Look in a supermarket today and you will find a selection of food labeled gluten free, allergen free, dairy free, or lactose free. These products are usually limited, and extremely expensive. So for a person who is allergic to wheat, dairy and many nuts, how does on eat healthily, allergen free, and inexpensively? My answer to this question is stir fry.
The term stir-fry was introduced into the English language in a book by Buwei Yang Chao called How to Cook and Eat in Chinese. The term was used to describe the chao technique of cooking. (1) According to Mark Vogel,
“stir-frying is a technique whereby food is sautéed quickly in a very hot, concave (bowl-shaped) pan called a wok. The bottom center of the pan is where the heat is most concentrated. It then dissipates as the sides of the pan are ascended.”
Items for stir frying should be cut into small, uniform pieces to allow for even cooking. Once in the pan, foods should be kept in almost constant motion, often using more than one utensil. Usually longer cooking items would be placed in first, starting with a protein, adding harder vegtables, then softer vegtables, then noodles, aromatics, and sauces. Sometimes a protein will be seared, then reomved, and added back later. (3)
A wok is not required to make stirfry, but it does have the advantages of spreading heat evenly and requiring less oil than a traditional pan, as well as keeping tossed foods in the pan instead of on the floor! Woks come in both a flot bottomed and a round bottomed shape. The flat bottom is best for those working with an electric stove, the round best for gas. With a round bottomed wok, there will often be a heat ring to balance to wok on and to help with heat dirtibution. (2)
Stir-fries were not a regular food for me as a child. Growing up, my mom cooked a lot of pasta dishes, cassereoles, and comfort foods. We didn’t have a wok, and I didn’t know I was allergic to any foods, so I didn’t think twice about diving in to a regular bowl of pasta and meatballs or worry about the wheat flour in Cambell’s tomato soup. I learned to stir-fry in culinary school, and started using the technique because it’s quick, inexpensive, and if done well, can be very healthy.
Stir Frying is a technique as much as it is a dish. One can use just about any ingerients in a stir fry that suits their tastes. I use whatever I happen to have around, or whatever happens to be on sale. My protein of choice is sually a lean cut of chicken or beef. Because the technique is quickly over high heat, proteins that are tough aren’t as ideal. For this particular stir fry I heated my flat bottomed wok up and used olive oil. I cooked my ground turkey, then drained off excess fat before adding bak choy, carrots, canned water chestnuts, and canned bamboo shoots. I coooked these down a bit before tossing in some pre-cooked rice noodles, which I cooked earlier inboiling water for 10 minutes. For a sauce I combine soy sauce with thai sweet chili sauce. To finish the dish I add slat and pepper to taste and then sqeeze a lime over the whole thing. This dish can then be served hot or cold. For the purpose of this class, I will seve mine cold.
I was diagnosed with my food allergies after a lifetime of sinus problems and symptoms of a wekened immune system. I spent more time than I cared to at doctor’s offices, had numerous surguries on my sinuses, had tubes, and had my tonsils removed. Finally I got fed up with doctors who could only tell me I had yet another upper respiratory infection, and went to a naturopathic doctor. She diagnosed my allegies using a technique called Electrodermal screening, which uses the meridians of the body to detect inbalences in ones system. (4) After a diagnosis of allergies to both the lactose and the caseine in dairy, wheat (not gluten!) and certain nuts, I modifed my diet. Since modfying my diet I have noticed a significat improvement in the frequency of illnesses I have. It was explained to me that the more I eat foods that stress my system, the weaker my immune system grows. While the immune system is weak, I get sick much easier. I have experimented on my own; any time I eat pizza or regular bread now, I notice myself feeling fatigued, stuffy, and sore throated.
After learning about my allergies, I started noticing just how expensive allternatives for people with allergies can be. I was spending an average of $70 a week on food when before I was only spending an average of $40. The bread and pasta alternatives are not only pricey, but from personal experience, the tastes and textures can be pretty odd. I’ve yet to find a gluten free bread that I can really palate, and the pastas in the “natural foods” section tend to be mushy. These sections often offer rice flour and other alternatives for baking, but these tend to be expensive for a college student as well. I knew from expereinces in culinary school that Asian cusines use a lot of rice flour in their cooking, and realized that we have a very nice Vietnamese market here in town. I decided to visit and see if I could find less expensive alternatives for myself that worked with my allergies. Lo and behold, they sell rice noodles, rice flour, and tapioca flour at reasonable prices. They also have some very nice and very cheap produce. Thus, my love affair with stir fry was born, and now I hope I have passed it on!
1) Chao, Buwei Yang, How to Cook and Eat in Chinese, New York: John Day, 1945, accessed November 16th 2010
2) Parkinson, Rhonda, Before You Buy a Wok, About.com Guide, accessed November 16th, 2010
3) Vogel, Mark, R, Stir Frying, Food for Thought, July 23rd, 2008, Accessed November 16th, 2010
4) 4) Electrodermal Screening, Stillpointe Natural Health, http://www.stillpointe.net/getdoc/5c56d91e-7bb5-4be2-b5bd-b018c46526d0/Electrodermal-Screening-%28EDS%29.aspx, accessed November 16th, 2010