Cooking for allergy sufferers

02:29, May 20 2011
NO GO: The allergenic risks posed by nuts means they are completely off the menu at many childcare centres.

Becoming the parent of a child with food allergies means changing the contents of your kitchen cupboard, Rebecca Palmer writes.

I realised my view of food had changed dramatically the week my one-year-old daughter started creche. She was sitting in a high chair when a four-year-old wandered in with a bagel and strolled up to say hello. Smeared with cream cheese and peanut butter and topped with sesame seeds, that bagel was an allergenic nightmare.

Previously, my reaction to it would have been something like: "Yummy . . . but nutritionally dubious." Now the voice inside my head screamed: "Get that thing away from my baby!" In fact, the allergenic risks posed by nuts means they are completely off the menu at the creche. But the four- year-old had innocently brought in her leftover breakfast.

My daughter is allergic to dairy, eggs, wheat, peanut and sesame, identified through skin-prick testing at Wellington Hospital. Fortunately, they're at the minor end. She doesn't have an epipen, used for the emergency treatment of anaphylaxis - a life-threatening allergic reaction.

Having seen my fair share of minor reactions, I feel for the parents of kids with serious food allergies.

My daughter's most dramatic reaction happened about a year ago, after she ate some baby cereal containing dairy. Little lumps appeared first around her mouth, then spread. Within a few hours, the lumps on her head looked like tumours, hives had spread all over her body, her joints were swollen and her ears had puffed up. Since that first reaction, she's had many other minor ones.


The good news is there is plenty she can eat, though our supermarket bills may bankrupt us. She has no problems with meat and three veges. Then there's soy milk, soy yoghurt, wheat-free bread and pasta.

Though gluten intolerance is different to wheat allergy (an allergy is an abnormal immune-system response to a food, while an intolerance doesn't involve the immune system), the growing popularity of gluten-free foods has helped us because it means there are more wheat-free products around.

But it also seems the rise of gluten-free living can obscure other special dietary needs. At one Wellington cafe recently, I asked if the hash browns contained dairy or eggs. The man behind the counter went to ask the chef and returned with the answer: "They're gluten-free."

Eating out is a hassle. There's generally nothing she can safely eat, aside from fries. We check food labels carefully and always carry safe food with us. She has started to notice when other kids are eating goodies she can't. She kicked up a stink at creche recently when other children were eating birthday cake. The past year has seen many failed experiments in wheat-free, egg-free and dairy-free baking come out of our oven. We have new products in our kitchen cupboard, including xanthan gum, rice and soy milks, soy flour, potato flour and egg replacer.

Gluten-free baking is a whole new science that I'm yet to master. My successes include banana muffins, pancakes and cornbread, mostly thanks to recipes in The New Zealand Food Allergy Cookbook. The odds are good that she will grow out of at least some of her allergies. Till then, she's reliant on my home baking. It's just as well she doesn't know any different.

Allergy Awareness Week recipes

Chef Emma Galloway, who started creating dairy and gluten-free dishes after having children with food allergies and intolerances, has shared these recipes for Allergy Awareness Week.

Visit for more of her recipes.

Gluten-free Afghan cookies

These are free from gluten, dairy, nuts (if omitting walnuts on top) and eggs. You can find glutinous rice flour at Asian supermarkets, or replace with corn flour. Make sure you source gluten-free cornflakes. Check that your icing sugar is gluten-free too.

Makes 30 mini cookies.

200g dairy-free margarine

1/2 cup raw unrefined cane sugar

3/4 cup brown rice flour

1/4 cup tapioca flour

1/4 cup glutinous rice flour (sweet rice flour)

1/2 tsp guar gum

1/4 cup cocoa powder

2 cups gluten-free cornflakes


1 1/2 cup icing sugar

3 Tbsp cocoa powder

3 Tbsp dairy-free margarine, melted

1 tsp vanilla extract

2-3 Tbsp boiling water

walnuts or pecans to decorate (optional)

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Grease or line two oven trays. Cream margarine and sugar together in a large bowl until light and fluffy, using either a wooden spoon or electric mixer. Sift over brown rice flour, tapioca flour, glutinous rice flour, guar gum and cocoa powder. Mix using a wooden spoon until fully combined. Add cornflakes and continue to mix to incorporate - I usually use my hands at this stage. The mixture will be really wet and sticky. Using your hands, gently roll tablespoons of the mixture into small balls. Place onto oven trays about two centimetres apart. Slightly flatten each using a fork or your fingers. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until set. They will firm more on cooling. Remove from the oven and cool on the tray. Ice once completely cold by dolloping a generous spoonful of chocolate icing on each cookie, and top with walnuts or pecans.

To make the icing, sift icing sugar and cocoa into a bowl. Add the melted margarine, vanilla and just enough boiling water to form a thick icing.

Persian-style Pilaf With Chickpeas, Mint & Harissa

This recipe is vegan and free from gluten, dairy, eggs. Omit the almonds if you have a nut allergy.

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, finely diced

2cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1 tsp allspice

1 cup basmati rice, rinsed under cold water and drained well

1 3/4 cups water

1/4 cup currants (raisins or sultanas can be used also)

1/2 cinnamon stick (or 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon)

juice of one or two lemons

1 cup cooked chickpeas (or use a 390g tin of chickpeas, rinsed and drained well)

3/4 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted

1/2 cup loosely packed chopped flat leaf parsley leaves

1/2 cup loosely packed torn mint leaves

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

3 Tbsp harissa paste

3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Saute the onions until golden and soft. Add the ginger and allspice. Cook for a further 30 seconds. Add the rice and stir to coat in the onion mixture. Reduce the heat to low, add the currants, water and cinnamon. Cover with a lid and cook slowly for 20 to 25min until rice is cooked.

Mix the harissa paste with the juice of 1/2 to one lemon and the extra virgin olive oil. Spoon pilaf into a serving bowl and drizzle with harissa dressing, scatter with extra herbs and serve. Can be eaten hot, cold or at room temperature.

The Dominion Post