Vegan?! Gluten free?! Egg allergy?! What can I make???
Cooking for allergies, intolerances, and preferences. ( I can hear you sigh already).
I have one friend who is a vegan, a few vegetarians, one who is allergic to eggs, some who are lactose intolerant, and a couple who are gluten free. I often have these people over to dinner, or bring baking to places where they are and so I am constantly on the hunt for recipes that meet their needs and actually taste good.
I know it can be daunting to cook for people with dietary needs/preferences and often people ask me for advice – they often sound pained when they ask. My vegan friend has been told on more than one occasion to bring his own food to dinner parties. It’s hard on both sides.
I think it’s because I had a few years of dietary troubles and was forced to cut out lots of food groups from my diet that I don’t panic in the face of dietary needs and preferences. In fact, I love the challenge and I pride myself on making dishes that I would actually eat and find delicious. And let’s be clear, my standards are high. Skyscraper high.
The first thing I do is really think about what goes in to a dish. We are so used to eating out and buying packaged food that we lose touch with which ingredients are actually used. While I will confess to having purchased Earth Balance vegan spread, ground flax seed (to make egg replacer), xanthum gum, rice flour, and buckwheat flour, by and large you can accommodate dietary needs and preferences with the food you have on hand. And then sometimes you may even find yourself using the specialty ingredients when you don’t have to. For example, I love to make veggie fritters (shredded veggies like carrots, zucchini, sweet potato, and celery root seasoned and bound together with egg and flour). Once I did a taste test with a group of friends. I made one batch with eggs and the other with flax seed egg replacer. We all preferred the nutty taste of the replacer so that’s now my go to choice and I only use eggs when I don’t have flax seed on hand. I’ve also tested them with rice flour and all purpose flour. Both taste great! So, I use whichever one I have more of. The best gluten free cake I make has no alternative flours in it. In fact, it has no flour at all! It’s gluten free without even trying!
Yesterday I went to a party and was asked to bring a main dish that would complement pulled pork. I decided on a chickpea and spinach curry. I had no idea if there were vegetarians coming, but I didn’t care. It is a great recipe that works well as a winter warmer (we were going skating first). There turned out to be a few vegetarians at the party and both the vegetarians and the omnivores loved it. Someone asked me if the dish was vegan. I realized it was. I hadn’t set out to make a vegan dish, only a delicious one. Vegan without even trying!
I firmly believe that paying a little more attention to your ingredients can take the fear out of cooking for dietary needs and preferences. I wonder how many dishes you already make fit the bill? I bet there are more than you realize.
A few partygoers asked me for the curry recipe, so here it is. The recipe is based on Ross Dobson’s recipe from the book Wholesome Kitchen. This is a great book with lots of great recipes and ideas for adding more beans, pulses, and grains to your diet. When I make this recipe I usually double it so I have lots leftovers. Enjoy!