It is an unfortunate fact that allergies to nuts are on the increase, particularly among children. Research by the British Nutrition Foundation reported that one in 70 children are allergic to nuts compared to one in a 100 a decade ago.
Having to live without nuts is undoubtedly a challenge and even more so over Pesach when most recipes, particularly of the sweet variety, include some form of nuts.
The nuts which cause the most problems include peanuts, almonds, brazil nuts, cashew nuts, hazel nuts, pistachio nuts, walnuts and pecan nuts, but sometimes this may extend to include coconut, sesame seed, poppy seed, sunflower seed, and pine kernels.
However, help is at hand. New rules introduced in 2005 mean that all pre-packed food sold in the UK and the European Union must say on the label whether it contains nuts. In addition, the same rules apply to catering outlets, and for simplicity most school kitchens and premises have gone nut-free. All of this has helped to assist those with the allergy to manage their lives better.
For those families having to cater for this specialist diet, there is a life beyond nuts, although, as a general rule, it is best to avoid processed foods and cook relatively plainly. Recipes can be adapted and substitutes such as matzah meal, cake meal, potato flour and eggs can be used to help bind ingredients.
Any new foods should be introduced individually so that allergic reactions can be diagnosed and problems can be eliminated for the future.
At Pesach, the Seder-night menu may feature such classic recipes as Kneidlach and fish balls, but these do not need to include ground almonds - just season well with salt and pepper and they will taste fine.
If you wish to add fresh herbs like parsley, add them sparingly as they may not be too popular with the younger members of the family! Roast beef, chicken or poached salmon are excellent choices for main courses, but just be careful with your choice of oils and check the ingredients for stuffings and sauces.
For desserts I tend to make meringues, chocolate and date mousse or apricot cheesecake, Passover apple squares or roasted tropical fruits. See my website, www.jewishcookery.com, for recipes.
During chol hamoed, tasty family meals can include shepherd's pie, meat loaf, salmon fish cakes and potato and mushroom pie, a great vegetarian option. If you want to make salads you can replace those recommended nuts as a topping by using broken, toasted matzah.
For breakfast, eggs, matzah and cheese can offer a multitude of options, but why not try Passover "bread" rolls with a variety of nut-free spreads for example tuna paté, fresh or smoked salmon, cold meats etc and of course yoghurts and fresh fruit are all reliable no nut options.
Chocolate, snacks and sweets need careful supervision and inspection of the ingredients. Ready-made biscuits and cakes without nuts are available - but at a price, so why not make your own?
Below is one of my favourite recipes - Passover Apple Squares. It is quick and easy to prepare and will make any nut allergy sufferer in your family feel completely included at this time of the year.
I am always looking for something different to cook over Passover that is quick and tasty to make. I find that apple recipes are always popular, especially if they are parev and can be made in advance.
This recipe is similar to apple clafoutis, a cake mixture cooked in an egg and matzah meal batter. Pears and fresh apricots could be substituted should you prefer.
It is delicious for tea or as a dessert during Passover
Passover apple squares
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes.
Makes 16 squares
● 1 tablespoon margarine - to grease the tin
● ½ teaspoon salt
● 120ml vegetable oil
● 200g fine matzah meal or cake meal
● Zest and juice of 1 lemon
● 5 eggs separated
● 2 large dessert apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
● 225g caster sugar
● 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
● Garnish: icing sugar
● Pre-heat the oven to 190° C/ 375° F/ Gas mark 5.
● Line the base of a 20 cm/ 8 in square tin and grease the sides.
● Combine the sugar, cinnamon, salt and matzah meal.
● Add egg yolks, oil and zest and juice of the lemon and whisk together until the mixture is thick.
● Whisk the egg whites in a separate clean bowl until stiff. Combine the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture.
● Pour half of this batter into a greased tin. Cover batter with thinly sliced apples. Sprinkle with remaining batter.
● Bake for 45 minutes in the pre-heated oven until the mixture is firm and set in the middle.
● Cool completely before cutting into squares.
● To serve, stack up the squares up high and dust with icing sugar.