After 15 years of marriage, I'm still not used to people who ask me if I'm Dutch...or people who are astounded (shocked! disbelieving!) when I say that I'm Italian. My heritage is something that shaped me enormously: I grew up in an Italian American community where every Friday was homemade pizza night and every Sunday had red sauce on something. Cheese was everywhere, and the two most important dinners I learned to make before heading off into the world were gnocchi for holidays and lasagna...just because it's hard to get right. Being Italian is just BEING. There is no other way.
But, fast forward into parenthood and a child who ends up hospitalized after simply inhaling cheese. That was quite a change for us, but it did open up our culinary world so very much. With things like baked ziti literally off the table, I turned to my mom's other recipes: mostly Eastern European or plain old American classics. Also, naturally, pasta very often without the cheese on top. It worked.
Dairy-free Italian was surprisingly doable (though a little bit sad), but wheat-free Italian has been tricky. So, back to the drawing board. For me, that means historical research, lots of recipe explorations, and some epic kitchen fails. I don't have free-from Italian completely figured out, but I have made enough strides to see the possibilities ahead.
This post won't give you any allergy-safe Italian recipes, but I hope that it gets you started thinking about ways to "eat Italian" without cheese or wheat...or to get you started exploring your own favorite type of food. Maybe there's something in that culinary history that can bring new favorites for you to love.
Eating Italian, not Italian American
First consider Italian American meals against the traditional Italian versions. You might be surprised to see that Italians rely much less on cheese and gravy dishes than we do in the states.
Eating by Region, Historically or Today
Also consider that we what think of as Italian really reflects only a tiny portion of actual Italian regions and foods. Italy was not well-collected as a country until the mid-1800s, and each region can seem like a country unto itself: northeastern areas mirroring Eastern European influences; northwestern, French and Swiss. And of course the regions of the "south" (really, most of the bottom two thirds of the country!) with a bigger emphasis on farming, fishing, and shepherding.
So, here's just a tiny sampling of Italian standards that don't rely on milk/cheese, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, or seeds:
And another sampling that also excludes wheat for breads and pastas:
These dairy-free, wheat-free Italian options don't necessarily take me back to fond childhood memories, but they certainly satisfy as an adult with a passion to reclaim a heritage despite allergy challenges!
Having these options doesn't mean I've given up on pasta entirely, though. After giving lentil, rice, and bean pastas a few tries, I've settled on Le Veneziane corn pasta made in Italy. It cooks as close to durum wheat pasta as I can find, and it takes up sauces and broth well, too. It's available on Amazon, ItalianHarvest, and Vitacost websites, and the easy access is a nice bonus. For now, though, the cost of these small packages will keep pasta in the once-in-awhile dinner category.... Which leaves me plenty of room to explore new ideas.
This is a low-photo post this week, but for a happy reason: Every time I've tried to make something for dinner with masa harina, it's been gobbled up in a snap, without leftovers.
Rather than recipes, I'd like to go into some differences about corn products that can replace wheat in (mostly) savory free-from products. That sounds simple, but it's deceptive---there are enough types of ground corn available to make my head spin. At the start, let me offer an obvious disclaimer: this post isn't for you if you have a corn allergy!
If you're a sometimes baker, you probably are already familiar with cornstarch (cornflour when in Australia and the United Kingdom). It's a white, tasteless, powdery ingredient that, when heated, thickens everything from gravy to pie fillings. In the Americas, corn flour is yellow---the powdery ingredient of the entire corn kernel (not just the hard-shell endosperm of the kernel that gives us cornstarch).
If you pride yourself on homemade pizza on special stones, you might even have some cornmeal, that coarser grind of the entire kernel. Or maybe you're a fan of polenta or grits, which is just a medium-ground version cooked into porridge.
I thought that this was plenty of corn for my new wheat-free life, but it's really just the beginning. I came across semolina corn flour at our local international food market and picked it up without knowing what I'd do with it. Semolina wheat is the type used for Italian pastas, but I'd never heard of a corn version. The word semolina actually refers to an extremely fine grind of the endosperm of a grain only. Thus, corn semolina or rice semolina are absolutely real.
Finding semolina corn flour led me to an Italian corn pasta company called Le Veneziane. I do have black bean, lentil, and other wheat-free pastas in my cupboard, but this corn pasta was the first success: It didn't get gummy, could be cooked like wheat pasta (for me, that means no timer, cooking until al dente), and did not stick together upon draining). It's amazing!
Now I'm excited to try making my own pasta with corn semolina flour. But first, I'm going to try the grain in a semolina corn cake recipe (like this one). I've tried corn cakes before, by mixing corn kernels with corn and chickpea flours, but the results were a bit too bland and a bit too gritty for my liking.
But all of these options and ideas aren't enough; Mexican corn flours take the grain a step or two further. The most common option available in typical US grocery stores is masa harina---a corn flour that is soaked in lime (calcium) to break down the hulls before grinding and drying.
When I stopped eating wheat and yeast in our already--dairy-free household, I found myself making a lot of Asian and Mexican dishes. Naturally (right?), that led me to wonder about making my own tortillas instead of buying them. I used a Craftsy class subscription to learn more, quickly, about authentic tortilla methods and varieties. It was a fantastic experience! I learned that I only needed water, masa harina, and salt to get started.
You don't need to, but I went ahead and bought a small tortilla press and a small comal, or cast-iron griddle. I picked up some masa harina (Maseca is the brand I used) and got started: mix, roll, press, brown each side on a dry griddle, wipe the griddle clean at the end. The biggest tip I learned from my classes and online recipes was that the dough is best rolled and pressed by hand to the consistency of Play-Doh. So making dinner was also a lot of fun!
Since my first attempt at tortilla making, we have
We have even shaped the uncooked dough into muffin tins and parbaked them, then filled them with taco meat and returned them to the oven to crisp and heat up some more.
My next plan is to try yet another corn flour product: arepa flour, or masarepa. This flour is an instant yellow flour, pre-cooked masa harina that is prepared similarly to tortillas but cooks quickly when stuffed or topped. This could be my sandwich bread replacement down the road...what do you think?
10-year well visit update:
Because most of my daughter's care has naturally transferred to her allergist, her well visits at the pediatrician are surprisingly simple these days. Basic vitals, run down of the year, etc.
This year, friends and family all thought she'd grown quite a lot, and we got a happy confirmation of that in the doctor's office: not just on the growth chart but actually on the curve! I don't put 100% confidence in the curves, of course---they're just guides, after all, not individualized predictions. But it's great to see my daughter moving in the right direction as she grows. If she stays on the same curve, she'll end up just about my size. But, who knows?!
Although my oldest had some unusual and somewhat fleeting allergic reactions as a toddler, it was my second daughter whose allergies really shocked our family. From day 1, she struggled with nursing, with formulas. She was losing too much weight to continue nursing and be discharged from the hospital, and she remained small enough to not be on a growth curve even after we found a formula that she mostly tolerated. In fact, she didn’t make it onto a growth chart at all until she was 8 years old.
If you’re like us, your lives have been upended and (I hope) resettled because of severe food allergies, and a surprisingly large challenge---aside from avoiding anaphylaxis!---was keeping a good nutritional balance in a growing child with such strict dietary limitations. The temptation to stick with ground beef, oatmeal, and green beans, for example, every day is strong, especially in those busy early years. And a lot of those boxed allergy-friendly products just don’t fit into a good nutritional diet, especially if you have to rely on them for every meal.
As we have all grown, and as our allergies have changed and our tastes expanded by necessity or interest, we’ve learned a lot about what nutrients bodies really need to feel tip-top, and some creative ways to get those in.
But dinnertime often remains an unending circle of what to make that is
c) safe for everyone
d) affordable on our budget and
e) nutritionally sound in at least one way.
It’s easy to see why that last one drops off when times get busy, money gets tight, kids get picky, parents get too busy to grocery shop for new ingredients when there are hot dogs and tater tots in the freezer.
Anyway. I found all of this daunting even though I write about nutrition and nutrients for a living. Here are some highlights of what we as a family have learned, pulling from research but making options that are live-with-able, too. Every family will have their own favorites, safe foods, and more, and I won't tell you the exact foods you should eat. But these ideas could help you fill your nutritional gaps as you build your family’s safe food world. I've added links to a few free resources I like below each section.
Vegetarians and vegans
Sometimes we tell people that our daughter eats "vegan + meat" to really get the no-dairy point across. It also is a good reminder that she won't get the iron, protein, and B vitamins she needs without some extra attention to her diet---and the converse, that she can rely too much on red meats instead of dairy to fill her up, especially with a nut/tree nut allergy thrown in.
Diets low on traditional Western sources of protein should focus on plant sources of protein instead, as well as pulses and beans. Luckily, this is getting easier every day as food options become more globally available. Plant and bean proteins have a huge extra benefit, too: a ton of fiber that is filling, helps digestion, and helps the body absorb nutrients from other foods. They're often low fat and low sugar, too, so their benefits pretty much extend to everyone: one family meal.
Vegetarian diet: staying healthy
Vegetarian diet: benefits and risks
Useful research from specialists
Getting iron, B vitamins, and protein
Luckily for my family, I have a wheat allergy, not celiac disease. Still, I spent awhile walking around with rice crackers and chocolate chips for snacks while my family ate English muffins or cookies. Making wheat-free versions of favorite foods has been an adventure; I had been eating whole grains with almost every meal, and I didn't anticipate how carefully I would have to watch the replacement items.
Starches, white flours, and gums not only upset my stomach at first but also didn't give me the type of energy or heart protection that my body needed. This effort, for me, is still a huge work in progress, but adding brown rice flour, oat flour, and potato starch have been my early modest improvements. Crushing freeze-dried vegetables like beets into my flours has given my meals a fiber lift, too (and the kids have no idea it's there!).
Boxed, trending, or processed pre-made foods
There are so many off-the-shelf allergy-friendly items now in regular grocery stores, and that's a blessing and a curse. It's great to have instant(ish) meal or treat options. And many of them are made with great nutritional focus, too. But others add extra salt or sugar, rely on refined grains or high-fat oils, or---more often than I expected---at least three nonreplaceable eggs. On top of all of that, the costs compared with "regular" versions can be triple or higher, so they certainly don't fit in everyone's budget.
Anyone with food restrictions has heard the solution before: cook at home, bake from scratch.
I had those both modeled for me when I was growing up, but I get it that "scratch" sounds terrifying, or just not worth the time, for many people. If that's you, then seek out the healthiest prepared items you can, at least for now. Find some favorites [shameless plug here for Bob's Red Mill products!]. For example, one thing I'll never make from scratch is cornbread, so we tried four different brands without gluten before we all agreed on one that met my healthy ingredient standards and everyone's taste. It takes forever. You toss out a lot (don't call it waste---it's an experiment!). But you'll get there...and then everything will change again.
Good luck! ;-)
Linked on Free-From Fridays' Changes and Challenges post. I've certainly learned that, versus a solvable problem, food allergies change and challenge us constantly. Bring on the experimenting!
Ah, another Friday and I have yet to finish the blog post I started on Monday night. 2018, that’s going to be my year of planning ahead, I hope! I’m aiming in 2018, and really now too, for the mantra “get it done, not perfect” ---with encouragement from the Mamapreneurrevolution
Instead of that nutrition post (still in the draft folder), which really just isn’t done, I’m going for a get-it-done post today.
Last night, I needed to use up a lot of random foods for dinner, and I had to make it in just a few minutes if possible, without a lot of prep time. As my kids get older, my husband and I find ourselves all over town with them in different directions---a somewhat new occurrence for us. I needed a dinner to lay out ahead of time that I could toss together when we all got home, hungry and ready to eat right away.
And, instead of planning that dinner, I spent the morning looking at carrot cake recipes.
Let me explain: I don’t actually like carrot cake. Or at least I don’t think I do.
I have a dear friend in Florida who adores it, though, and a neighbor friend who makes the most amazing cake I’ve ever seen…and it’s carrot. I trust these two an awful lot. And I found pre-shredded carrots at Trader Joe’s. And I found a gluten-free carrot cake bread-loaf recipe at ElaVegan, and I’m pretty desperate right now for a good slice of quick bread for autumn mid-mornings.
Naturally, I started searching for more examples of carrot loaf cakes, because the one I found looked amazing but wasn’t quite what I was going for. Then I started brainstorming about what I might do with the recipe. And I realized that I’ve almost never explained how or why I remake recipes---trying to balance the art and science of cooking and baking without any professional kitchen experience whatsoever (like most of you, I hope!). Thus, this post was born.
Most of my "recipes" these days are made up on the go as we tease out the true allergies in the house. So, today, you get a walk-through of how I start to build a recipe-creating/converting grid AND a recipe-free method for the quickest allergy-safe dinners ever. Maybe I’ll get to that nutrition post by 2018….
Converting and Creating Allergy-Safe Recipes
If you’re like me, you have a ton of recipes from your past that you adore and can’t make as is anymore because of food restrictions. That’s a natural place to start converting ingredients to safe ones, of course.
Also, though, I tend to find recipes on favorite food blogs/sites or even on allergy-friendly sites that just don’t quite fit our needs. Maybe they’re dairy-free but not egg-free, or they’re wheat-free but not dairy-free. You get the idea.
When that happens, I grab the recipe that inspired me, search for a few more examples that might replace other allergens, and line them all up in a table with the same/similar ingredients on the same rows. Like so:
Then I aim for my own version, which uses the ingredients I know are safe and work for us, and which usually relies on ingredients I already have on hand.
For example, if it’s a fruit or veggie product, I might use juice instead of milk. If the original has nuts, I might replace them with dried fruit or just leave them out. If peanut butter is key, this recipe might not be for me! But it can still work in some cases with another thick spread or oil, if I’m lucky. If the recipe has 1-2 eggs, I’ll use one of my favorite egg mixes (applesauce, starch, and water), might increase the oil or fruit/veggie content a bit, and might add some extra leavener (baking soda) if it’s a baked good that should dome.
If my final version is quite similar to one of the originals, then it’s ALWAYS called an adapted recipe if/when it goes on my blog or in a book. If the final differs pretty substantially (a qualitative statement, I know), it’s simply inspired by, or maybe acknowledged in another way.
A lot of my recipes come out of my family archives, but I get more and more inspiration from friends and families lately, too!
Here are a few lessons I’ve learned during my baking grid experiments so far:
1) If the recipe calls for coconut oil, or is a no-bake recipe, you really can’t replace the coconut oil with a liquid oil. Semi-solid oils are crucial for holding together batters after they cool. You can try to lower the amount of coconut oil, though, for heart healthy purposes.
2) Recipes with 3 or more eggs are really tough to convert to egg-free versions. Sometimes it’s worth cutting the original in half and making smaller batches at a time instead.
3) Recipes without the fatty mouth feel of dairy and eggs really need some extra kick sometimes, even if you get that texture from oils or fruit sauces/butters. We have “accidentally” used double the amount of cinnamon, vanilla, and many other herbs with a lot of success.
4) Too much baking powder gives you bitter cookies. Baking soda and powder are both important. Don’t use just one if the recipe calls for both! If I’m replacing eggs in a recipe that calls for just one, I try to use the other option for a better balance. Don’t forget the extra lemon juice or vinegar if you add soda to a recipe, though, because the acid isn’t built into that leavener.
Since I “wasted” much of my morning browsing around carrot cake ideas, I really had to stretch to pull off our Recipe-Free Dinner. You know what’s funny, though? Everyone thought it was delicious (even the kid who won’t eat food that touches each other, usually).
This dinner was made in one pan and was served in individual bowls right from the pan. I measured just about nothing and went for the Rachael Ray eyeball-it method. Minimal cleanup necessary.
Hectic Day Dinner
Pick a sautéing oil (we love olive oil, always on hand)
Pick a veggie (we used pre-frozen sliced peppers, defrosted, but fresh will work well here of course)
Pick a protein (we used 1 pound of stir fry beef, defrosted, but beans or fish or another meat will do)
Pick a sauce or liquid vehicle (we used a leftover half-empty jar artichoke red pepper dip because I needed to get rid of it. To thicken it all up, I added a dusting of cornstarch, too)
Pick some seasonings (we used a huge scoop of minced garlic, unmeasured, and a ton of shakes of a Bavarian spice mix from Penzy’s)
Pick a healthy (low GI) carb (we used thin sliced farm red potatoes from our WGG delivery that morning)
Pick a leafy green (we used romaine on the side but a collard/kale green shredded into the bowl would be ideal if it’s on hand)
Warm some olive oil in a medium covered pan on the stovetop.
Add the veggies on medium high.
Add the meat, cut into small dices, and saute briefly; then cover and turn the heat to medium to steam.
Add the sauce or liquid, cornstarch, and garlic. Turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil, then return to medium and add the seasonings.
Wash and thin slice the potatoes, then cut slices in half and add into the pan (or stir in broken up rice noodles, instant rice, couscous, or other carbs if you choose).
Cover the pan and allow the steam and liquid to cook the potato slices. When they’re soft, dinner is ready.
Ladle some of the meal into each bowl and add the greens on the side or shredded into the mix.
*You can make this an even faster dinner by using leftover cooked meat, drained beans or tofu, and vermicelli-style Asian rice noodles or tiny Italian pasta (pastine).
So, what would you use in your version?!
In honor of the Wonder Woman movie release this weekend, here's a post on a wonder pulse: the chickpea.
Have you ever heard of a low-nickel diet? It's yet another dietary restriction in our house, this time for me because of my severe metal allergies that lead to infections when I blister after metal contact. Knowledge and research about low-nickel diets are not as clearcut as for some other food eliminations or replacements. And, I feel, it's harder to see the benefit of reducing food contact with metals, too. Still, I give it a decent effort; I've changed a lot of food choices, from canned tomatoes for sauce to boxed, from canned black olives to glass mixed olives or giardiniera. I try to balance my fiber intake so that I rely less on supposedly high-nickel foods like figs. As food avoidance goes, it's not too bad.
I only bring up low-nickel eating because it's been a surprise factor in a new food allergy favorite: aquafaba. We have a lovely group of supportive friends across the country. When the wonders of aquafaba---the liquid that suspends canned chick peas---appeared in media last fall, many people sent the articles to me for use in baking for my egg-free daughters. I got excited; then I got realistic.
So, I love chickpeas. My mother would laugh at that---I hated them when I was younger. I worked my way backward from hummus to falafel to the actual bean (scientifically, a pulse). I like them raw, with lemon juice in salads, roasted with smoked paprika. I use the chickpea flour to coat our chicken, thicken my sauces, and make homemade sesame-free hummus (still working on that one).
Also, I hate food waste, so the idea of using the liquid with the chickpeas sounded great as a healthier egg replacer than root starches. But this is where I drew my nickel-diet line; using the liquid that coated a can (probably for awhile) just seems like a bad idea for me, especially after being diagnosed with an immune/allergic esophageal condition last year.
The garbanzo truly is a wonder pulse, though: full of fiber, protein, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and more. Mashable, toastable, spreadable, easy to pop a few into your hands for a snack---portable, even. Also firmer than a lot of similar bean alternatives, which is nicer for picky kids. You can probably guess that I make an exception to my no-canned-food diet for---copiously rinsed---canned chickpeas. It's just too convenient, and they're just too healthful and tasty to avoid.
It's hard for anyone to balance eating carefully with enjoying the food, and that's especially true for people with any kind of modified diet (#customeaters!). Allergies and immune conditions have long existed, but we're more connected now than ever before. You might be surprised who, even in your small circle, might be avoiding or replacing foods for health reasons.
Today, instead of a dairy-free/egg-free/nut-free recipe, I'd like to connect you with some great resources on using pulses in general, and chickpeas in particular, with whatever diet you follow.
We can't use aquafaba, but we can maximize our creativity with the legume itself---one of the oldest cultivated foods on the planet. Try a few of these ideas for your summer cookouts, or start with some hidden flour to get the nutrition in for picky eaters.
And don't forget to share your ideas, recipes, and successes with me on Instagram or Twitter!
This week, I took some time off to recuperate after a few big work projects and a busy spring for both of my girls. I thought I might fill the time with some books, maybe update my mp3 playlists. Instead, I ended up in the kitchen again---but just for fun.
I like to think of myself one way: very organized, with a meal plan for the week that doesn't get boring for anyone because I circulate recipes well and freeze ahead. In reality, I seem to thrive on experimenting with different recipes every day and can't seem to repeat more than a few family favorites before trying something completely new. I have a very patient family.
For vacation kitchen time, I decided that my family really needed a good cookie cake and that I had to finally use up the zucchini in my freezer before I could buy more at the Sunday market. I found some lovely recipes, but each had 1 egg to replace. To me, these are easy recipes to convert, much more so than ones with multiple eggs. The biggest question is what starch to use in place of the egg.
Eggs are so valuable in baked goods because they offer not just airiness but also cohesion: they bind the other ingredients together to avoid a crumbly result. Different powdered starches offer the same thickening glue. Three common examples are cornstarch, arrowroot powder, and tapioca flour. Popular boxed egg replacers sometimes contain potato starch. In general, 1 Tbsp of a starch thickens 1 cup of a liquid.
Until recently, I've relied only on cornstarch---a grain, not root, starch. Although it is best with high heats and longer cooking, it's fairly all purpose. If you have a corn allergy, though, the other two options are essential to have on hand. All three starches can be exchanged mostly on a 1-to-1 basis in baking, but they do have best-case uses. For example, arrowroot and tapioca are clearer and more gel-like than cornstarch, and tapioca thickens well at lower temperatures; they both freeze better than products with cornstarch, too. Breads with too much tapioca starch can become chewy, though, especially after the first day.
Cinnamon zucchini bread and chocolate cookie cake recipes are easily veganized, with only 1 full egg each.
I do want to try each recipe again before they're posted, but I can share some cheater's notes now for replacing that single egg in your own recipes:
1) For breads or products that rise, add 1/2 tsp baking soda (not powder!)
2) For denser products (like that cookie cake), usually leave the baking soda or powder quantities the same.
3) 1 Tbsp each of applesauce, water, and the starch combined and added to your batter can replace the uses and texture of 1 egg.
4) To replace egg whites only, try the starch and water without the applesauce.
What types of egg replacers do you use to make new or favorite recipes egg free?
Hi, I'm Nicole.
ABOUT THE BLOG
An apothecary is a person or a place. Either one implies healing and relates to pharmacy in its truest sense, as a source of treatment and advice.
This blog is my way of uniting my pharmacy training with my efforts to provide a healthy and safe lifestyle for my family. In true apothecary form, I research and prescribe alternative ingredients that work just right in each specific recipe, and I would like to share the results with anyone who needs help making their own family’s kitchen allergy safe and heart healthy.
I made the 2017 Top-40 Food Allergy blogs!
Nicole Van Hoey's books on Goodreads
Bakery Bites: Breads and Treats Without Dairy, Eggs, Nuts, Seeds, or Soy
ratings: 1 (avg rating 5.00)
Kitchen Adventures With Multiple Food Allergies: A Recipe Collection for Celebrations Without Dairy, Eggs, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, Seeds, or Soy