Article originally published by The Town Dish
Photos: Alexandra Whitney Photography
Home cooking can be a challenge. There is the nutritious aspect to keep in mind. Then, of course, seasonality, availability of ingredients and flavor preference. Drop in trends, the time needed to shop, storage space and expenses, and the process can feel unsurmountable.
Of course, the evolution of what is supposed to merely be an appealing meal can get even more convoluted with allergies folded into the recipe. With a focus on big flavors, few of us are willing to give up a good dinner or give in to a second-rate meal because of some limitation.
Enter The Wildflower Chef. We asked chef/owner Emily Scott for her take on building meals that address the spectrum of allergy issues.
The Town Dish: Being ingredient-limited because of an allergy can be tough. How do you unearth solutions for, say, a gluten sensitivity?
Chef Emily Scott: I think that one of the most important things you can do is not immediately start thinking about all of the gluten-containing foods that you like (e.g., pasta, bread) and try to make a version that tastes the same with gluten-free ingredients. Mostly, this ends in disappointment. I think that the best thing you can do is turn to naturally gluten-free ingredients and learn how to cook with them to make them really shine.
For instance, millet is a really great gluten-free grain that many people are unfamiliar with. It cooks in about 15 minutes and has a fairly bland flavor but a nice texture. I like to mix it with quinoa, and it acts as a blank slate for any flavors I’m in the mood for. It could be Tex-Mex with the addition of some black beans, cumin, avocado, salsa and a dollop of sour cream. Or, I could combine it with some awesome Mediterranean flavors like sun-dried tomatoes, olives, basil and crumbled feta cheese.
For things that call for wheat flour but are otherwise not very bready/starchy, such as using flour to thicken a soup or stew, I have had great luck with brown rice flour.
As always, my advice is to focus on fresh vegetables and fruits, which of course tend to be naturally allergen-free. By doing so you will enjoy a diet that is full of variety and very good for you. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It’s just food, and I think it’s fairly important for people to learn to loosen their emotional grip on certain foods and instead learn to love what loves them back!
How do you save the flavor if having to lose particular, essential ingredients when an allergy makes a traditional preparation challenging?
Increase flavor by using new and interesting spices, so you don’t miss the flavor of that thing you can’t have. You can also experiment with interesting vinegars and oils.
Expose yourself to new foods and get excited at the prospect of finding different foods that you’ll love. If you’re missing the saltiness of bacon in your corn chowder, try some salty dulse—seaweed—crumbled on it instead; it’s full of minerals!
Nut, seed and grain milks are great for adding a creamy texture to dishes when you’re cutting out cream or milk.
Sometimes, you just have to get creative: if I have a client who loves enchiladas but can’t have wheat or corn—which, of course, tortillas are usually made out of—then we might do a really delicious baked chicken and rice dish with a vibrant enchilada sauce. Sometimes you have to give up on the idea of a certain food and just learn to make the flavors taste great despite any allergies.
Are there specific replacement ingredients to which you turn?
Brown rice flour for wheat flour. Gluten-free soy sauce or coconut aminos for a gluten- and wheat-free alternative to soy sauce. A combination of cashews, garlic powder and nutritional yeast in place of parmesan cheese. Coconut or other non-dairy yogurt in sauces and desserts. Ground chia or flax seeds for eggs, mostly in baking.
Are there particular product lines that are your “go-tos”? Gluten-free substitutions are fairly easy these days, but watch out for over-processed gluten-free products. My absolute favorite gluten-free bread is DeLand Bakery’s millet bread, available at Kimberton Whole Foods.
I also love Tolerant Food’s red lentil and black bean pastas—no, they really don’t taste like wheat pasta, but they’re very delicious anyway, with a pleasing texture, and so much better for you than traditional wheat pasta.
I’ll use vegan sour creams and vegan cheeses on occasion, when I’m really looking for a certain flavor, but mostly I try to stay away from these because they tend to be fairly processed.
I prefer different plant-based milks for different applications. Oat milk tastes the most like “real” milk to me, so I use it often. I buy Pacific brand.
I am a major chocoholic, but I avoid cow’s milk and soy (soy is in most chocolate!), so my favorite brands for chocolate treats are Enjoy Life, Theo and Equal Exchange.
Any products/product claims to avoid?
Just because it’s “gluten-free” or “dairy-free” or “vegan” does not mean it’s healthy. Your best bet is always going to be to buy vegetables, fruits, grains and proteins in their most natural and raw form and cook and season them yourself.
It can be a challenge to craft a meal with dietary boundaries. Chef Emily added, “There are so many awesome foods to choose from out there that there’s no reason you can’t have a really delicious, healthy diet full of variety despite any restrictions. Again, it’s definitely my advice to focus on the positives and what you can have, rather than get bogged down and angry by what you can’t. I’ve heard of people who make pancakes out of just eggs and bananas—I actually haven’t tried it and it sounds pretty weird, but it’s amazing what you can do with different ingredients when you just get creative.”
Visit The Wildflower Chef website to learn more about Chef Emily’s personal chef services. Find more inspiration by subscribing to The Wildflower Chef newsletter and following along on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Contact Chef Emily online via The Wildflower Chef website, by email or by calling (610) 715-8159.
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