make it great not just on its own.  Looking for a dairy-free substitute for sour cream in all those recipes you used make? THIS is it!
  3. Parmela Creamery – artisanal (ahem) nut cheese – once you stop snickering over the tag line (guilty), you’ll find that these cashew-based non-dairy cheese melt and taste damn good!  I particularly like the shredded mozzarella style in an omelet or on a (gluten-free) cracker.  And speaking of which…
  4. Trader Joe’s Gluten Free Norwegian Crispbread – great hearty taste AND 4g protein with only 3 net carbs?!?  Yes, please!  My staple cracker rather than one of those tasteless, simple sugar-y gluten free “crackers” that seem to abound with the explosion of gluten-free junk food today (hint: it’s still junk!).
  5. Simple Kneads Bread – This made-in-NC artisanal bread deserves way more than local love!  I first encountered this miraculous bread (or its twin) at The Village Deli, where they offered gluten-free sunflower bread, made by “some local guy who used to work here.”  I kept begging to buy a loaf, but he apparently wasn’t set up for retail.  So when I saw a similar-looking “Simple Kneads” gluten-free loaf at Harmony Farms, I was overjoyed.   When I ate it, I became convinced it was the same bread (disclaimer: I have no idea if it is).  Think your days of enjoying a reuben on something resembling rye bread are gone with the gluten?  Think again and get THIS bread, which comes in sourdough, pumpkin seed (oddly rye-like) and quinoa power bread.
  6. Miso-master Organic chickpea miso  – love that miso soup at Japanese restaurants but avoiding soy?  It’s easy to make at home – just skip the soy-based miso.  Didn’t know there was any other kind?   Neither did I, until I spotted tubs of rice, chickpea and other grain and bean based miso’s at Whole Foods.  Note: make sure to read the ingredients!  I was surprised to learn that the rice one still contains soy, but the chickpea one does not.  They are all gluten free, if that’s what you’re avoiding.
  7. Grainnaisance Mochi – no, not the ice cream mochi, but this product is also rice based.  If you are lucky enough to find this in a store (I did once, but now have to order in bulk from Whole Foods), it looks like a flat cake of nothing – which it is, until you cut it into one inch squares and bake it (briefly) in your oven according to package instructions.  And then?  It puffs up into the most delicious, lovely flaky almost bagel-like texture and goodness.  Try the original or the cinnamon raisin and if you’re not into cream cheese, top it off with…
  8. Soy-free Earth Balance – so you can’t have dairy or soy, but you CAN enjoy this non-dairy spread that actually tastes pretty good!  Ok, not a miracle, but definitely a staple for me when I find that good ol’ extra virgin olive oil won’t quite suffice.
  9. Zeroodles black bean pasta – I had to include the one bean-based pasta without soy that doesn’t taste like grainy “ew” to me.  This one holds together — hollds up well to sauce, yet doesn’t REQUIRE sauce to make it palatable.  I have eaten it with just a light oil some vegetables, and found it delicious.  Whether you are avoiding gluten, trying to eat lower carb, or just looking for some variety, this product packs your pasta meal with some much-needed protein and fiber.
  10. Your local Vietnamese Restaurant (I like Pho Far East in North Raleigh) – ok, you can’t put this one in your pantry but for the gluten, soy and dairy intolerant, Vietnamese food can be an economical lifesaver.  Double check where you go, but pho typically does not contain wheat OR soy, despite its savory noodle-y goodness.  It does contain a boatload of salt, so watch it if that’s an issue for you.  Don’t forget to explore the rest of the menu – rice paper spring rolls are also pretty yummy. 

Enjoy!  These are my ranking favorites after 10+ years of experimentation.  What are yours?

*Crock Pot Gluten-free, Soy-free Mongolian Beef

1.5 lb tri- tip, sliced thinly (as if for stir fry)

¾ cup coconut aminos

1 tbsp sesame oil

¼ cup arrowroot

3-4 big cloves garlic, minced

Crushed red peppers (to taste)

Couple pieces of ginger, minced (to taste)

  1. Put steak in zip lock bag with arrowroot, shake to distribute evenly
  2. Mix coconut aminos, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, crushed red peppers (to taste) in the crock pot
  3. Add coated meat and stir
  4. Cook on high for 1.5 to 2 hrs (it will be gooey and the meat should be cooked and tender)

Serve with steamed broccoli (or other vegetable) and / or cauliflower rice d

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