Need to cook gluten-free? Here's a set of basic guidelines of what to eat, and what to avoid for those avoiding gluten.
Imagine if you were told you had to give up bread. And pasta. And cookies! Here’s a statistic for you. Roughly three million people in the U.S. have to do just that. The reason? Celiac disease. Celiac is an autoimmune disorder that is triggered by eating gluten, the sticky elastic protein in wheat, rye, barley, and spelt that makes pizza dough stretchy and bagels pleasantly chewy. The cure is a gluten-free diet.
Learning to cook gluten-free is a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. Armed with accurate information and a hefty dash of patience, scratch cooks can adapt most recipes to gluten-free. Here are a few beginner’s tips to get you started.
Keep it simple. Focus on whole, naturally gluten-free foods. A good place to start? Fresh plain meat, poultry, and fish (check labels for added broths, seasonings and marinades that may contain gluten). Whole eggs and plain cheeses (again, read labels for added ingredients; whole milk products, plain and block cheeses are generally safer than their low fat or fat free cousins). Dairy based products such as milk, yogurt, sour cream and butter are safe if additive-free. Vegetarians can enjoy legumes, nuts, seeds, and plain tofu for protein. Vegetables and fruit are gluten-free. Potatoes are a lifesaver (many a night I have based a meal around baked or mashed potatoes).
Gluten-free grain choices include rice and risotto, quinoa, corn and polenta, millet and buckwheat. White and yellow corn tortillas make Mexican recipes a family favorite in our gluten-free kitchen. Enchiladas, tacos and fajitas are easily gluten-free. Brown rice tortilla wraps are fabulous for burrito style sandwiches and even BLT’s. Gluten-free pasta made from brown rice is excellent, as are traditional Asian rice noodles. Rice paper wraps (used to make spring rolls) are usually gluten-free; wonton wraps are not.
Starches and thickeners for gluten-free cooking include tapioca and tapioca starch, arrowroot, cornstarch and potato starch. Sweet rice flour makes a smooth gravy.
Other foods to avoid include white flour, wheat berries and bran, rye, barley, spelt, faro, couscous, pasta, malt and beer. Hidden gluten is a troublemaker. Places gluten may lurk include soy sauce, gravy, broth, marinades and sauces, spice mixtures and blends, roux and thickeners in soup, malt vinegar and flavoring, seitan, mustard, salad dressings, tortillas and wraps, breaded coatings, Japanese panko crumbs, cereal, granola, roasted nuts. Commercial oats and oatmeal products are often contaminated (choose only certified gluten-free oats).
When I first began my gluten-free diet eight years ago I relied on back to basics scratch cooking to get me through. Planning simple home cooked meals and choosing naturally gluten-free whole foods made my transition into the gluten-free lifestyle much easier.