Food allergies can be severe, according to Chef Ming Tsai, host and executive producer of public television's ''Simply Ming.''
As a father of an 8-year-old boy with severe food allergies, he's been fighting to raise awareness of the potentially life-threatening disease, and of the need for restaurants around the country to become more food allergy friendly.
''This really is a life and death situation - and it affects 12 million people across the United States,'' Ming said in a phone interview from his restaurant, Blue Ginger, in Wellesley, Mass. ''If you own a restaurant, it is absolutely your duty to serve food safely. If you don't know what's in the food you're serving, you shouldn't be in this business.''
To Ming, practicing food safety means requiring all restaurants to train staff on food protection, putting a notice on menus of the customer's obligation to inform the server about any food allergies and to maintain a list of ingredients used in preparation of each and every food item. He's working with the Massachusetts Legislature to help write and pass a bill which will put those guidelines into effect.
His advice to other parents with food allergy-plagued kids: Stop trying to emulate things they can't eat, and learn how to cook things they can.
''I start every dish with minced onions cooked in olive oil,'' he said. ''That will spice up most dishes. Onions are the absolute savior for making foods tasty - even bland ingredients like wheat-free pasta. Most kids love that sweet onion flavor.
''You have to realize they still can eat tasty foods, you just can't buy as much processed food,'' he said. ''Instead, you'll have to buy more raw meats, fish and vegetables. And that's the best way to eat anyway.''
Following is Ming's recipe for a Greek salad that's dairy-free. If you have a soy allergy, he says to substitute diced, sauted portobellos for the tofu.
Tofu Greek Salad
1 bunch scallions sliced thinly, separate white and green
1/4 cup chopped black olives, pitted
2 tablespoons brown mustard
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 package firm tofu, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
4 heads baby romaine, cut into 1-inch pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a large salad bowl, combine scallion whites, olives, brown mustard, lemon juice and zest and whisk in extra virgin olive oil to emulsify. Season, check for flavor and add parsley.
Add the tofu and marinate for 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and romaine and toss to coat. Gar-nish with scallion greens and freshly ground black pepper.