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When I first became gluten-free, it felt daunting. Just the year before I had become vegan and I had to learn how to cook without animal products. Then I had to learn how to cook without gluten which, in the beginning, felt like that meant no bread, no pasta, no flour, no food!
I accepted the challenge. I read a lot of books, web sites, blogs and recipes about gluten-free foods. I learned (again) to read ingredient labels for both obvious and hidden gluten. My brain became filled with new lists of ingredients that were acceptable or not. Then I got into the kitchen and cooked. A lot. I cooked new recipes and I rewrote all my old recipes and made them gluten-free. Before I knew it, gluten-free cooking was not only easy, it was preferable. I felt healthier and my meals were still amazingly satisfying and scrumptious. Now I feel like there is hardly a recipe I can’t make gluten-free. You can learn to feel that way too. It just takes time and practice. Here are my top ten tips for cooking gluten-free:
It may not sound like a cooking tip, but the most important thing you can do when you are cooking gluten-free is to learn which foods are safe and which are not. After all, depending on why someone is gluten-fee, making a mistake can lead to problems ranging from an upset tummy to a full-blown medical emergency. It’s a good start to know that wheat, barley and rye are filled with gluten, but there are so many products out there that are not as obvious like soy sauce, beer and many processed vegan foods. Learn to read labels carefully to avoid any hidden gluten. Also, learning which ingredients are gluten-free, such as teff, quinoa and buckwheat, will increase your options when cooking.
Sure you can buy lots of different gluten-free flours and gums and learn how to make your own gluten-free flour mixes. You can find recipes and bake your own gluten-free bread, cakes, cookies and tortillas. Or you can give yourself a break and try some of the many brands of gluten-free products available. Gluten-free flour blends abound; it’s just a matter of deciding which brand you like best. Some have more whole-grain, high-protein ingredients than others. Some already contain xanthan gum and some don’t. There are brands of gluten-free baking mixes, pie crust mixes, waffle and pancake mixes and cake mixes available. You could also skip the baking altogether and try one of the gluten-free breads made from ingredients like red rice or millet. More companies are making gluten-free groceries such as pastas, tortillas and sauces, making it easier than ever to shop gluten-free.
Chickpea flour is magical. I mean it, it’s my favorite flour and I use it in everything. Chickpea flour is high in protein and it’s good for so many different things. You can use chickpea flour to thicken gravies and sauces. It makes delicious omelets and quiches that even look and taste a bit “eggy.” Chickpea flour mixed with water or seltzer makes a crispy coating on tofu and tempeh reminiscent of beer batter. It’s relatively inexpensive too so make sure you have a bag or two in your pantry.
Being gluten-free doesn’t mean you have to eat rice everyday. There are lots of gluten-free grains out there and many people never even try them until they can’t eat gluten any longer. You may already know about quinoa but how about other gluten-free grains such as tapioca, millet, amaranth, fava, teff and buckwheat? Each has its own taste and texture and work well as side dishes, cereals or in baking.
You can eat bread crumbs if they are gluten-free. Commercial gluten-free bread crumbs are available or you can make your own. Put leftover gluten-free bread (whether bought or homemade) in a food processor and store the crumbs in a storage bag in the freezer. It’s also a great use of any gluten-free baking attempts that didn’t come out as expected. Other substitutions for bread crumbs are cornmeal, corn flake crumbs, quinoa flakes and rolled oats that have been certified gluten-free. These all make perfect binders for burgers, veggie loaves and vegan meatballs.
Whole wheat flour tortillas are out of the question but that doesn’t mean you can’t have wraps. Use corn tortillas to make tacos, tostadas, enchiladas or even Mexican lasagna. Make all kinds of tamales with corn husks. Or skip the grains completely and wrap your favorite foods in greens. Lettuce, cabbage, collard greens and Swiss chard make perfect wraps for a delicious and healthy meal.
Losing the gluten doesn’t have to mean losing the flavor. Gluten-free grains are more dense so you might want to bump up the flavor with some extra spices and condiments. Keep your pantry stocked with gluten-free versions of tamari, Hoisin sauce, vegan Worcestershire sauce, veggie broth and hot sauce. Relish the toppings (no pun intended) that are gluten-free such as hummus, guacamole and salsa. Just be sure to double-check those labels if you’re not making them from scratch.
When we stop eating meat, we get introduced to seitan or “wheat meat.” Since seitan is made entirely of wheat gluten, it’s a no-no for people who are gluten-free. Many dishes that are usually made with seitan, however, can be made with other ingredients that are gluten-free. Tofu and tempeh are both gluten-free and can be used to make entrees, sandwiches and burgers. Mushrooms and jackfruit are also great substitutes, even for “meaty” dishes like French dip sandwiches and Vegan Philly Cheesesteaks. Beans can be the main ingredient in gluten-free sausages. You can also try making a gluten-free version of seitan that will make you forget it’s not the real thing.
I learned most of what I know about gluten-free cooking by reading gluten-free recipes, web sites, blogs and cookbooks. Why not reap the benefits of all the lessons learned by other gluten-free cooks? The more recipes you read, the more you learn the purpose of each ingredient and how to substitute for others. That makes it easier to read any recipe and figure out on your own how to make it gluten-free.
Keep it simple by focusing on whole, naturally gluten-free foods. Just because there are gluten-free versions of almost everything out there doesn’t mean you have to buy and eat lots of processed convenience food. Plan your meals with tofu, tempeh and mushrooms. Fill your plates with a rainbow of vegetables and fruits. Satisfy your hunger with legumes, nuts and seeds. And don’t forget potatoes – who doesn’t love a veggie-topped baked potato for dinner?
It takes some time and practice but before you know it, cooking gluten-free will get easier and easier until it becomes second nature to you. Your meals will be delicious, full of flavor and healthier than ever before.
Lead Image Source: Creamy Rotini Alfredo with Asparagus and Peas
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