Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

Dim Sum – Yum! (Allergies: Sesame, Peanut, Tree Nut) December 18, 2010

Filed under: Recipes & Cooking — malawer @ 8:51 pm
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photo taken by dslrninja via flickr


I LOVE Chinese food!  I really, really love it.  But, ever since my son was diagnosed with sesame, nut and peanut allergies, we have avoided it like the plague.  Truth be told, our son stood a better chance against the plague.

They say that time heals all wounds.  Something that time doesn’t heal?  A craving for chicken in brown sauce with a side of lo mein.   Commercially available meals were out.  There was just no way to guarantee it was safe with all that sesame oil.   And, cooking it at home?!  Well, let’s just say I’ve burnt soup before.  Yes, soup!

Chinese food always seemed mysterious and complicated to me.  Any dish necessitating a wok just felt scary.   I have no clue what to do with bamboo steamers.   And don’t get me started on the ingredients!  All those unusual ingredients felt so intimidating – especially when trying to decipher, for example, whether a water chestnut is, in fact, a nut or where to buy ward long beans (nevermind what they look or taste like!).

After ignoring my body’s clear “need” for soy sauce and fortune cookies for far too long, I finally decided to try and tackle the insurmountable and try a few recipes.  With only my regular kitchen supplies and a few extra ingredients, I began.  And, you know what?!   I’m not saying I’m ready to conquer a wok, but Chinese cuisine isn’t as tough to whip up as I had thought!  Plus, even with a bunch of ingredient substitutions, the meal was not only edible (miracle) but DELICIOUS!  If I do say so myself…

So, if your family is like ours and needs to avoid commercially produced Asian food, there are a few cooking substitutions you can make to keep food allergic family members safe.

1.  Water Chestnuts are not nuts!  They are marsh inhabiting vegetables and  do not need to be avoided by tree nut allergic individuals.

2.  To maintain the right flavor, I substituted safflower oil for sesame oil.  A little trick I learned from watching the chefs at Japanese steak houses  (Thank you, Benihana!)

3.  Sometimes there’s no substitution when it comes to nuts and peanuts.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try the recipe!  One of my most requested meals is Kung Pao Pork, whose key ingredient is peanut (gasp!).  Even without them, the dish is so flavorful you’d never miss peanuts.

4.  Use what you have in the fridge.  Play around with meats.  My Kung Pao Pork is stellar as Kung Pao Chicken.  Sub in (or out) tofu, as you like.  Chinese sauces make their dishes fairly flexible.

5.  Once and a while I cut a few corners with frozen food.  Trader Joe’s make yummy dumplings (Trader Joes Pork Gyoza Potstickers), for example.

The best part of cooking Chinese food at home is that it’s generally healthier than if taken out.  (Bonus for your hard work!)  For us, it exposed my picky, allergic eater to a new world of flavor that he loves!

Try Cooking Light’s Asian recipes as a starting point.  Bon appetit!  Or as they’d say in China:  sihk faahn!


4 Responses to “Dim Sum – Yum! (Allergies: Sesame, Peanut, Tree Nut)”

  1. Anna Says:

    Hi. I have a 2.5 yr old son with a peanut allergy, so am interested to read your blog. Just wondering if your son can eat the Trader Joe’s Potstickers? We’ve been avoiding these as I wasn’t sure whether or not they contain traces of peanuts. Will have to call Trader Joe’s and find out. I know that some Trader Joe’s products are made on the same line (or in the same facility) as peanuts and this is not stated on the packaging. Their sweet potato fries is one such product. Can’t remember any more off the top of my head.

    The Lebanese Taverna also sounds good. We are only dealing with one allergy so that makes eating out easier, but it’s always good to get a recommendation for an allergy-friendly restaurant.

    • malawer Says:

      We shop at Trader Joe’s often and I’d be keenly interested in learning the answer to your question (please post another comment if you get one).

      In our experience Trader Joe’s has been very hit or miss. But, when we hit, we hit it big with items that are delicious and otherwise difficult to find allergy-free. One such item is the Trader Joe’s Pork Gyoza Potstickers. I believe the chicken flavor may contain either nuts or sesame seeds but will verify (we avoid both, so for us it’s out!). I’ve been thinking about doing a post on the Trader Joe’s frozen food section for a while, so stay tuned!

      Thanks in advance for your follow-up with TJ’s!

  2. Aimee Says:

    Hi- I also miss chinese food! My 3 year old is peanut/shellfish allergic. My problem has been trying to find sauces that I am comfortable with that are not cross-contaminated with other peanut-containing sauces. Soy can be found (ex. I think the WI location of Kikkoman if memory serves) but I have not been able to find other peanut-safe sauces (plum, hoisin, bean, etc.). Have you had any luck with that? Thanks!

    • malawer Says:

      You know, I’ve been looking for commercially-ready hoisin and plum sauces with no luck either. Maybe it’s time I experiment with making them. I’ve found that homemade teriyaki is doubly delicious, maybe homemade hoisin will be too! Stay tuned – we’ll solve this problem!!!

      Did you see my post on Kung Pao Chicken? Very reliable recipe. Yum!

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