As a mother of a child with a severe sesame allergy, I associate falafel with some of my happiest memories—and my worst nightmares.
On the happy side, there was the time in our pre-baby days that my husband and I ate tiny fritters of crispy, spicy-hot chickpeas with pickled red cabbage at L’As du Fallafel in the Marais after our first day of wandering around Paris.
And on the scary side, then there was the time our daughter had her first anaphlyactic food allergy reaction, at nine months old. She was just starting to eat more solids, and I had read hummus was a great food for babies—so I gave her a bite from my takeout falafel platter. Little did we know she was severely, severely allergic to sesame (also known as tahini).
I’ll save the details of our frantic ambulance ride to the ER in another post, but it was a long time before I could look at a falafel cart without feeling a little faint.
Takeout falafel is a thing of the past in our house, but these days we make our own special falafel feasts for our whole family to enjoy—safely.
Baked falafel (recipe from Chow Vegan): I’ve tried a lot of fried falafel recipes and they always burn or dissolve in the oil. This baked falafel recipe is foolproof—and healthy to boot! We leave out the cumin and bump up the coriander (we’re avoiding cumin pending an in-office food allergy challenge).
Whole Wheat pita bread (recipe from Epicurious): The one plus of not being able to track down a single sesame-contamination-free pita bread? We get to eat our pita fresh and warm from the oven. We make at least a double batch and freeze the extras to make quick & easy dairy-free pizzas.
Sesame-free “faux-hini” sauce (my own recipe!) : All of the rich, lemony tang, none of the tahini.
Quick-pickled red onions (recipe from the Kitchn): With our daughter’s mustard allergy, a safe pickle is hard to find. We make these every few weeks and keep them in the fridge to make life more awesome and crunchy.
Simple salad with leftover pickle brine dressing: This is barely a recipe—it’s just cucumbers, tomatoes and cilantro marinated in garlicky leftover homemade pickle brine. (Why waste it?) If you don’t have pickle juice to hand, a little apple cider vinegar, water, minced garlic, salt and pepper should do the trick.
Pro tip: Making pita bread is more fun in a tutu:
And you get to put your initials on it, too.
Safer sourcing ideas:
DISCLAIMER: Please proceed with caution, read labels, check with companies yourself and use these allergy-friendly sourcing ideas as a starting place only. These are the options that work for our particular family and our daughter’s allergies and sensitivities as of the time of this writing. Ingredients and labels and cleaning practices can change at any time without warning.
- Wheat Flour:
My main bread flours are King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour, King Arthur Whole Wheat Flour and King Arthur Bread Flour. As of an email exchange in February 2014, their main flours in the 5-lb. bags (all-purpose, whole wheat, bread and white whole wheat) were safer for our allergens. For softer, less rustic, breads like the Vietnamese baguettes, I used Gold Medal (General Mills labels for our allergen set).
- Canned chickpeas/garbanzo beans: The only canned and dried beans I’ve been able to find that are safer for our family are Eden Organic (and they’re BPA-free to boot). We buy our chickpeas as part of regular bulk orders from Vitacost.
- Spices: We use McCormick as that is our go-to-brand for safer single spices. As of a recent email, they seem to take allergen safety, cleaning and cross-contamination very seriously. (Most other spice companies I’ve contacted run everything on shared lines with mustard and sesame).
- Tahini substitute: I tested my faux-hini sauce recipe with SunButter sunflower seed butter. I buy 6-packs of SunButter via a recurring Amazon Subscribe & Save subscription every few months.
Allergen-friendliness: This menu is free of dairy, egg, nuts, peanuts, fish/shellfish, soy, sesame and mustard. It’s also vegan.
Enjoy your falafel feast!
P.S. I do worry sometimes about serving safe versions of items that are extremely dangerous for my three-year-old daughter but look identical to the dangerous ones. So I always make very clear to her that Mommy (or Daddy or Grandmommy/Zadie/Nana/etc) made a very special safe allergy-free falafel or cupcake or loaf of bread just for her. Her response? “Oh thank you so very much my dear!”
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