Recently I had the special challenge of creating completely allergen free food for our latest CeliacBayArea potluck. These dishes had to be gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, egg-free, bean-free, nut-free, and even coconut-free. What’s a soy, coconut, nut loving girl to do? One of my go-to potluck dishes that I enjoy making is a simple spring roll, but my favorite dipping sauce uses nuts in some form or another. Luckily, some time back I’d discovered a lovely and easy sweet chili sauce that went beautifully with spring rolls. I’ve often made this as well as a peanut sauce in case there are people at the party allergic to peanuts. However, as I thought about the party, I wasn’t sure my ordinary, salad-like spring roll would do. Many (although not all) of our diners were not vegetarian, and I thought they might find a salad-type roll a bit light and unsatisfying. But what if I made a heartier filling with mushrooms- something seasoned like a rich Chinese food dish- and combined it with fresh cilantro (just a leaf or two) and some rice noodles? Wouldn’t that be hearty and tasty, and give my soy-free friends a chance for Chinese food flavors that they don’t often get to enjoy? I had a plan. I’ve been working on a jicama stir-fry for a while, ever since I discovered how delicious it is fried in flavorful oil. For this variation, I combined jicama, carrot, and mushroom for a hearty and pleasant stir fry with sweet and savory elements. The sauce required some thought- ordinarily I would have used sesame oil to give it savory appeal, but since nuts were out I had to look elsewhere for my flavors. I came up with a savory sauce using alcohol, vegetable stock (yes, mine is soy-free and guten-free! I use the bouillon on the left for all my Chinese dishes), honey, and rice vinegar. On its own it wasn’t special, but combined with the salty and savory elements of the stir fry, it really brought everything together. The verdict of my tasters? DH loved the stir fry and kept stealing bits of it, to my chagrin. He wanted to just eat it on rice, but I had other designs for it. And as far as the potluck- I think our allergen-free members really enjoyed the flavor. Allergy-boy (a fervent carnivore) liked the combination of vegetables, and my friend JM (of okra fame) wanted the recipe. Perhaps the greatest compliment of all- even though I’d made enough for an army (I thought), with two boxes filled with two tiers of rolls, our small-ish party managed to eat almost all of the summer rolls I’d brought. So much for leftovers… heheh. Although I am lucky enough (I think) not to be intolerant to soy, with some of the negative press around it, it seems like it doesn’t hurt to take a break from it once in a while. And, when you can make something this tasty, and this allergen-free, being soy-free no longer seems like such a restriction. After all, how yummy IS soy sauce, when it comes down to it? When’s the last time you felt like glugging it straight from the bottle? I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to think I could do without it.
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Soy-Free Chinese Jicama Stir Fry
1/2 cup Canola Oil (or peanut, if allergies don’t forbid)
1 tbsp. szechuan peppercorns
a few slices of fresh ginger
2 large garlic cloves
2 scallions, just the white part
1 small jicama or 3/4 large jicama, peeled and cut into sticks
1/4 tsp. salt (NO LESS! Chinese food NEEDS the saltiness, and remember, you’ve already cut down on sodium by not using soy sauce)
Heat a wok on high and add Szechuan to pan, tossing lightly. Turn heat to low and toast peppercorn lightly, stirring frequently- about a minute and a half. Add the peanut oil and raise heat to medium or medium high, depending on your stove. Once oil begins to bubble lightly (if it ever does), add ginger, and garlic cloves. Lower heat and let cook until the garlic cloves and ginger turns brown. You may want to turn them in the oil to get them brown on both sides. When they are golden brown remove them and discard. Add in the white part of the scallions and let it brown, and then remove it from the oil and discard. You should have nicely flavored oil by now. If you have the patience, let cool and strain into a glass container (with a lid). If you don’t have the patience, strain with heat resistant metal strainer after letting it reach a cooler temperature into a heat resistant metal or glass. You don’t need to clean your wok if you are planning on immediately making this stir fry.
Mix your sauce ingredients in a small bowl and reserve. Add cornstarch last by mixing it with a small amount of the sauce first and then adding it to the sauce.
Take two tablespoons of the flavored oil and heat in your wok over high heat.
Toss in your salt and then, a few seconds later, your fresh minced ginger. As it starts to brown, throw in your jicama sticks. Move them in the wok with cooking chopsticks or other wooden cooking device (I have a wooden paddle thing I’m rather fond of) to allow them to brown evenly and not burn as well as get evenly coated with the yummy oil. After two minutes or so, add in the mushrooms, and then the carrots. You do NOT want to overcook the carrots, so watch them carefully. You want the mushrooms to be nice and soft and melty and the carrots to be crisp tender. Continue moving the food around as needed. When the dish seems ALMOST done, stir your sauce one last time and create a well in the center of the wok. Add the sauce to the center of the wok and then fold in the veggies as it thickens. Make sure the sauce has evenly coated all the veggies and then turn off the heat. Remove from wok and place in serving dish.
If needed, you can add more oil right before you add the mushrooms and carrots, but try to let the oil heat up a little before adding the next ingredients, and keep the jicama away from it on the sides of the wok. You can also experiment with LESS oil, but it adds a lot of flavor and the interest to the dish, so I would try it first with the given amount and then adjust for your own tastes. Steamed veggies are an alternative for the super-health conscious- but I’ve never been keen on them and the goal here is to achieve lip-smacking Chinese restaurant style tastiness without soy or gluten.
You can serve this with rice (white or brown), rice noodles, or even in a summer roll rice paper wrap. Craziness, I know. :)