Posts Tagged ‘Mexican food’


Can you trust a waiter with your gluten-free order?

May 6, 2012

Anne Wollenberg’s Observer article  on food allergies makes me think not.

According to two studies in the UK and the US, over a fifth of restaurant workers surveyed thought someone with an allergy could eat a small amount of that foodstuff, and over a fifth thought it was fine to just pick it off a finished meal. As Anne says “they can’t” and “it’s not.”

I love to eat out but for my boyfriend and his family it is too often a frustrating and a sickening experience (literally) with upset tummies and low energy for the next few days after a carefully ordered meal was laced with hidden gluten.

So, here’s to the food heroes I can strongly recommend who provide an allergy menu and have knowledgable and helpful staff who make what is often a frustrating and embarrassing ordering experience into no big deal.

  • Wahaca – ask them anything. They’ll circle all of the gluten-free menu options on the menu quickly and confidently. Shame it’s not just printed on the menu though. Have a margarita for me.
  • Carluccio’s – tasty gluten-free corn pasta on a special gluten-free menu. Allow extra waiting time so they can boil a fresh pot of water for your meal. No cross-contamination in this kitchen. Antonio Carluccio is such a legend.
  • Leon – heaven sent. Clearly labelled gluten-free and vegetarian items. Tasty hot boxes with brown rice, coleslaw and a choice of a hot main. Pecan pie to finish too! Positively scrummy.
  • Nando’s – peri peri chicken, chips, rice and salad. Avoid the peri peri salt.
  • Wagamama – special allergy menu for all kinds of concerns. We were going to take some gluten-free soy sauce in case the meal was bland after all the fun stuff was taken out but it was very tasty. We had a bottle of prosecco to celebrate*.
  • McDonalds – really? Well yes. Their fries aren’t covered in flour or crazy glutenous spices like Burger King. Also, after a few quizzical looks from the teenage cashier they’ll whip up a Big Mac without the bun and serve it in a breakfast container with a knife and fork. Hash browns and breakfasts without the muffins are also safe. My other half likes to eat a Big Mac with fries like a chip butty. Hey, I didn’t say it was glamorous but sometimes you just gotta eat.

Do you have any other tried and true recommendations? Be a pal and let us know in the comments section. Cheers!

*Wagamama is a new addition. A few weeks ago we went through the usual Food Dork work up to get ready to give the waiter the run down. It’s difficult, it’s embarrassing, you know they’re going to ignore your concerns and decide that you’re just some bozo on a health kick. Our waitress was so cool about the whole thing that we felt a little embarrassed for building it up to be a big deal. It was amazing. It felt normal!


Gluten-free Mexican ingredients & a pork pibil recipe

May 6, 2012

A lot of people are obsessed with Wahaca’s pork pibil tacos and want to find out if they’re gluten-free. I know because it’s the most searched item on Food Dorks. And who can blame them? Pork pibil tacos are mouthwatering parcels of tender deliciousness and I order them every time I go to Wahaca, without fail. (And, yes, the Wahaca recipe is gluten-free!)

So I know people will understand my launching on a crusade to find an easy way to make (or better yet, buy) gluten-free corn tortillas to make pork pibil at home so I can eat tacos all the time.

I have a Thomasina Miers’ cookbook, Mexican Food Made Simple, but she has cleverly omitted her most popular taco recipe so I’ve had to do a lot more searching. (Tommi does include recipes for refried beans, tortillas, pickled pink onions and other Mexican essentials so the book is still highly recommended!)

The best looking recipe I’ve found on the interwebs is this one from Food.People.Want. (Cheers buddy!)

So, after a lot of homework, I had recipes but I still needed ingredients and these are not easy to come by in the UK. My search for ingredients led me to Mex Grocer… which led me to spending about 40 pounds on dried chillies, Mexican spices, tortillas, black beans, banana leaves, mesa harina, and marinades. These magic ingredients, when combined with humble rice, pork, onions and garlic make the most amazing food to be sampled on the planet. The Mex Grocer delivery was speedy and the products were great, especially the gluten-free soft tortillas. Believe it or not but the hardest thing to source to make a Mexican feast was fresh bay leaves; Tesco and Sainsbury’s do not stock them so I had to drive across town to Waitrose to get some.

After all the effort of gathering the ingredients I let myself down by not cooking the pork in a “dutch oven” or what i imagine is a cast iron pot like a Le Creuset. I don’t own one and didn’t feel like forking out on one. So the pork was not tender and melt-in-the-mouth as you get at Wahaca but it tasted just as delicious. The stars of the dish really seemed to be the toppings; pink pickled onions, the refried black beans and fresh sprigs of fresh coriander (cilantro).

Nevertheless, the goodies I picked up at are a very welcome addition to my kitchen. Although it took a bit of effort, my batch of Thomasina Miers’ chipotles en adobo is smokey, tangy and delicious. Her refried black beans also took a lot of time and blending but the result was so tasty we ate til we were far too full to do anything for the rest of the afternoon. Siesta time!


Alright, I have to confess that I wrote the above MONTHS ago (Hi! I’m back. *waves*). Since then I have tried again and this time I nailed the recipe. My hot tips are:

  • you don’t need banana leaves.
  • you DO need a cast iron pot so the meat slow-cooks in the oven and all of the juices are sealed in. Since the failed attempt I got this beautiful teal Cook’s Collection pot from Sainsbury’s. The colour is a nice happy bright teal and it reminds me of Tommi’s book and the bright colours of Mexican decorations so it’s perfect to prep a Mexican feast.
  • You don’t need dried black beans and hours of soaking as per Tommi’s recipe. Just use tinned black beans. I got some in a tetra pack from Sainsbury’s. I threw a batch of black beans together in about 20 minutes while I boiled some rice and they tasted amazing.
  • DON’T add salt to boiling beans until they are nearly ready. Salt makes them go hard.
  • You do need epazote for black beans though, or at least anise seeds or star anise as a substitute.
  • Dried bay leaves are fine. You don’t need fresh.
  • Don’t skip the pink pickled onions. They pull the whole dish together. I prefer Tommi’s recipe for these – although again, I cut the time down to about 15 minutes.
  • The Mex Grocer tortillas are fantastic. Last weekend I tried to make my own with the masa harina I bought and it was an almighty failure. Does anyone know how to stop tortillas from going hard in the frying pan? I’ve always struggled with pancakes and tortillas!
  • Tommi Miers has a new book coming out in 2012 so keep an eye out to see if it has all the recipes you need before you buy the first book

Let me know if this has been helpful in the comments section. Thanks!


More to come soon…

June 24, 2010

Life takes over, doesn’t it? I have been so busy since I arrived back from Australia that I’ve had no time to keep you up to date with my latest gluten-free news. Plenty has happened and I have loads to update you with including:

  • Tips for gluten-free travel in Spain
  • My first attempt at gluten-free pork pibil tacos, chipotle adobe and pickled red onions
  • Gluten-free dining at Cafe Rouge
  • The 2010 Allergy & Gluten-Free Show
  • Gluten-free Mexican groceries

I feel hungry just thinking about it. I hope to catch up this weekend so keep your eyes peeled or sign-up for updates straight into your inbox at the bottom right of the page.



Real Food Festival 2010

May 10, 2010

Saturday brought more drizzle and cold winds so I decided to while away the day with a friend at the Real Food Festival at Earl’s Court, hoping to find some producers of gluten-free food. Seriously, it is snowing in Scotland. What is going on?

The main draw was a cooking demonstration by Thomasina Miers from Wahaca (see yesterday’s post) in case she cooked up some tacos!

We were greeted by a huge water buffalo at the entrance then scurried around the stalls looking for the “Chef’s Theatre” (not quite Kitchen Stadium!) Thomasina did indeed cook tacos but the tortillas she made were unfortunately wheat tortillas so I didn’t pick up any tricks. In 40 minutes she rustled up a bacon and red chard taco, a tomato and courgette taco and a mozzarella quesadilla. The highlight of the demo was the chipotle sauce that topped the dishes. We snuck up the front to taste the tacos at the end of the demo.

I was delighted to find a few gluten-free suppliers dotted about the festival. One of my favourite GF brands is Doves Farm Organics. I rate their pasta because the taste and consistency is very close to real pasta. Doves Farm were showcasing their GF cookie range. I bought a packet of Double Chocolate Cookies for English Boy to try because they are delicious and taste like normal cookies. First score of the day!

Next I came across The Bath Pig‘s wheat, gluten and dairy free chorizo. At home we gobbled it up on an antipasto plate and for breakfast with poached eggs. The Bath Pig chorizos are made using 100% natural ingredients so no breadcrumbs, artificial colours or stabilisers. Plus it’s delicious. Score number two.

The third find of the day was Burtree Puddings‘ Gluten-Free Sticky Toffee Pudding with Sticky Toffee Sauce. I think this one doesn’t need much explanation. The toffee sauce is so rich with double cream and English Butter that any trace of chalky GF flours is smothered. They are utterly scrumptious. Now I remember seeing them on Rick Stein’s Food Heroes so they are famous puddings. The only problem was that the sauce was so rich it made English Boy feel a bit crook thus defeating the purpose of me buying him a treat. Still… I would eat it again!

After all of that pudding I’ll have to eat salad for the rest of the week but it was worth it.


Wahaca & gluten-free Mexican food

May 9, 2010

While I was in Australia the weather in the UK was glorious by all accounts. Since I’ve been back it has barely been over 10 degrees C and it has been cloudy everyday. Come on, it’s supposed to be Spring! Last weekend, to spice things up a bit a friend took me on a trip to Thomasina Mier’s Wahaca in Covent Garden. Wahaca serve Mexican market-style foods. As I munched my way through pork pibil tacos I wished that the food at Wahaca was gluten-free so English Boy could taste the delicious soft, juicy pork as well.

I used to think that I hated Mexican food but I was wrong. I hate Old El Paso kits. Authentic Mexican food is the most delicious thing I have discovered in ages. Pork pibil is slow-cooked for hours and is melt-in-your-mouth tender.

I pinched the menu from Wahaca and came home to start googling recipes. The first thing I discovered was this tasty looking recipe from Food.People.Want. The recipe contains things I’ve never heard of like achiote seeds. Further investigation led to some online Mexican food stores that stock Mexican chillies and seeds. At that point I discovered that real corn tortillas don’t contain any wheat flour, unlike the rubbish cardboard tortillas you buy from the supermarket. All of the sudden it started to dawn on me that a lot of Mexican food must be gluten-free.

I emailed Wahaca to ask which menu items are gluten-free. I thought there would be hardly anything but I received an full A4 page reply starting with, “Wahaca is actually a pretty good place for those with an allergy to gluten and we get a lot of enquiries from coeliacs. I have previously gone through the menu with our head chef to identify what is suitable.” This is the most thorough response to a question about gluten-free food I have ever received.

Of course, wheat tortillas contain wheat so there is the risk that the gluten-free items may be cross-contaminated in the kitchen. However, if you’re willing to take a gamble on the gluten-free menu items, this is what they suggest.

  • The corn tortillas are made with ground masa corn and are wheat-free but not guaranteed to be free of gluten traces. These are used in tacos, taquitoes and tostadas.
  • The kitchen-staff recommend that coeliacs go for grilled items as these are less likely to be cross-contaminated with wheat, which could happen with some deep-fried items. Try dishes like fish a la Veracruzana (cooked in an aluminium parcel on the grill), chicken achiote and grilled steak.
  • Other options include pork pibil, vegetable pipian, Winter Fuerza Salad (with fried topotos which are pure corn tortillas), black bean soup (with or without chicken and topotos), tortillas soup (with or without chicken and topotos again).
  • Sides: Safe side dishes include green rice, frijoles, frijoles with chorizo, sauteed greens, wahaca slaw, green salad, salsa fresca, guacamole.
  • Tacos: if you follow a wheat-free but not gluten-free diet, or are willing to take a gamble, the recommended wheat-free tacos are chicken tinga taco, pork taco, seasonal vegetable taco, steak taco and steak cheese taco. Personally, I would ask for the pork pibil taco without the tortilla and eat it with a knife and fork if I couldn’t eat the tortilla.
  • Taquitoes: Again, if you’re willing to try the corn tortillas, taquitoes are fried in their own deep fat fryer therefore should be gluten-free. Options include tender marinated chicken taquito and Huitlacoche taquito.
  • Tostadas: Tostadas have a corn shell, but these are fried in a deep fat fryer with wheat tortillas so run the risk of some cross-contamination with wheat products. So the foolhardy can try beef salpicon tostada, black bean tostada, or MSC smoked herring tostada.
  • Salads: Wahaca’s salads are served in a wheat tortilla so you must remember to order these without the basket, and in some salads, without spelt.
  • Desserts: All ice creams and sorbets are gluten-free.

The conclusion from Wahaca is “some of the dishes above contain no gluten. Because of the nature of the busy kitchen,we can’t guarantee that anything is strictly gluten-free or doesn’t contain at least trace amounts. Hopefully you will find something for yourself that you feel confident eating.” So eating at Wahaca comes with that caveat but I think we would brave it as least once as an experiment.

If that fails, I’ll buy some gluten-free corn tortillas and some masa corn flour and make tortillas and tacos at home. We think these will probably be useful for wraps  for lunches as well as for Mexican food.

I am so excited about a new cuisine and a new eatery we can go to. The full Wahaca menu is available here.

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