Mexican Rice Bowl & Tips for Traveling with Food Allergies

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Last summer, we visited Hawaii.  We used to visit Hawaii often but before my daughter had multiple food allergies. Over the years, the list and severity of her allergies grew so we put travel on hold.

Kauai held a special place for us.  It is one of the few places I’ve felt calm and at ease.   I dreamt for years about bringing my girls back here to watch them splash in the warm ocean and run on soft sandy beaches. We missed it dearly.

Our reality & plan: Having multiple food allergies made it tricky to travel to a small island like Kauai. Macadamia nut is found in most restaurants, shaved ice stands, and markets. When planning our trip, we researched different menu options. We learned that many of my daughter’s allergens are used in most eateries so the risk of cross contamination was high. We decided that our safest plan was to prepare all meals ourselves in the comfort of our VRBO kitchen.

Prepping food items: I did not want to spend my whole holiday cooking because honestly that sounds like the farthest thing from a vacation! Instead, I prepped food before our trip. Away we went with a cooler; duct taped and packed with homemade goodies such as muffins, sauces, safe bread, pancake mix, sunbutter, chocolates and even a frozen meatloaf!  We checked the cooler in with our luggage.

Kitchen tools: We packed a few lightweight cutting boards, clean sponges, spices and a small nonstick pan. The first stop we made was to Walmart where we purchased an inexpensive toaster and food items.

Seven hours later, we arrived at our cozy but beautiful rental house. To our surprise, the meatloaf was still frozen! It seemed ridiculous to bring a frozen meatloaf all the way from California but it felt comforting to have pre-made homemade food. Prepping food ahead allowed us to spend more time on the beach instead of in the kitchen.

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Resources: In all honesty, I was nervous about flying with food allergies so I searched online for advice.  Today, there are helpful resources like the website Allergy Travels.  They have a Facebook group where questions on traveling with food allergies are shared in a supportive online community.   The sweetest response I received from a stranger was to prepare ahead but to go make beautiful memories.  It gave me the confidence I needed to make this holiday a reality.

Expectations: We knew this trip was not going to be about food. Our girls were very young the last time we visited Hawaii and they did not recall our last visit.   We felt confident that enjoying the beauty of this island was going to fill their hearts in a way that would surpass feeling sad about not being able to eat out.  And boy were we right!

Grocery Store: We chose a rental home that was close to the main grocery store.  We brought a lot of my daughter’s speciality food items because we wanted to stick to brands that were familiar- now is not the time to experiment!   I was surprised to find a wide selection that we normally purchase in Berkeley.

The gift of a Mexican rice bowl: One evening, after spending a day at the beach, with sand still fresh on our feet, the tween was craving Mexican rice.

We tinkered away in our hot, tiny kitchen, making a mess and arguing over whether to cook the rice on the stovetop or bake in the oven. Since it was warm outside and we had no air conditioning inside,  we cooked it on the stove. The result was this fluffy rice infused with fresh tomatoes, cumin, oregano and garlic. It tasted just as delicious as any take out Mexican rice.

We served it with poached shredded chicken, black beans, plenty of cilantro and a hearty squeeze of lime. We also made a quick spicy hot sauce out of srichacha and yogurt.

We’ve made this meal countless times after returning home. It’s an easy weeknight meal that comes together in an hour and pleases a crowd.

Facing fears: Food allergies can spin you into a place where you have to think outside of the box a lot. There is a great deal of effort, planning and facing your fears. But in the end, it’s about finding a way to make it happen regardless of how you get there and how long it takes.

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Mexican Rice Bowl 

Adapted from the Kitchn: Restaurant Style Mexican Rice

Top 8 free

Serves 6

For the poached chicken:

  • 1 pound chicken breasts or thighs
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • pepper

Arrange chicken in a single layer in a saucepan large enough to hold them. Sprinkle with salt & pepper. Add garlic and bay leaves.

Pour enough cold water to cover the chicken by 1 inch.

Bring water to a boil.  Lower heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 8-10 minutes or when a thermometer reads 165 in the thickest part of the chicken.

Remove from poaching liquid and set chicken aside to cool until ready to use. I like to pour a bit of liquid on top of the chicken so that it does not dry out.  When cool, place on cutting board to shred with knife and fork.

Save poaching liquid and strain. Use as a quick broth for the Mexican rice.

For the rice:

  • 3 medium tomatoes, quartered or 1 1/2 cups of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 cups white rice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 2 cups water or broth( see above)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro or parsley, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper
  • 1-2 jalapeños, minced ( optional)

Adjust oven rack to the middle position. Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a food processor or blender, puree tomatoes and onion until smooth.  Measure 2 cups total of the mix.

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or 3 quart saucepan. Add rice and saute, stirring frequently until light golden in color about 5-10 minutes.

Add cumin and oregano. Add garlic and jalapeños( if using) and stir until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Stir in tomato mixture, broth( I use the poaching liquid from the chicken), tomato paste and salt. Bring to a boil.

Cover and bake until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed , about 20-30 minutes. Fluff with a fork. If rice seems dry, add additional liquid and fluff.

Fold in cilantro or parsley and season to taste with additional salt and pepper.

For srichacha sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon srichacha
  • 2 tablespoons plain full fat yogurt

Mix together and serve as a side or drizzled on top.

To assemble in bowls: Place chicken, beans of choice and garnishes on top of Mexican rice. Serve with tortillas or chips.

*Notes: 

  • For more information on traveling with food allergies, check out Allergy Travels
  • My friend Laura who writes the blog Umpalarain has a very informative three part blog post about camping with food allergies. Click here.
  • Substitute chicken with protein of choice or add vegetables for a vegetarian or vegan bowl.

 

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