The allergy challenge: Eating safely at a Chinese restaurant is pretty much not an option when you’re allergic to sesame, tree nuts, eggs (or peanuts, of course).
The allergy-friendly hypothesis: A quick home stir-fry can still be amazing, fresh and delicious without the sesame oil, nuts, peanuts and eggs. (Or meat, for that matter, though this recipe could work veggie or omni). This template for a quick veggie-heavy stir-fry with a slightly sweet & sour sauce can be adapted for what you have on hand… and can also be adjusted to be gluten-free and wheat-free with the right choice of ingredients.
The verdict: I’ve tried a lot of different stir-fry recipes, but after a few tweaks this has been the biggest hit so far—almost every bite devoured immediately from what was supposed to be two nights of dinner. I prefer to make it plant-based with big, toothy shitake mushrooms (shown above), but the husband and daughter slightly prefer a little chicken added to the mushrooms, as here:
The allergy-friendly recipe adaptation: I started with the “Sweet and Sour Chicken” recipe from Grace Young’s wonderful The Breath of a Wok . I took out the sesame oil, replaced the chicken with mushrooms to plant-based-ify it (is that a word?), cut out the extra salt and oil, and amped up the vegetables. But it’s still a wonderful, saucy slightly sweet & sour flavoring, minus the hint of toasted allergen-packed sesame oil.
Equipment recommendation: Of course using a big skillet is fine, but stir-frying a big amount of food like this is much easier in a nice, big 14″ flat-bottomed carbon steel wok with helper handle. I bought a great one recently for $13.95 at K.K. Discount Store in Manhattan’s Chinatown following these suggestions, and seasoned it following these tips for “How to Buy and Season a Wok.” Don’t shell out for a pricey artificially non-stick coating wok (unless you already have one) because you can’t safely heat it as high as you need to. If you need to buy online, this Joyce Chen wok set and this Helen Chen wok are similar to the one I got, but a bit more expensive.
- MUSHROOMS (OR CHICKEN/TOFU) + MARINADE
- 12 oz. mushrooms, such as a mix of shitake and white button, cut into 1-inch cubes (if desired, can replace some of this with cubes of firm tofu or chcken)
- 2-3 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
- 2 tsp allergen-safe soy sauce (use gluten-free if needed)
- ½ tsp sugar or other sweetener (I used raw cane sugar)
- 1 tsp allergen-safe rice wine or sherry
- 1½ tsp cornstarch
- SLIGHTLY SWEET & SOUR SAUCE
- ½ cup stock/broth of your choice
- 2 tsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp rice vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
- 2 tbsp allergen-safe ketchup
- 1 tbsp sugar or other sweetener (I used raw cane sugar)
- 1½ tsp cornstarch
- 3 scallions, cut into small rounds (can sub with thin onion slices if needed)
- 3+ cups veggies, cut into 1-inch pieces (or left whole to save time)... here I used two green bell peppers, a bunch of snow peas and some pea shoots. But use what you have: broccoli florets, green beans, boy choy, zucchini slices...
- Combine mushrooms (and/or chicken/tofu) and garlic in a bowl and add the marinade—2 tsp soy sauce, the rice wine, 1½ tsp cornstarch, ½ tsp sweetener. Let sit.
- In a second bowl, mix general sauce: stock, 2 tsp soy sauce, vinegar, ketchup, 1 tbsp sweetener, 1½ tsp cornstarch.
- Heat carbon-steel wok or large stainless steel or cast-iron skillet dry over very high heat—if you throw a few drops of water in, they should quickly evaporate. (If using nonstick, lower temperature and add oil or water to pan for safety).
- Pour bowl of mushrooms (or chicken/tofu/etc) and marinade into wok. Add a little broth or water to prevent burning if needed.
- Stir-fry for 1-2 minutes, until items begin to brown (again, adding additional broth or water if needed to prevent burning) but are not totally cooked.
- If using mushrooms or tofu, just leave everything in wok. If using chicken, transfer items to plate.
- Dump all your veggies into wok and stir-fry for 1 min. or so.
- Stir the sweet & sour sauce, then pour sauce gently into wok. (If making version with chicken, return chicken to wok at this point).
- Stir-fry entire dish until everything is cooked through and sauce has thickened but vegetables are still bright and crisp.
- Serve with brown rice or noodles of your choice.
Some in-progress shots:
Safer sourcing ideas:
DISCLAIMER: Please proceed with caution, 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.
- Soy sauce: For a long time I didn’t even try to make Chinese-inspired food as I assumed all soy sauce would be sesame contaminated. However, when I contacted Kikkoman in July 2013, they told me:
Kikkoman Soy Sauces and other sauces that are brewed and produced by Kikkoman Foods, Inc. in Walworth, WI do not contain any kind of peanuts, tree nuts or sesame in them. Therefore, the soy sauce and other products manufactured at this plant would be free of cross contamination. Please check the back of the label to see where the sauce was produced.
- Soy sauce alternatives for those avoiding wheat/gluten and soy: Kikkoman also makes a gluten-and-wheat-free tamari-style soy sauce, but I’m unsure of the details for other allergens. If you can’t use soy at all, Cybele Pascal has a “Soy-Free Soy Sauce” recipe (she uses beef broth, but a strong dried mushroom broth might work for a plant-based version).
- Ketchup: We use Muir Glen ketchup (part of General Mills, who labels for all our allergens and doesn’t potentially contain any mustard or mysterious “spices”or “natural flavorings.”)
- Rice wine: We use Eden Foods Mirin Rice Cooking Wine bought via Vitacost— when they provided me an allergen information sheet in July 2013, they declared that this item was free of all our allergens (including sesame and mustard).
- Broth: We like to make our own, but Kitchen Basics brand was safer for all our allergens (and I hear it’s Top-8 free in general–but do check) as of January 2014.
- Rice: Lundberg packaged rices are from a Top-8 free (and sesame and mustard-free) facility as of March 2014, but do note this does NOT apply to their rice cakes or some other products–just the plain bagged unseasoned rice. Rice Select rices are free of nuts, dairy, eggs and sesame as of March 2014 but are not from a wheat or gluten-free facility.
- If you do order any of the above items from Vitacost, here’s a $10 first-time order referral coupon!
Happy allergen-free stir-frying! (I’ll try to write up info on the steamed filled bao buns when I can, but if you need them NOW, they’re based on a recipe by Andrea Nguyen, and can be found in her book Asian Dumplings, or on the L.A. Times website).
Disclosure note: Actions you take on the links within this blog post may yield commissions for safeandscrumptious.com (and are likely to be spent on allergy-free treats for my little girl!)