This piece is written by Sandra Beasley, author of Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl.

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This week (May 8-14, 2011) is Food Allergy Awareness Week, a condition I share with over 12 million Americans. People ask about my allergies and when I start to list them—dairy, egg, soy, mango, cucumbers, on and on—they sometimes interrupt to say, with a stricken look, “What can you eat?”

“I can only eat a space-age compound of protein and nutrients, predigested by Himalayan tigers,” I’m tempted to answer with a straight face, ”sold in gilded gelatin pills brought down from the mountains at $400 per pound.”

The truth is that I can eat lots of things, from a snack of carrots dipped in peanut butter (yes, peanut butter) to a fancy meal of chicken roasted with apples and caramelized leeks, served over wild rice. Asparagus? Sure. Bacon? Absolutely.

People with allergies still crave and enjoy good food. We want to take part in the food-centric events that fill these upcoming summer months—graduation parties, weddings, picnics. But we don’t want to make a fuss over our special needs. If you are part of a potluck gathering, and want everyone to feel included, the trick is to be mindful of where likely allergens are hiding. By making smart decisions about what you prepare, you increase the likelihood that everyone can share in the meal.

Below is one of my favorite dishes, adapted from a 2009 New York Times recipe by Martha Rose Shulman. Quinoa, a South American seed prepared and served as a grain, has it all—protein, fiber, taste, and texture. This vegetarian dish works as an entrée or a side, hot or cold, which makes it perfect for buffet-style eating. Best of all, it doesn’t contain any of the big eight allergens that account for over 90% of food allergies in the United States: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, seafood, shellfish, soy and wheat.


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Quinoa with Corn and Zucchini

Ingredients:

1 cup of quinoa (I prefer the red variety)
1 ¾ cup of water or vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon cracked pepper (or to taste)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped fine
1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced
Kernels from an ear of yellow corn (or 1/2 can, drained)
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 medium yellow squash, diced
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped*

Place 1 cup red quinoa and 1 ¾ cups liquid in a 2-quart saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer, cover and cook until all water is absorbed (about 15 minutes). You can tell it is done when the seeds seem soft and display a visible “thread” at their edges. Remove from heat and leave undisturbed for at least 5 minutes.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, and add the onion. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes, and add the garlic, corn, zucchini and squash. Season with salt and pepper, and stir the vegetables together until the squash is translucent (about 8 minutes). Add the quinoa, mixing all together while keeping the skillet on a low heat. Remove from heat, and add the cilantro.

*If you want to avoid cilantro, substitute flat-leaf parsley. Though the flavor isn’t as potent, the contrast of a fresh green herb still adds a lot to the dish.

Using this as a main course? Consider topping it off with some chickpeas, which can be roasted or just quickly heated-through on the stovetop. Enjoy!

In observation of Food Allergy Awareness Week please watch author Sandra Beasley’s Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl Video, in which she shares her inspiring tales from an allergic life. Please pass on to everyone in your life with food allergies.

Check out some of Sandra’s tips on hosting an Allergy-Friendly Kids’ Party!


10 Things You Can Do to Host an Allergy Friendly Kid’s Party by Sandra Beasley

For more, visit Sandra on facebook and twitter, and http://www.sandrabeasley.com

You can watch the video trailer for Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl on YouTube.