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Feb 26, 2008 09:05 AM

Brotherly love #2: Asian with restrictions

My little brother had so much success with his first attempt at cooking -- risotto and carrot soup -- that he wants to try again this weekend. Again, a dinner party to please a girl. Not the girl the first dinner party was aimed at, not the other girl he wound up kissing that night, but a third girl.

He wants Asian. Easy, right?

Well, there's a catch. She's vegan with wheat and soy allergies. Beyond summer rolls wrapped in rice paper, I'm stumped. Taking miso, soy, tofu, meat, fish out of play sorely limits my normally abundant Asian playbook. Ideas?

(He must REALLY like her, because he's somewhat obsessive about his carnivorism.)

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  1. Is there a particular Asian cuisine he'd like to do? Overall, Chinese would be pretty easy to do w/out wheat and soy--stir fries with rice. One thing he should do is read soy sauce labels. Some brands like Kikkoman have gluten.

    5 Replies
    1. re: chowser

      Avoiding gluten in soy sauce is one thing, avoiding soy is another.

      1. re: paulj

        Good catch--thanks. I don't know why I didn't make that connection...

        On second thought, it would be hard to make Chinese food w/out soy.

        1. re: chowser

          no prob... use Bragg's amino acids instead of soy!

            1. re: soypower

              aaah!!! totally forgot that... i was thinking about the gluten side of it! thanks soypower, i'm a dolt!

    2. Dessert is easy. Make sticky rice with mango. Do read the labels carefully, often a seemingly innocuous paste will have fermented wheat in it.

      Edit: also, be sure he knows that "black beans" in the context of Chinese food are likely fermented soy beans.

      1. Maybe red or green Thai curry with coconut. Try a variety of vegetables - carrots, green beans, potatoes, parsnips, eggplant... maybe top with cashews for protein.

        It would go great with the spring rolls. For the dressing for the spring rolls maybe a mix of plum sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, chiles or chile sauce, & ginger. Just tell him to be sure to check labels for any packaged sauces he might use - for instance I am not sure about the plum sauce.

        In case these ingredients come up: Many vegans do not eat white sugar because it can be bleached using bones and it is impossible to tell from packaging what method was used. Similarly some vegans avoid plain white vinegar, though I believe there is no reason to do so, just a myth that goes round about it being bleached like sugar, but good to know in case she avoids it. Of course you know gelatin comes from bones as well, but make sure your brother knows too because a surprising number of people do not. No honey either. If in doubt, check with the girl, she should be happy he cares.

        I am guessing that if they drink at all they won't be drinking beer, what with the wheat allergy (although there are wheat free beers), but he should be aware that some wines are not vegan. He can also search online for "vegan wine" to find lists of those that are. Here's a place to start:

        3 Replies
        1. re: guate

          Thai curry paste is often made with shrimp paste in it, so the ingredients would have to be checked on a commercial brand. Also, be aware that usually a vegetarian would use soy sauce and other soy products to replace fish sauce and shrimp paste and the like. That won't work here. Shrimp paste can just be left out, though, if you make it by hand.

          1. re: saltwater

            Excellent point about the curry paste. It shouldn't be hard to find a vegetarian version though. My sister is allergic to shrimp, my husband has never eaten any meat in his life, and I am vegetarian as well and we all make curry using packaged pastes.

            (The brand I have on hand right now is Maesri and it is veggie, wheat free, and soy free. The can is a little smaller than a tuna can and I bought it at a 99 Ranch Market in Arizona. It does contain sugar and despite what I said above this may be okay with her. Not everybody who maintains a vegan diet follows this guideline and they still pretty reasonably call themselves vegan as it is a difficult thing to track, especially in foods like this. It will just depend on where she draws the lines. I would guess that if she couldn't eat sugar she would have said so along with the other restrictions, but that is just a guess.)

            I actually don't normally use soy sauce in my curry either and it turns out great.

            The stir-fry ideas without soy sauce of others on here are great as well and sound very tasty, though I think I would still go with curry because I find coconut impresses people.

            Oh, oh, oh!! Or maybe go an extra course and make it coconut soup (like tom kha kai minus chicken & fish sauce) AND serve stir fry. If he isn't concerned with strict authenticity, and I think we can give that up at this point, curry paste could play a role in this as well to keep it simple. Veggie stock (check for soy and wheat if pre-packaged), curry paste, mushrooms, coconut milk, salt to taste, and maybe extra ginger or lemongrass seems like a strong start with whatever other veggies he chooses. I like tomatoes for freshness - tossed in for the last minute or so of cooking so they heat through but don't really cook. Topped with cilantro and lime juice. She would guaranteed be impressed.

            Then one of the stir fries would go great and not be too similar to the soup. Just choose at least some different veggies. Miss Needle's description sounds very nice and simple.

            The soup and spring rolls could be made ahead of time, and veggies chopped, just leaving stir frying during the dinner party.

            I am really enjoying this discussion, these are definitely some of my go-to dishes, with a few extra restrictions. I used to live in an art collective with lots of vegetarians and some vegans. We had weekly dinners together and these were always hits.

            1. re: guate

              Tom Kha Kai would be great. It's the kha that makes that go round (well, also I like mine with nam prik pao, just get a veggie version of it, perhaps the brand that guate suggests above.)

              For some reason guate's mention of not using soy sauce in curry reminds me that fried rice can be prepared without soy as well. Has anyone tried it with just salt and some other flavor? If you have a good recipe, please share. I'm the sort who uses lard, salty ham, fish sauce, etc. I think something good could be made with some sherry, mushrooms, the usual peas or diced carrots or whatnot, scallions, etc. Just use veggie oil, perhaps good cold-pressed peanut oil?

        2. Vegetables (including mushrooms) are delicious stir-fried with some garlic, ginger, salt and finished off with some toasted sesame oil. Thinking of Asian vegan wheat-free soy-free protein source is pretty difficult. The only thing I can think of is aduki beans which tend to be used in dessert as opposed to the main course.

          1. This is a toughie! But you do have a few options:

            iddli with sambar
            cachumbar salad with toasted cumin seeds

            none of these has dairy, wheat or soy (unless you use ghee to fry). it takes a little bit of practice to spread the dosai very thin in the pan, so he might want to make it at least once in advance. masala filling (primary ingredients: potatoes, peas, cashew nuts) has no wheat, soy or dairy.

            i've made a vegetarian (soy and wheat free) massaman curry, before. it's not too bad. take a standard recipe (i.e., omit the meat, and use more nuts for protein.

            you can cetainly make stirfries without soy sauce. i almost never use soy sauce in mine. (sautee garlic in hot oil, add a variety of veggies chosen for texture and color contrast, serve over rice.)