ArchiveDecember 20, 2014

Christmas – Food Intolerances

Even if you love all the razzmatazz, Christmas is certainly ‘a bit of work’ and can be a deeply stressful time for the cook or chef. This is exacerbated even further if you yourself or a member of the family have one or several food allergies or intolerances. Until relatively recently I never heard of anyone who had a food allergy or intolerance even though the Ballymaloe Cookery School has been in operation for thirty years and Ballymaloe House is celebrating its fiftieth year. The problem has really gathered momentum in the last decade. Nowadays between one quarter and a third of our students report a food allergy or intolerance on their booking form.

There is a very important distinction to be made between food allergies and food intolerance. The former can be life threatening e.g. a peanut allergy, the latter may cause varying degrees of discomfort.

Back to Christmas…

The cause of all this will be the subject of another article in the New Year, but meanwhile I’ve had many requests for festive recipes suitable for vegetarians and diabetics, (recipes with low sugar options for those with blood sugar balancing issues) and those on a wheat free or  dairy free diet.

My first bit of advice is to source as much local, organic, biodynamic and chemical free food as possible. You will be amazed at the difference that one change can make. Eat less meat but splurge on better quality. Gorge on organic vegetables and whole grains lightly cooked or in salads. You will need much less to feel satisfied, don’t just believe me, try for yourself. Butter is a beautiful natural product but people who are dairy intolerant can substitute olive oil, coconut oil or some other oils in all recipes for soups and even cakes. A bottle of beautiful extra virgin olive oil is a shortcut to flavour and health.

Coeliacs or those with a gluten intolerance don’t have to feel deprived; the turkey stuffing can be made with gluten free breadcrumbs, as can the delicious Gluten-Free Mummy’s Plum Pudding with Boozy Sauce on my website, There’s also a recipe for Debbie Shaw’s delicious gluten free bread. Vegetarians will enjoy the chunky vegetable soup or watercress, blood orange and new seasons Toonsbridge mozzarella salad. How about Smoked Gubbeen and pearl barley, cucumber, pomegranate and toasted almond salad for the main course? Diabetics of course need to be careful not to cause an insulin spike. Jerusalem artichoke soup is the highest in insulin of any vegetable, this vital ingredient promotes healthy gut flora. This soup is suitable not just for vegetarians but also coeliacs and those with a dairy intolerance provided olive oil is substituted.

Made with coconut milk, Asian ceviche (dairy-free) is one of my all-time favourites. A plate of Irish smoked fish or seafood also makes a delicious starter (a larger portion will make a substantial main course). Diabetics must avoid sugar or any of the sugar substitutes that raise blood sugar levels, however a little coconut flower sugar or maple syrup occasionally can be allowed so why not try Debbie Shaw’s raw chocamoca tart with espresso syrup or her mini Christmas plum puddings. The latter will also delight the growing number of raw food afficandos. The real joys of these recipes apart from the delicious taste is that there is no oven required

Medjool dates are a real treat enjoy them with blue cheese or in combination with oranges and fresh mint.

Recipes from Darina Allen’s Simply Delicious Christmas published by Gill and Macmillan.


Watercress, Blood Orange and New Seasons Toonsbridge Mozzarella Salad

The rich West Cork pasture that the buffalos feed on gives the Toonsbridge Mozzarella its quintessentially Irish taste. A few beautiful fresh ingredients put together simply make an irresistible starter.


Serves 4


2-3 balls of fresh Toonsbridge Mozzarella

2 blood oranges

a bunch of fresh watercress

2-3 tablespoons (2 1/2 – 4 American tablespoons) Irish honey

a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

some coarsely ground black pepper

50g (2oz) unskinned almonds, toasted and sliced


Toast the almonds in a preheated oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 10-15 minutes.  Allow to cool and then slice each almond lengthwise into 2-3 pieces.


Just before serving, scatter a few watercress leaves over the base of each plate, slice or tear some mozzarella over the top.  With a sharp knife remove the peel and pith from the blood oranges, cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) thick slices, tuck a few here and there in between the watercress and mozzarella.   Drizzle with honey and really good extra virgin olive oil.  Scatter with toasted almonds. Finally add a little coarsely ground fresh black pepper and serve.



Smoked Gubbeen and Pearl Barley, Cucumber, Pomegranate and toasted Almond Salad.

Pearl Barley is inexpensive and fantastically nourishing – lots of protein, vitamins, and minerals – some varieties are also high in Lysine.  In tandem with other grains it’s having a revival of interest in gastronomic circles.  We also use it for pilaffs and to add to winter stews and casseroles like our Granny’s did!


Serves 8


185g (6 1/2oz) pearl barley

1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints) water

1 teaspoon salt

1 small cucumber

2 dessert apples, Cox’s Orange or Gala, cored and diced

freshly squeezed lemon juice of 1 lemon

seeds from 1/2-1 pomegranate, depending on size

60g (2 1/2oz) halved toasted almonds

coarsely chopped diced smoked Gubbeen cheese



125ml (4fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons Forum Chardonnay vinegar or cider vinegar

1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed

sea salt and freshly ground pepper


Flat parsley leaves


Put the pearl barley and water into a saucepan and add salt. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 20 minutes.


Drain very well. Whisk the extra virgin olive oil and vinegar and crushed garlic together, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Toss while still warm. Spread out to cool.

Cut the cucumber lengthways, remove the seeds, cut at a long angle into 7mm (â…“ inch) slices and add to the bowl.

Meanwhile, quarter and dice the apple. Squeeze a little lemon juice over the top, and add the pomegranate seeds, well toasted almonds and diced smoked Gubbeen cheese. Add the remainder of the dressing. Toss gently and combine with the pearl barley. Taste and correct the seasoning. Transfer to a serving dish and allow the flavours to meld for an hour or so. Scatter with flat parsley leaves and serve.

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Avocado and Roast Hazelnut Salsa

Serves 8-10

Jerusalem artichokes were a sadly neglected winter vegetable, but many people have discovered them in recent years.  We love the flavour and of course they are brilliantly nutritious – packed with inulin. They look like knobbly potatoes and are a nuisance to peel, but if they are very fresh you can sometimes get away with just giving them a good scrub. Not only are they a smashing vegetable but they are also delicious in soups and gratins. They are a real gem from the gardeners point of view because the foliage grows into a hedge and provides shelter and cover for both compost heaps and pheasants!


50g (2oz) butter or 4 tablespoons of olive oil

560g (1 1/4 lb) onions, peeled and chopped

1.15kg (2 1/2 lbs) Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed, peeled and chopped

salt and freshly ground pepper

1.1L (2 pints) light chicken or vegetable stock

600ml (1 pint/2 1/2 cups) approx. creamy milk or soya milk



Avocado and Roast Hazelnut Salsa (see recipe)


Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, add the onions and artichokes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, cover and sweat gently for 10 minutes approx.  Add the stock and cook until the vegetables are soft. Liquidise and return to the heat. Thin to the required flavour and consistency with creamy milk, and adjust the seasoning.


Serve in soup bowls or in a soup tureen. Garnish with avocado and roast hazelnut salsa.

Note This soup may need more stock depending on thickness required.


Avocado and Roast Hazelnut Salsa

2 ripe avocados

4 tablespoons (5 American tablespoons) chopped roast hazelnuts

4 tablespoons (5 American tablespoons) hazelnut oil

4 tablespoons (5 American tablespoons) chopped chives


Peel and dice the avocados.  Season with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle the avocado and chopped roasted hazelnuts over the soup, drizzle with a little hazelnut oil and chopped chives.

Asian Ceviche

Antony Worrall Thompson introduced me to this Asian–inspired version of ceviche when he taught at one of his hugely entertaining classes at the cookery school. He used Asian prawns but we have adapted the recipe to use monkfish instead with great success.  This is also a way of preserving fish in the short-term.


Serves 8


450g (1lb) monkfish, plaice or lemon sole, cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) dice

4 tablespoons coriander leaves

2 tablespoons fresh mint, shredded

1 avocado (peeled and diced into 1cm/1/2 inch dice)

4 tablespoons peeled and diced mango into 1cm/1/2 inch dice (1 small or 1/2 large mango)

4 spring onions (sliced)

2–3 red chillies (deseeded and thinly sliced)

4 tablespoons diced cucumber (approximately 1/2 cucumber)



175ml (6fl oz) freshly squeezed lime juice

75ml (3fl oz) fish sauce (nam pla)

75g (3oz) caster sugar

175ml (6fl oz) thick coconut milk


Trim the monkfish of all skin and membrane. Next, make the dressing. Whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl. Add the dressing, toss to coat evenly. Cover and marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes.


Meanwhile, prepare the other ingredients. Add to the monkfish and mix gently to combine.


Serve with a little shredded lettuce in little bowls or glasses, or in a martini glass for extra posh.


Debbie Shaw’s  Raw Chocamoca Tart with Espresso Syrup


Serves 10-12

20.5cm (8 inch) spring-form tin or 20.5cm (8 inch) round silicon cake mould


For the base:
300g (10oz) lightly toasted pecan nuts or almonds
1 teaspoon of pink Himalayan salt or Maldon sea salt
200g (7oz) Medjool dates, stones removed

For the filling:
4 large ripe avocados, skin and stones removed
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste plus beans from 1 whole vanilla pod
5-7 scant tablespoons (6 1/2 -9 American tablespoons) raw cocoa powder or ordinary cocoa powder (for a more milk chocolate tart use 5 tablespoons and for a rich dark chocolate tart use 7 tablespoons)
2-3 teaspoons Irel coffee essence
4 tablespoons (5 American tablespoons) coconut oil, melted
4 tablespoons (5 American tablespoons) coconut flower sugar (use an additional 4 tablespoons (5 American tablespoons) of maple syrup instead, if unavailable)
4 tablespoons (5 American tablespoons) maple syrup
100g (3 1/2oz) 70% dark chocolate


Espresso Syrup:
110ml (4fl oz/1/2 cup) agave syrup

110gml (4fl oz/1/2 cup) very strong freshly brewed coffee

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon and 1 teaspoon) cocoa powder

1 heaped tablespoon (1 American tablespoon and 1 teaspoon) espresso powder

juice of 1/2 lemon

First make the tart. Place the pecan nuts in a dry frying pan and toast lightly, moving them around the pan constantly for 3-4 minutes, until they smell toasty. Allow the nuts to cool and then place them in a food processor and blend. Add the stoned Medjool dates and salt and blend until a dough is formed, which sticks together when pressed between your fingers.


Line an 20.5cm (8 inch) spring-form tin or use a round silicon cake mould, no lining required. Press the base evenly into the tin or mould. Place in the freezer to set for 15 minutes.


Meanwhile, just barely melt the coconut oil in a pan over a very low heat. Place all of the filling ingredients, except the coconut oil, in a food processor and blend until smooth. Add the coconut oil to the filling while the motor of the food processor is running. Taste the filling and make sure it does not need a little extra sugar, vanilla or coffee essence. Pour it onto the set base and smooth out the top. Place in the fridge to set for 4 hours or freeze the tart for 2 hours and remove it from the freezer 30 minutes before serving.


Lastly make the espresso syrup.


Debbie Shaw’s Mini Christmas Plum Puddings Sweeties 

Debbie is a nutritionist and teacher at the Ballymaloe Cookery School.
3oz (75g) Medjool dates, roughly chopped
3oz (75g) dried apricots, roughly chopped
3oz (75g) prunes, roughly chopped
2oz (50g) walnuts, toasted and chopped
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) toasted sunflower seeds, chopped
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) toasted pumpkin seeds, chopped
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) toasted sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 generous teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 tablespoons of Irish whiskey

For decoration:
100g (4oz) white chocolate, melted
A little sliced crystallised angelica and a few diced red glace cherries

Mix all of the chopped ingredients (except those for decoration) together in a bowl or whizz briefly in a food processor. Shape into mini plum pudding and decorate with a little melted white chocolate, angelica and glace cherry.

Put all the ingredients in a saucepan and allow to reduce for 5-10 minutes until it reaches a light syrup consistency.

Serve the tart with espresso syrup and natural Greek yoghurt.


Medjool Dates with Crozier Blue Cheese  

How easy can a delicious bite be – the blue cheese needs to be mild and meltingly ripe.

Split the Medjool dates lengthways and remove the stone. Arrange on a plate, top each half with a little nugget of creamy blue cheese and a sprig of chervil. Serve as a canapé or amuse gueule



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