There's (almost) no getting around it: if you or someone you live with has an allergy, you probably have to cook. And if you've never cooked before, or haven't done it regularly, the idea of learning to cook while cooking around an allergy can be incredibly daunting. It can be intimidating even to an experienced cook.
Take a deep breath. People have done this before. And luckily, there are excellent resources that can help you find recipes you can use as-is, adapt any recipe for your own allergy needs, and track down unusual ingredients.
The "big eight" allergies --- dairy, wheat, soy, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, and fish --- are fairly simple to find recipes for. Because they're so common, there are plenty of recipes written for them. You can also find recipes free of dairy, eggs, fish, and shellfish by looking in any good vegan cookbook or website. Likewise, the increase in diagnoses of celiac disease has been a boon to those with wheat allergies; gluten-free recipes are also wheat-free.
- Dairy-Free Recipes
- Egg-Free Recipes
- Peanut-Free Recipes
- Soy-Free Recipes
- Tree Nut-Free Recipes
- Wheat- and Gluten-Free Recipes
Finding recipes for multiple food allergies or for other food allergies is more difficult. One of the best online resources is the website Cooking Allergy Free, which allows you to create a custom profile indicating all of your allergies and filtering community-offered recipes to return only the ones that are safe for you as written.
Adapting Recipes for Allergies
As useful as recipes written for allergies are, it's a tremendously useful skill to be able to adapt favorite family recipes, or those you find in cookbooks or magazines. This will come relatively easily to experienced cooks, but the learning curve can be steep for anyone who's new to the kitchen.
Fortunately, some ingredients are so basic to cookery that they appear again and again in recipes of all sorts, and people who develop recipes for food allergies have had ample opportunities to determine which safe foods make the best substitutes. There are also ingredients on the market that are specifically marketed as safe substitutes for the most common allergens. These tried-and-true alternatives will give you the best chance of turning out allergy-safe dishes that taste like the original.
- Twenty Great Food Allergy Cooking Substitutes
- Dairy-Free Milk Alternatives
- Using Wheat-Free Flours
- Using Egg Replacer in Baking
- Nine Substitutes for Peanut Butter
However, you may find yourself needing to adapt uncommon or unfamiliar ingredients to make a recipe work. Don't be intimidated: most recipes are actually pretty flexible, and you can get good results from a wide range of substitutions. Here's my step-by-step guide to making substitutions in recipes for allergies.
Finding Safe Ingredients
Knowing which ingredients you need for a recipe is one thing. Finding them can be quite another, especially if you live in a rural area or if your transportation is limited. And some ingredients --- especially allergy-friendly baking mixes and aids --- can be hard to find even in otherwise well-stocked supermarkets or health food stores. Grocery Shopping for Food Allergies is a general guide to the types of allergy-safe products you're likely to find at several types of stores, but be aware that the range and quality of products you're likely to find will vary widely.
Can't find what you want locally? You've got two options. First, talk to the manager of your local supermarket or health food store. She may be willing to make a special order on your behalf, especially if you're willing to buy a large quantity of a given product. Second, you can find many specialty allergy cooking products online. Miss Roben's, Amazon.com, and Gluten-Free Mall are but a few of the larger stores that offer a wide variety of allergy-safe products.
Cooking Safely at Home
Beyond basic principles of food safety, anyone with a food allergy --- or anyone who cooks for someone with a food allergy --- needs to be aware of the principle of cross-contamination. Cross-contamination occurs when unsafe, allergenic foods touch otherwise safe foods and render them dangerous to eat. This can occur directly, but it can also occur when the same foods share a utensil, storage receptacle, cutting board, pan, or serving dish, without the utensil or cooking implement being washed thoroughly between uses.
To avoid cross-contamination at home, make sure that allergens are kept away from safe foods and, whenever possible, are cooked using different pans and utensils. For more practices that can help keep you safe, see How to Avoid Cross-Contamination.