Cooking Allergy Free; Inspired Meals for Everyone, by Jenna Short
Publisher: Taunton Press
288 pages, Hardcover
Published 21st October 2014
With family and close friends with myriad food allergies I am always on the lookout for new recipes of yummy dishes that spark inspiration and could conceivably made by the average home cook. While many of the dishes in this cookbook appear delicious, however, it isn’t the allergy-free recipe cookbook I expected it to be, and I didn’t find it personally useful. However, this cookbook is excellently designed and could be very useful for the right kind of person/home cook.
The purpose behind Cooking Allergy Free is to provide relatively simple and healthy ‘gourmet’ food that can be adapted to an eater’s particular dietary restrictions among the major 8 food allergens: nuts, wheat (gluten), soy, dairy, eggs, shellfish, fish, and corn. The key word here is ‘can’. The recipes collected by Short here (which cover salads, soups, sides, entrees, deserts, sauces, and baking) are for the most part NOT inherently allergy free. Most of these types of recipes could be found in a regular everyday cookbook without the ‘allergy-free’ theme.
What Short does here, however, is clearly highlight for what diet(s) each recipe is appropriate. This is done at the top of the recipe with consistent, colorful icons, and recipes are indexed at the end of the cookbook according to diet. In addition to allergy restrictions, the dishes are also classified by icon as vegetarian or vegan where appropriate. The design of this book therefore would be exceptionally useful for someone who isn’t remotely familiar with allergens, recipes, or when/how recipes could be altered according to dietary restrictions. As comparison, I could see this book fulfilling a role similar to the “Idiot’s Guide” of technology books.
The highlight of this cook book is really how it looks and the easy navigation/interpretations allowed by the design. You can tell that Short has experience and talent in design. The photographs of the food are high quality and whet the appetite for trying out the dish. These are important considerations for a cook book, but excelling just in these categories doesn’t hold up if the overall purpose or recipes don’t meet your need.
For me the biggest problems come down to that fact that so many of the recipes contain many allergens in them still. It is important to note that a key feature of the book is that variant instructions are offered at the bottom of each recipe (with icons) to highlight how the dish could be altered to make it fit the needs of additional allergy restrictions.
One issue is that not all of these substitutions will work particularly well for the dish in question. For example, not all grains can be substituted well with quinoa to make something gluten-free. Quinoa could be used, but the dish isn’t going to have the same flavors, texture, or basic experience. This issue becomes most prominent in the baking section – where gluten-free flour just simply can’t serve as universal substitute across the board.
The second issue is that so many of the recipes contained allergens for no logical reason. If you are writing a book with ‘allergy-free’ in the title, why would you include recipes with peanuts? Really? One of the worst offending allergens? Why would you garnish something with nuts and then put in the ‘alternate’ instructions ‘Omit the nut garnish’? Why not make the recipe nut-free and then at the bottom say that nuts could be added if you DON’T have a nut allergy. Another recipe mentioned that people with nut allergies often had soy allergies, so the recipe could replace soy with something else – but the recipe also included almonds.
In the end, if you are looking for a book of allergy-free recipes, go find books specific to the dietary restriction(s) in question. If you could use a lovely designed book of recipes with mostly well laid-out guidelines on how to adapt them to a particular diner’s requirements while keeping the food still taste decently acceptable, then this is worth looking into.
Disclaimer: I received a free electronic reading copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.