Green eats: Good (and not so good) for you

You can eat very well in spite of food allergies.

cake 521 (photo credit: MCT)
cake 521
(photo credit: MCT)
Next time you invite someone new to dinner, don’t forget to ask if they have any food restrictions. These days, there are more people than ever suffering from allergies or sensitivities to food. In the US for example, eight foods are considered accountable for 90 percent of all food allergies: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat. In Israel third place goes to sesame seeds.
In some cases, several of these allergies may be outgrown, but allergies to peanuts, sesame seeds, seafood and wheat can be lifelong. Allergic reactions can be so severe that for some people exposure even without ingestion can lead to anaphylactic shock.
Handling milk allergies is relatively easy, since today one can find alternative types of milk and cheese in almost every supermarket, and substitution of almond, soy, oatmeal and rice milks works relatively well in most recipes but may affect the color of the finished baked goods. Points to remember: Soy milk may make the finished product brown prematurely, and rice milk may make it too watery (so add a bit more oil and flour).
Eggs are a little trickier, since they not only provide richness, color, protein and tenderness in recipes, but they also work as an emulsifier to hold batter together. The yolk contains fat and lecithin that act as a binder, leavening and emulsifier. The whites, which do not contain fats, also bind and leaven (think angel food cake). Substitutes only work if the recipe includes only one egg or two. Substitutes for one egg are: half a medium banana, mashed; a quarter cup of applesauce or other fruit puree; or one tablespoon of ground flax seed mixed with three tablespoons of warm water. Let stand a minute before using.
One of the most surprising allergies I’ve come across lately is the sesame allergy, which is well known as being most prevalent in Israel. It’s really torture for those afflicted, since so much of the food in this country contains it either in the form of tehina or as a garnish on burekas and almost anything else. By some accounts, the problem began with the old Tipat Halav system, where mothers were encouraged to supplement their baby’s diet with tehina as a form of calcium. But some babies were unable to digest the proteins in the sesame paste and developed anything from rash to anaphylactic shock.
Unlike allergies to milk and egg, which often pass when children get older, sesame allergy is forever, and today’s pediatricians will often recommend that you wait until children are two or years old three before serving them tehina or sesame products. It’s not only tehina but anything that contains sesame.
This means that for the afflicted, Asian food – often seasoned with dark sesame oil – is just as dangerous as one of those delightful Ayurvedic sesame oil massages. So if you have someone in the family with a sesame allergy and you like Asian food, use a mixture of ginger, chili sauce, ketchup and mirin with or without a little soy sauce, and you’re home free.
If you’re celiac or on a no gluten, no sugar diet, you’ll be happy to know that there is a whole world out there of gluten-free dishes that aren’t ersatz something else. (In fact, that’s what the cookbook I’m working on now is about.)
I just tried this over the weekend and realized its potential. You may not get it perfectly right the first time, but with practice you’ll find it’s great to have in your repertoire. Use only finely ground cornmeal (sold in vacuum packs imported from Italy or Willifood cornmeal or special cornmeal marked gluten-free).
✔ 2⁄3 cup finely ground cornmeal ✔ 1⁄3 tsp. salt ✔ 1 cup water ✔ 3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided ✔ 1 Tbsp. fresh basil, shredded
Topping: Prepared tomato sauce (not paste), mozzarella or Parmesan cheese, sliced red onion.
Place cornmeal in a bowl and whisk in the water and salt slowly. Cover and let stand 30-60 minutes. Add the basil.
Heat the grill in the oven. Heat a 28-cm. nonstick frying pan with 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Stir mixture and pour in all at once, then immediately pour over remaining 2 Tbsp. olive oil. Cook on medium-high heat about 8 minutes until bottom looks crispy when gently raised with a spatula. (Pierce any bubble and don’t worry about cracks). Remove from heat and top with a thin layer of prepared tomato sauce and cheese. Slip under the broiler till cheese melts. Remove from heat and garnish with oregano or basil leaves if desired.
Although I published this recipe some time ago, apparently guava season has inspired some readers to request it again. It contains no eggs.
✔ 1 cup butter or oil ✔ 1 cup organic cane sugar ✔ 1⁄2 cup honey ✔ 4 Tbsp. yogurt ✔ 3 cups whole-wheat flour ✔ 2 tsp. each: baking powder, soda, cinnamon ✔ 1⁄4 tsp. each: ground ginger, nutmeg and cloves ✔ 11⁄2 cups guava puree (crushed in blender and strained to remove seeds)
Preheat oven to 180ºC. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter or oil, sugar, honey and yogurt. Sift dry ingredients together and blend in, then blend in the guava puree.
Pour into a well buttered and floured bundt pan or two 20-cm round cake pans. Bake about 30 minutes, depending on size of pan or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
How do I know whether black spots on raw fruits and vegetables are dangerous or edible? When I see bananas with blackish areas, to me it’s time to bake banana cake. But I think that black on potatoes is a dangerous fungus, yet most sweet potatoes have black spots. Should the whole potato, white or sweet, be thrown away? What about black spots on tomatoes? Firm avocados often have a gray or black area inside. Mushrooms and lettuce leaves look great till I bring them home from the supermarket.
- Diane Friedgut
Dark spots on raw fruits and vegetables are indicative of bruising which has led, will lead or is in the process of leading to rot and mold, so it depends at what stage you catch it. The mold or fungus goes deeper than the actual surface. Remove all “eyes” on sweet or regular potatoes and any green skin or anything under it. If there is one spot and the fruit or vegetable is large, cut it away along with a few centimeters underneath. If there are too many soggy or black spots, discard. The gray or black area on avocados is a sign that the fruit is overripe, and those parts will taste rotten. Mushrooms – as long as they don’t have a rancid smell, if they have dark spots on them, you can just remove them. The dark parts of lettuce should be discarded, but the rest can be eaten.
If this is a frequent problem, check the produce more carefully when you buy it, buy produce that is not too ripe and figure out a way to pack it differently. Pack the heavier items at the bottom of the bag so that the produce doesn’t get as bruised. When you store fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator, make sure they are not too crowded together.
Which kind of pots did you recommended recently on your TV program? You didn’t mention their name. Are you allowed to divulge the brand name?

- Sara Landau
The kinds of pots or pans I would recommend to you depends on the kind of cooking you like to do. My favorite kitchenware is two enamel cast-iron casseroles with covers that I use for long-cooked foods, a WiKook semi-pressure cooker that is very handy, and stainless-steel pots and saucepans that I’ve had for many years that I use to make soups and pasta. I prefer Teflon non-stick frying pans over ceramic because ultimately they are safer, more durable and more long-lasting, and I appreciate any pan that can be easily cleaned on both the inside and the outside.