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Chef Ming Tsai's Tips for Allergy-Friendly and Gluten-Free Chinese Food

Ming Tsai, the renowned chef-owner of Blue Ginger restaurant in Wellesley, MA, and Emmy award-winning host of Simply Ming on public television, is also a national spokesperson for the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN). Tsai stopped by Food & Wine's Facebook page to share Asian cooking tips and advice for allergy-prone diners who love Chinese food.

Advice for Diners with Food Allergies and Dietary Restrictions

How can I make wontons without wheat-based wrappers?
You can make little pouches out of Banh Trang, rice paper wrappers, that you need to rehydrate. Or else use blanched Napa cabbage leaves and tie with a chive.

I have a serious fish and shellfish allergy which makes eating or even cooking many Asian dishes difficult with additions of fish and oyster sauces. Is there any other ingredient that could be used as a substitute?
Wan Ja Shan makes a great veggie oyster sauce. And you can always use their organic, wheat-free tamari as a substitute for fish sauce.

My son has a life-threatening allergy to all nuts. His physician told us to avoid Asian restaurants. He loves what I make at home, but any suggestions, advice on how to navigate Asian restaurants?
Lots of Asian restaurants DO NOT use peanut oil anymore. So call in advance and ask. Always be cautious. Or best, come to Blue Ginger, we are very safe, as is Disney!!

What is a good lower-sodium substitute for hoisin sauce?
Get some black garlic or fermented black beans and blend with reduced pineapple and orange juices. Maybe add some caramelized onions for texture and a little chile. Enjoy!

Do you have any ideas for low sodium (or no-sodium) ways to prepare meats with Asian flavors? Xie xie.
Use a little Wan Ja Shan low-sodium soy sauce and add acid from lemon, lime, rice vinegar or ponzu.

Asian Cooking Tips and Trends

I am trying to incorporate more protein into my mostly vegetarian diet. I love tofu, but perhaps you have some other tasty suggestions?
Edamame, love, tempeh, tons of seaweed and quinoa, barley, or lentils.

Favorite make-ahead Asian appetizers that can be frozen?
Springrolls, fried, then frozen hold well and can be re-fried when you are ready to eat. Dumplings made fresh should be blanched in boiling water then frozen. Pan-sear and steam as normal

Do you know of a source for ramen noodles other than those that contain “flavor packets”? The packets are full of salt and junk.
Good Asian markets have fresh and dry ones. Here in Boston, H-Mart rocks as does Market 88 and Chinatown.

How do I get a Southern-raised beans-potatoes-and-fried-food lover, who hates anything he was not raised on, to try/like more veggies, fruits and other cuisines? I have been plugging at this for 12 years now :D
Wok stir fry your veggies with garlic, ginger and soy sauce. All veggies taste good this way!!

More about Ming

At what age did you become aware you wanted to cook for a living?
I knew at age 10 I wanted to be a chef, why? I always was, am and will always be HUNGRY!!

What is the most daunting dish you’ve ever made?
First time making Peking Duck. And soufflés are tricky!!

Ming, how do you feel about the eating habits of children in America? And what do you think we can do to help them make better choices?
All of us chefs are doing what we can. I’m doing a James Beard Dinner in November in DC with Michelle Obama and Partnership for a Healthier America. And I am on the board of the Harvard Nutritional Round Table. Also doing the Ashland Schools with Chefs Move to Schools with the Letsmove.gov campaign. It’s very important!!!

Chef, what is your favorite cookbook? Other than yours, of course.
Escoffier, French Laundry, any chef from the Robert Laffont Series, Nobu, Morimoto, Hiroko Shimbo.

What are your most and least favorite current food trends?
Truffle oil [is] used way too much. Eating family-style is the bomb!!!!

Video: Ming Tsai

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