MSG . . . OMG

Last week’s letter writer filled me in on her situation: a member of her family is sensitive to both MSG and lactose. So she wants to learn to cook, but without using ingredients that contain these items.

MSG — mono sodium glutamate — is an additive that enhances flavor in foods. It’s found in just about every packaged food for obvious reasons. It may also be present in restaurant food, so people who are sensitive to MSG have to be extremely careful about what they eat. To make matters worse, there are dozens of different names for MSG

Lactose is the sugar that is present in milk, and many people are not able to digest it because their digestive systems lack the enzyme responsible for digesting lactose, (lactase). Luckily, many people with lactose intolerance can withstand some amount of milk in their diets, and they may not be sensitive to other components of milk such as casein (protein). In addition, one can take a lactase pill to help with digestion as needed. For more information about lactose intolerance, see

So, here are the requirements: easy, only fresh or vetted products with no MSG, and no dairy. Let’s get to work.

To me, a slow cooker is the ideal vessel for a busy person making dinner. Just throw everything in the pot and wait. No precision, no attention, and no timing required. There is nothing better than coming home after a late appointment and knowing that dinner is already done. Ok, there are probably better things, but when I’m hungry, tired, and wound up from the day there is nothing better.

There are hundreds of slow cooker recipes online with varying degrees of difficulty. Here are some of my favorite recipes that are MSG- and dairy free. I don’t know much about vegetarian cooking, so these recipes contain meat.

Tortilla soup:
This recipe contains chicken broth, which may contain MSG so be sure you check the label. Cans and cartons are less likely than bouillon or powdered chicken packets. If you’re feeling ambitious you can make your own broth* and be sure there’s no MSG in it.

A little oil for frying
1 onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped (optional)
1 can diced tomatoes with cilantro and lime (made by Rotel, available at most supermarkets)
1/2 cup frozen corn or 1 can corn
4-6 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup chicken pieces, preferably leftovers from another chicken meal
Salt to taste
Corn chips
Shredded cheese (optional)
Sour cream (optional)

Put about a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan and set stove to medium. Sauté the onion and pepper in oil until the onion becomes soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Transfer to slow cooker and add tomatoes, corn, chicken, broth and salt. Turn on cooker and follow instructions. Serve with avocado and corn chips. If desired add cheese and sour cream.

Beef stew:
Beef stew is so easy it’s ridiculous. It also has about a thousand different variations and is very friendly to whatever veggies you happen to have. Most beef stews include onions, carrot and potatoes, but you can also add parsnips, butternut squash, celery or even apples. Stew lends itself well to freezing, so if you like it, make extra next time and freeze the leftovers. Also, because it cooks for such a long time you can get away with using a cheaper cut of beef like chuck. I use beef chunks labeled as stew beef but I like to cut the pieces a little more than they already are. This is a personal preference, however, and it’s fine if you don’t.

Here’s a very basic recipe. Just put all ingredients in a slow cooker in the morning and enjoy that evening.

1 package stew meat
1 cup baby carrots
1 large onion, chopped
1 medium potato, chopped
2 cups beef or chicken broth
1 teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste


(OK, I’m taking the easy way out)

*After you’re family has eaten the drumsticks from last week, save the bones and boil them in enough water to cover them for 2-3 hours or set your burner on low and let them go overnight (or use a slow cooker overnight). Set a timer so you don’t forget about them. Add a little salt to taste (1-2 teaspoons), and that’s it.



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