Eat well without dairy or gluten

"Living with food intolerances can be very difficult. For many people it feels like their world has come to an end when they are first diagnosed, believing that they will never be able to enjoy a good meal again in their entire lives.

However, eating a limited diet does not have to be boring, says American-Iranian chef Ariana Bundy, who has cooked for celebrities such as Tom Hanks, Nicole Kidman, Brad Pitt, Oliver Stone, Madonna and former president Bill Clinton to name a few.

Ariana knows food intolerances all too well, as she suffers from this herself and has experienced it in her own family.

“I was diagnosed with lactose intolerance years ago, and developed gluten intolerance after my pregnancy.”

Having trained in classic French cuisine and pastry at the prestigious Cordon Bleu School in Paris before becoming Head Pastry Chef for the Mondrian Hotel in Los Angeles, this was terrible news.

Frustrated and envious

“Sometimes, when people discover a food intolerance or allergy, they gracefully accept the situation and look for other ways to have a normal diet. But more often, people struggle to stop eating the foods that upset them and they continue to feel unwell, frustrated and even envious of other people who are able to eat anything they like.

“My situation was more like the latter. I kept thinking ‘I'm a pastry chef; I can't be intolerant to dairy!'"

“All the schooling and rigorous stages and crazy work hours I had done were so that I could enjoy making what I loved eating. My environment and background was in classic French baking, which meant dealing with tons of pure creamery butter and gallons of cream. Now I'm told to steer away from it? I could not imagine going for a day without eating dairy, especially ice cream – my favourite dessert. If I accepted it, that meant drastic changes in my work and in my lifestyle,” Ariana recalls. To add insult to injury, doctors also told her to stay away from soya, which is one of the easiest replacements for dairy.

No pizza

Around the same time, Ariana’s mother and brother were diagnosed with gluten intolerance and some years later, she developed the condition herself which meant no more fresh croissants and rustic breads either. “I can’t touch even an ounce of flour or a crumb of bread. I spent the last three summers in Italy without having any pizza or pasta!”

Ariana’s love of cooking and eating (“a dangerous combination”, she says) prompted her to start experimenting in the kitchen. 

“I had to forget almost everything I knew about baking and making desserts. But slowly I began to understand the chemistry that was needed to make alternatives. I adapted myself to a new way of cooking, using new advanced and revamped traditional products but keeping in mind the classic methods and flavour-enhancing ingredients used in French baking."

“Although I found out that without gluten cakes would never be as fluffy, and that dairy products, especially their milk solids, contribute enormously to the texture and taste of desserts, I pressed on to find the methods that yielded the best results.”

Over time Ariana realised that with the help of store-bought ingredients such as gluten-free flour, coconut creams and low-GI sugars she could come up with desserts that looked and tasted just like the real thing.

Tastes like the real thing

“Different kinds of syrups, fruit purées, meringues, peels and liqueurs can also add flavour, depth and texture to desserts that might otherwise be flat without the addition of gluten or dairy,” she says.

The happy result of Ariana’s years of research and recipe testing is Sweet alternative: more than 100 recipes without gluten, dairy and soy, first published in 2005.

“Being dairy-intolerant was, in a funny way, one of the best things that could have happened to me. It opened my eyes to a different world of healthy alternative ingredients and new ways of eating and thinking. Using ingredients such as nut milks, candied peels, fresh fruit purées, and quality chocolate, I discovered I can still have vanilla ice cream, chocolate muffins and crème pâtissière – all without gluten or dairy.”

Her advice to people with food tolerances is to stick to their new diet in order to feel good and to keep things interesting by trying out interesting new recipes.

“I sometimes want to cry my eyes out at the injustice of it all especially when I see a wood-fire pizza oven passing by at a restaurant. But at the same time I remember how badly I use to feel and how great I feel without it. I also have fybromyalgia and I feel so much better when I avoid certain ingredients. When I do ingest something that doesn't suit me, I feel terrible the next day. There are some amazing ingredients and products popping up these days which help you eat normally again. Some of my recipes are just like the real thing, so get back into the kitchen and see it's not so bad after all!”

Perfect dinner party

If the world were to come to an end tomorrow and Ariana could cook one final dinner, what would her menu look like, and who would she like to have as her dinner guests?

“I would make Zereshk Polo with chicken, fluffy rice with barberries and saffron jus, wild orchid ice cream (dairy-free version) and a simple green salad. My guests would be my late grandparents, my late father, my mom, my son and husband, my brother and other close relatives as well as the Dalai Lama, Jesus and Jamie Oliver. A real mishmash of a party but we would all enjoy each other's company together over a lovely meal!”

RECIPE: Ice in heaven
(Serves 4 to 6)

"This delicate Persian custard laced with rose water and sprinkled with pistachios is traditionally made with milk but for a dairy-free version simply use rice or almond milk instead," says Ariana Bundy.


  • 1 litre rice or almond milk
  • 75g rice flour
  • 150g sugar, preferably unrefined
  • 2tbsp rose water
  • 5 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
  • 2tbsp slivered pistachios
  • noghl (sugar-coated almonds) to serve
  • rose petals and edible gold leaf, to serve (optional)


Place the milk, rice flour and sugar in a saucepan. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon, over a medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture starts to thicken, about 10 minutes. Make sure it doesn’t catch at the bottom by scraping the bottom and the sides of the saucepan with your spoon.

Add the rose water and the cardamom pods and continue cooking and stirring until the custard is thick and glossy, about another 2 minutes. The custard will resemble a white crème pâtissière. 

Pick out the cardamom pods, then pour the custard into ramekins, silicone moulds or a serving dish. Leave to cool in the fridge for a few hours, then sprinkle with slivered pistachios, noghl (though this is not traditional), rose petals and gold leaf if using.

(Pomegranates and Roses: My Persian Family Recipes)

RECIPE: Chocolate and orange muffins
(Makes 12)

"This muffin has a chocolatey dough, as well as decadent half-melted dark chocolate pieces inside which seem to ooze out as you bite into it," says Ariana. "With orange pieces and a hint of Cointreau, it is pure indulgence."

  • 70g margarine or ghee or coconut butter
  • 175g dark chocolate chopped
  • 150ml rice or almond milk
  • zest and juice of half an orange
  • 2 organic eggs
  • 1tbsp Cointreau or Grand Marnier (optional)
  • 175g gluten-free flour
  • 60g light brown sugar
  • 60g cocoa powder
  • ½ tsp xanthan gum
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • one-third tsp sea salt
  • 115g candied orange peel


Preheat the oven to 200°C. Place medium-sized paper cases in muffin tins or grease them lightly with a little oil or melted margarine.

Heat the margarine or ghee or coconut butter with half the chocolate, the milk and orange juice until smooth. Take off the heat and set aside.  Let it cool slightly, then whisk in the eggs, orange zest and Cointreau (if using) until you have a smooth silky mixture with no visible lumps. Sift all the dry ingredients and add to the chocolate mixture. Blend in the rest of the chopped chocolate and the orange zest. Pour the mixture two-thirds of the way up the prepared muffin cases and bake in the preheated oven for about 15-18 minutes.

Skewer testing won’t tell you much, as you may hit a chunk of chocolate. The muffin will rise beautifully and be springy to the touch. And fabulous on the tastebuds.

(Recipe from Sweet alternative: more than 100 recipes without gluten, dairy and soy) 

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