Posted by Lori Ross - Viewed 13532 times
Story and photography by Lori Ross
I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of cooking for friends and family with special dietary restrictions. Adapting recipes and menus to respond to food preferences, allergies or restrictions stretches my creative and culinary muscles while making guests feel individually appreciated and welcome. And, it is especially rewarding when it turns into a spectacular meal that everyone enjoys!
The most challenging menu I ever created was a dinner we hosted aboard several years ago for boating industry acquaintances that we wanted to get to know better. It started as a simple get-together for drinks and dinner for six on a summer evening. Being a thoughtful hostess, I asked my guests in advance whether they had any dietary restrictions, food preferences or allergies. One couple was on the Atkins Diet; the other told me that he was on a low cholesterol and low fat diet and his wife was a vegetarian who ate eggs, milk and cheese but she had a severe allergy to ground pepper and the nightshade family of vegetables.
Understand that these are delightful people who never talk about their allergies or preferences and they would never have asked us to make any special accommodation for them; they simply responded to my request. It is no surprise that, today, people watch their cholesterol, fat and carb intake and I usually have several dishes that are low-fat and low-carb, but only about 4% of American adults suffer from food allergies. While many people have food sensitivities or intolerances, a true food allergy affects the central nervous system, so we didn’t want to take any chances with the menu.
Jim and I were baffled! What would we serve these lovely people that would be delicious and avoid calling attention to their conditions? We didn’t want to cook three different meals, nor did we want it to appear that we were in any way inconvenienced by their allergies/preferences. So we went to the internet to learn more about the dietary restrictions of these regimens.
We learned that the nightshades were a family of plants that include: potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, chiles, paprika, tobacco and petunias. Nightshades contain a nicotine-like toxin that can interfere with the body’s central nervous system causing muscular twitching, weakness, abnormally rapid heartbeat, migraines and disorientation. Craig Sams, founder of Whole Earth Foods and the Nomato brand of nightshade-free foods believes that if these foods were being introduced into the human diet today, modern food legislation would probably restrict them from entering the food chain! Happily, most of us are not allergic to these delicious foods!
We also knew, from experience, that low cholesterol/ lowfat diets require significant reduction in animal and trans-fats, while the Atkins plan severely limits carbohydrates and sugars rather than fats. Creating a menu would require some imagination!
So Jim and I sat down and listed everything they could NOT eat and then brainstormed menus that offered maximum flexibility. We wanted to have something substantial that each person could eat as a “main course” and one or two things everyone could eat safely to go with the main course. We decided on a Mediterranean theme that would incorporate all the foods our guests could eat. The menu would satisfy everyone, appear seamless and natural and avoid drawing attention to f their individual plights.
We started with an Pinzimonio - a platter of fresh, tasty raw vegetables (none from the nightshade family) served with oil and vinegar that your guests can mix and season themselves with salt, pepper, garlic and herbs that surround the platter in little bowls. For those who did not want olive oil dip, a garlicky non-fat yogurt dip was also served. A platter of Italian proscuitto, cheeses with bread and crackers plus a bowl of calamata olives rounded out the hors d’oeuvres. Low fat dieters could have veggies and yogurt dip, a few olives and a slice of cheese or proscuitto, while the Atkins followers could eat the everything but the crackers and bread and the lacto-vegetarian could eat all but the proscuitto and simply avoid adding pepper to her olive oil dip.
A simple salad of Asian greens and vegetables (none from the nightshade family) dressed with a bright, tasty dressing and optional cashews and Asian chili oil was followed by an assortment of skewers of grilled chicken, shrimp and beef. In addition, we prepared huge platter of more than a half-dozen perfectly roasted vegetables including zucchini, carrots, onions. Fennel, corn, radicchio, endive, mushrooms (none of the nightshades) along with wild rice pilaf with a gremolata of lemon, garlic and parsley and plus a bowl of silky white beans with sage and garlic rounded out the meal. We served all this with several sauces ranging from a spicy harissa to a mild horseradish sauce to offer a nice range of flavors from which diners could choose to complement their entrees. Dessert was a homemade cheesecake (made by one of my guests), sliced fresh fruit and berries, nuts, chocolates and port or dessert wine and coffee or tea.
Everyone loved the dinner and everyone was happy and satisfied. No one talked about their allergies, preferences or food restrictions and we had a lovely evening together.
While food sensitivities are uncomfortable, causing gastrointestinal disorders, fever, aching joints and muscles among other symptoms, while others can be life threatening. The top four food allergies in order of prevalence according to the newsletter Environmental Nutrition are shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts (e.g. walnuts, cashews) and fish. These allergies are usually quite serious and not to be taken lightly. They cause anaphylaxis, a sudden, severe, potentially fatal, systemic allergic reaction that can involve various areas of the body (such as the skin, respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract, and cardiovascular system). Symptoms occur within minutes to two hours after contact with the allergy-causing substance but, in rare instances, may occur up to four hours later. Anaphylactic reactions can be mild to life threatening. The annual incidence of anaphylactic reactions is about 30 per 100,000 persons, and individuals with asthma, eczema, or hay fever are at greater relative risk of experiencing anaphylaxis.
My husband’s best friend is allergic to shellfish. One winter day, I was cooking dinner – lovely shellfish stew – when our friend dropped by. The house was warm, steamy and redolent with the scent of garlic, shrimp and clams. He walked in, accepted a soft drink and after two sips, he started turning red, one side of his face began to swell before our eyes and he had trouble catching his breath. Jim took him outside and his symptoms subsided. The mere vapors of the shellfish in a confined place elicited a reaction that frightened all of us. Environmental Nutrition suggests that to avoid a reaction by allergic guests at your dinner you take the following steps: Review the menu with your friend including the recipes and offer to change any items that send up red flags; avoid cross contamination of allergen with the food, counters, appliances, cutting boards and silverware. For example, if shrimp was a component (for other guests) of a meal including my husband’s friend, I would steam the shrimp early and air out the house; wash steaming pans, cutting board and utensils in the dishwasher before he arrived, throw out shells and wash stove and counters thoroughly before making the rest of the meal. I would also avoid serving the shrimp on the same platter as other foods he can eat and check all the ingredients in the other recipes he will eat (e.g. no Asian fish sauce or anchovy paste in recipes).
For the dinner party described above, I had to remove all peppermills from my cooking area because I kept accidentally adding a few grinds of pepper to every dish (even the ones she was going to eat!) In addition, I had to put the nightshades in the fridge so I wouldn’t accidentally add them to any dish and hide the butter, oil and sugar to force me to be conscious of adding them!
Sometimes a host or hostess has to think on their feet when faced with a food allergy. A colleague of Jim’s has a severe fish allergy. During the Miami Boat Show several years ago, he joined a group of us for a lovely dinner on a mutual friend’s boat. Somehow, his fish allergy which was fairly well known, was never communicated to the hostess who poached fresh fish with rice and sautéed vegetables. Happily, it was a beautiful evening so he wasn’t affected by the steam and she didn’t learn about his allergy until she was serving dinner. Once she learned about his situation, she quickly took out clean bowls and utensils and whipped up a beautiful ham and cheese omelet, so that he could join us at the table without awkwardness.
Sometimes an allergy to a product (latex) is actually an allergy to the proteins found in the rubber tree from which natural rubber latex is made. Because these proteins are remarkably similar to proteins found in some foods, people with a latex allergy might “cross react” to avocados, bananas, kiwi, melon, papaya, peaches, potatoes and strawberries.
1 cup of each of the following vegetables:
Cruet of olive oil
Cruet of red wine or balsamic vinegar
¼ cup mustard
¼ cup of fresh herbs (one or several) such as Thyme, Rosemary, Mint
1/8 cup minced fresh garlic
Prepare a platter of fresh tasty vegetables, cut into strips or pieces. Set cruets of olive oil and vinegar on the table, along with salt, pepper, fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary, mint, Dijon mustard and minced garlic. Give your guests small bowls in which to mix up a sauce with the olive oil and vinegar, seasoning to taste. They then dip their veggies in their sauce and eat.
Tzatziki: Traditional Yogurt, Cucumber, and Garlic Dip
(pronounced dza-DZEE-kee )
Tzatziki is traditionally served as an appetizer and can be left on the table as an accompaniment to foods throughout the meal. The key to great tzatziki is the thick creamy texture that allows it to be eaten alone, as a dip, as a spread, and as a condiment.
16 oz (2 cups) of strained yogurt (Greek Yogurt) or regular yogurt (fat free, low fat or full fat)
4 to 5 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup of peeled, diced or shredded cucumber
1 tsp of lemon juice
1 tsp salt
Salt to taste and serve a pepper mill on the side
Chopped fresh chives and/or dill, for garnish
Peel cucumber and halve lengthwise. If it is not seedless, use a spoon to remove and discard seeds. Dice or shred the cucumber in food processor and pat it dry to remove excess moisture. If you are NOT using Greek strained yogurt, place yogurt to drain in colander lined with paper towels (over a bowl) for 1 hour at room temperature. Remove yogurt from strainer and place in mixing bowl. Add cucumber, lemon and garlic. Stir and season with salt and pepper (if no allergies to pepper). Decorate with chopped chives, dill or mint. Serve with fresh vegetables and olives. Tzatziki will store safely in the refrigerator for several days. The longer the tzatziki is refrigerated before serving, the more intense the garlic taste will become.
Asian Vegetable Salad (no soy and no fish sauce)
1 bunch leaf lettuce, trimmed, washed and spun dry, torn into pieces if very large
1 bunch watercress, tough stems removed, washed and spun dry
1 seedless cucumber thinly sliced
10 oz fresh sugar snap peas raw or blanched and refreshed* and cut in half
2 tbsp minced scallions
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
2 tbsp wine vinegar (or 2 tsp. soy or Asian fish sauce)
1 tbsp lime juice
1 1/4 tsp minced ginger
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp sugar (or artificial sweetener equivalent)
In a small bowl, to make the dressing, whisk together the scallions, 1 tbsp of the cilantro, the mint, rice wine vinegar, lime juice, ginger, garlic, sugar, and salt, and whisk to combine and dissolve the sugar. In a large bowl, combine the lettuce, watercress, raw or cooked snow peas.
Toss with the dressing. Divide the tossed salad among 4 plates. Drizzle lightly with the remaining dressing. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 tbsp chopped cilantro, and garnish with the nuts (optional), cilantro sprigs and chives and serve.
If no allergies, cubed pepper, feel free to add diced or sliced peppers. If you want a spicier dressing, add 1 tsp. grated fresh ginger and a minced hot red pepper or ¼ tsp. hot sauce to dressing.
*cook for 1 minute in microwave on high then immerse in ice bath to refresh, then dry
White Beans with Rosemary and Olive Oil
This recipe comes from Fine Cooking Magazine and works well with any large, meaty bean. Serve the dish warm or at room temperature. It could accompany grilled tuna with asparagus in summer or lamb chops with radicchio in the winter months.
1 lb. large dried white beans or 2 16 oz cans cannellini beans (drained and rinsed or Giant Aztec
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
1 head garlic, cloves separated but not peeled
Sprigs of fresh rosemary, thyme, and sage
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground fennel seed
Chopped fresh rosemary for garnish
If no allergies, you may add 1 tsp dried red pepper flakes or more to taste or several grinds of black pepper.
o Pick over the beans. Soak if desired and drain. In a large, heavy-based pot, cover the beans with 8 cups cold water.
o Add the onion, garlic, and herb sprigs and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a bare simmer, skimming any foam that rises to the surface.
o When the beans are almost tender (after one hour of cooking) or if you are using canned beans add the olive oil, salt, ground fennel, and pepper flakes. Cook on low for 20 minutes.
o Taste the beans and broth; add more salt if necessary. Allow the beans to cool in the broth for at least 1 hour before serving.
o To Serve: Warm the beans in the broth, and then transfer the beans to a platter with a slotted spoon. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, a few grindings of black pepper if desired, and the chopped rosemary.
Wild Rice Gremolata
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts (optional)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 long strip lemon zest and 2 tbsps grated lemon zest
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup wild rice, preferably whole not broken
4 1/2 cups chicken broth
2 tsp kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
1 bunch scallions (white and green parts), thinly sliced (3/4 cup)
1 cup chopped parsley
Black pepper (optional)
Sautee pine nuts, garlic, zest, and thyme in oil about 2 minutes. Add the wild rice and cook until lightly toasted, about 3 more minutes. Stir in the chicken broth and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a rapid simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Check the texture of the rice, and continue simmering until tender adding a little more liquid if necessary (don’t overcook). Remove from heat, scatter the scallions and parsley over the surface and fluff with a fork, remove the herb sprigs and garnish with lemon slices and grated lemon zest before serving. Season with salt and black pepper, to taste.
Vegetable kabobs with lemon basting sauce
When served over rice, these kabobs make a complete meal for the vegetarian at your table. Use the same sauce for basting chicken, meat or seafood kabobs
1/4 cup light olive oil
6 large cloves roasted garlic
4 tsp minced fresh thyme or 2 tsps dried thyme, crumbled
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
For Vegetable Skewers:
Use any vegetables you wish cut into approximately 2 inch cubes or slices
6 wooden skewers, soaked in water for 15 minutes
1 large zucchini, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 large yellow squash cut into 2-inch cubes
12 button mushrooms, brushed off
12 pearl onions, peeled or 2 inch chunks of regular onions
In a small glass or nonreactive metal bowl, combine the oil, garlic, thyme, and lemon juice. Whisk together until smooth. Skewer the vegetables, alternating to create an attractive arrangement. Preheat grill or broiler or grill pan on the stovetop until very hot. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat the kabobs with the basting sauce. Place on grill or under broiler or in grill pan and cook for 3 minutes, basting frequently. Turn skewers and cook for 3 minutes more. Serve immediately.
What follows are some substitutions and the recipes I used use when entertaining people with food allergies and restrictions described above..
POTENTIALLY FATAL ALLERGIES
Serving allergens, cooking allergens in guests’ presence and cross-contamination of utensils, serving platters, etc.
Serve and prepare allergens in separate plates/bowls and read labels of all prepared foods
FISH and/or SHELLFISH - Affects 6.5 million people in the U.S.
All fish and/or shellfish and fish/shellfish oil containing products
NUTS and SEEDS - 3 million people in the U.S. are allergic to some or all nuts including: peanuts, almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, hazel nuts, pistachio nuts, walnuts and pecans, coconut, sesame, poppy and sunflower seed, and pine kernels.
All or some nuts and nut oil containing products:
o Peanut/sesame/walnut oil
o Prepared foods with nuts and nut oil
o Vegetable, corn, olive oil
COMMON NON-FATAL ALLERGIES
Affects digestive, respratory systems and may cause skin rashes and inflammation.
o Wheat crackers, breads
o Wheat flour
o Wheat cereals, pasta
o Wheat dessert
o Rye-crisp or sesame crackers
o Corn or rye bread w/o flour
o Cornmeal, cornstarch, rice flour, barley flour, oat flour, potato starch, arrowroot flour
o Potatoes, rice and grains without wheat, oatmeal, pasta made without wheat
o Custards, puddings, cookies, meringues and ices without wheat flour
Besides obvious ingredients like egg whites and powdered egg, you should also watch out for albumin, Simplesse and egg products in commercially prepared foods such as:
o Meatballs, meatloaf, lasagne
o fried rice
o custards and puddings
o fast foods burgers, cheese sticks, chicken nuggets, fries, and pizza dough,
o frozen vegetable soufflés, casseroles, breaded vegies or vegies in sauces
o Ovaltine, ice cream
o Any stock cleared with egg (canned consommé, broth)
o Egg drop soup, any soup with egg noodles or macaroni
o Salad dressings and mayonnaise (unless egg free)
o Tartar sauce
o Bread, pastry, pasta, noodles, crackers, biscuits made without eggs
o most cereals and grains
o fresh vegetables cooked without egg
o fresh or frozen plain meat, chicken, fish, shellfish
o Gelatin, fruit crisp, popsicles, fruit ice
o Homemade desserts prepared without eggs
o Hard candy
o Butter, margarine Opta (fat replacer), Simplesse (fat replacer)
o Milk, buttermilk, milk fat, skim milk, powdered milk, dried milk, and yogurt; cheese, cream, cream cheese, sour cream; processed meats including bologna, hot dogs, salami, ,pepperoni and sausage
o Also watch for ingredients containing dairy including: caramel color, casein, high protein flour,
Olive oil, nut oils
Sometimes, a milk allergic person can use goat's milk or soy milk. Both of these milks, however, are also very allergenic. In fact, most people allergic to cow's milk are also allergic to goat's milk.
Rice milk is good for drinking and putting on cereal. It can also be used when baking or as a thickening agent.
In some recipes water, broth, or juice can be substituted for the cow's milk.
Those allergic to soy may also cross react to certain foods, such as peanuts, green peas, chick peas, lima beans, string beans, wheat flour, rye flour, and barley flour.
o Aside from obvious soy products (soy sauce, cheese, soy milk, soy yogurt, tofu, edemame)
o Soy oil, the natural oil extracted from whole soy beans, is the most widely used oil in the United States to make vegetable oil, margarines, Crisco, prepared sauces such as pasta, worchestershire, salad dressings and mayonnaise
o canned tuna,
o dry lemonade mix,
o hot chocolate mix.
o Commercial baked goods.
o some prepackaged cereals
o Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) is a flavor enhancer that can be used in soups, broths, sauces, gravies, flavoring and spice blends, canned and frozen vegies, meat and meat alternatives..
o Lecithin is used as an emulsifier stabilizer and preservative in oils, chocolate,
o Miso and MSG
o Olive oil and other non blended oils
o Homemade sauces, mayonnaise and dressings
o Salt, lemon or lime,
o Fresh tuna
o Frozen on fresh lemonade
o Hot chocolate from scratch
o Homemade baked goods
o Oatmeal, homemade granola
o Read labels or homemade
potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, chiles, paprika
Rice, pasta, endive, fennel, carrots, parsnips, sweet potato, green beans, turnip, radish, celery, onion, garlic, zucchini,
Desserts & Sweets
Gelatin, fruit crisp, popsicles, fruit ice
Homemade desserts prepared with allowed ingredients
Cakes, cookies, cream-filled pies, meringues, whips, custard, pudding, ice cream, sherbet
Chocolate candy made with cream or fondant fillings, marshmallow candy, divinity, fudge, icing or frostings, chocolate sauce
Pie crust or jelly beans brushed with egg whites
Fat-free desserts made with Simplesse™
Fats & Oils
Butter, margarine, vegetable oil, shortening, cream gravy, oil & vinegar dressing, eggless mayonnaise, bacon
Salad dressings and mayonnaise (unless egg free)
Fat-free products made with Simplesse™
Water, fruit juice, fruit drinks
Root beer, wine, or coffee if clarified with egg
Condiments & Miscellaneous
Sugar, honey, jam, jelly
Cream sauces made with eggs
Hollandaise sauce, tartar sauce, marshmallow sauce
Baking powder containing egg white or egg albumin
Any product made with Simplesse™