red line
   Back to Archives
   Back to IF Home






Tina LaiTIna Lai, Gourmet


The Special Needs of Eating



oh, vive la France. As a franco-and-food-phile, nothing is more truly enjoyable to me than to buy food in Paris. Guilty indulgences beguile the food obsessed with rose scented jellies, truffle infused oils and cream filled pastries.

On a recent stay to the eating capital of the world, I discovered the wondrous selection of the gourmet department of Le Bon Marche on the Rive Gauche, a  specialty gourmet market with everything a gastronome’s heart would desire: fresh fish and meats, regional specialties and hard to find and precious condiments like pure pistachio oil. As I filled my basket I found myself in a dilemma. Here I was, in the Mecca for Gourmets yet I was preparing food for a friend who is lactose intolerant as well as sensitive to seemingly common ingredients such as eggs, beans, tomatoes, and onions.  And on top of that, no wine—red or white!  Mon Dieu!, would gasp even a little resourceful chef  like Ratatouille.

In France you might turn heads if you mention an allergy to dairy (not to mention wine).  For my friend who lives in Paris, everyday is a struggle to make sure that the servers understand that not only butter, cheese, cream, yogurt  or even any trace of afore mentioned used to emulsify a sauce would make a lactose intolerant person writhe with gastro-intestinal pain. The French for the most part are more likely not to empathize with a condition that diminishes the glory of their cuisine, leaving people like my friend frustrated and hungry for food that she can enjoy.

When I cook for people with food allergies, I start on the premise that there are more foods that one can eat than that one cannot eat.  All it takes is a little imagination!
Butter is widely used in French cuisine to create a rich and creamy base for sauces. When  butter can not be used, then an obvious substitute would be oil.

Oil of course, can lend viscosity to the food, but used in great amounts, it can leave the food tasting well, oily. With the great varieties of oils being offered in the market nowadays that are infused with other ingredients such as porcini mushroom, lemon, rosemary, saffron to mention a few, one can be creative and achieve a depth of flavor by simply drizzling it over pastas, vegetable grilled meats and salads.

Desserts can often also feel a little deflated when there is no creamy fluffy fillings or buttery crusts. As a solution, I often think of fruit based recipes such as baked apples and pears with nut base crusts or coconut milk custards that are suspiciously creamy tasting.

As a proof that French cooking can be lactose intolerant friendly, here is my
Lactose-free menu:

Starter: Prawn Cocktails with Avocado “Cream”
First Course: Steak with Olive and orange Aioli and Potato hash
Dessert: Tarte tatin on Almond Praline crust.


Recipe: Prawn Cocktail with Avocado “Cream”

8 Cooked large prawns, 2 per person
2 tbs of Olive oil
1 tomato finely diced
2 ripe avocados
1 lime
2 tbs. of coriande.
1 tsp of chile

Heat oil and sautee prawns on both sides. Puree together avocado and rest of ingredients.
This may not sound like a French recipe but French is in the details: skewer the prawns in cocktail size picks and serve in beautiful small glasses, also known as verrines.

Recipe: Steak with Olive and Orange Aioli served with Potato Hash

2 lbs of hanger steak, with fat trimmed
“Fleur de Sel” with provencal herbes (this is a coarse sea salt with rosemary, thyme and bay herbs, available in specialty stores)
1-1/4 lb of potatoes, thinly sliced
1-1/4 cup of good quality olive oil
2 cloves garlic
½ cup shallots.

Prepare the Potato hash: oil the potatoes with minced garlic, cook in a heavy sautee pan over low. Add the shallots when potatoes begin to brown. Turn potatoes until both sides are crisp and brown.  Set aside and keep warm.
Sprinkle “Fleur de Sel” Sear the steaks on both sides on lightly oiled heavy skillet, spoon Aioli  over the meat. The warmth of the “creamyt” mayonnaise like sauce pairs wonderfully with the juiciness of the meat.

For the Olive and Orange Aioli
1 egg yolk
½ cup mild flavored oil such as  grapeseed or hazelnut
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup black pitted olives
1 tsp of orange zest
1 tbs of lemon juice
salt & Pepper.

Whisk egg yolk in bowl and drop by drop add the flavored oil and then the olive oil.
The secret to mayonnaise is to incorporate the oil slowly, allowing the mixture to emulsify, so be patient and practice the wrist movements.

Dessert: Tarte tatin on Almond Praline crust.

8 small cooking apples , peeled
½ c. brown sugar, ½ c. white sugar
1 tsp of cinnamon
½ tsp of nutmeg.
Cut fruit in half and coat apples with sugar and spices. Cook in a heavy skillet until brown and caramelized. Place round side down pressing fruit close together.
Make the almond crust with the following: 2 cups of chopped roasted almonds and 1 cup of white sugar an 2 tsp of water. Caramelize sugar in saucepan and add almonds.
While still warm and pliable spoon over the apples in pan and press down firmly to make the crust. Let it cool and turn onto plate when ready to serve.



white divider