as originally printed in Marmapoints Magazine.
My husband and I are gluten-free. We both have non-celiac gluten intolerance and celiac disease runs in his family. When we first became “g-free,” it wasn’t as common a lifestyle choice as it is now, and we experienced trials and tribulations. Gluten-free products were expensive and didn’t taste that good, and a lot of them, like pasta, were just plain mushy.
Even though we were both trained in the culinary arts, we didn’t have time to figure out just the right amounts of various gluten free flours to create our own products, so we improvised. Now that there has been great improvement in the variety of tasty gluten-free items on the market, and the prices have fallen a bit, I’d like to share some of our gluten-free solutions. I’ll also recommend our favorite store-bought brands in case you want to go that route, to spare you the “in the trash” dinners we endured.
PASTA – The brands Tinkyada and Schar have proven to be the best. However, have you ever tried substituting spaghetti squash for pasta? I loved pasta, and it was disheartening to discover I had to do without. I soon realized it was the taste of the sauce and the “mouth feel” of the noodles that I loved. With spaghetti squash, you still get that mouth feel and you can still twirl it on your fork. It’s easy to prepare. Cut one into quarters, scoop out the seeds and rub it with olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake it in
a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Let it cool, then scrape out the strands with a fork. Instant pasta! Not to mention, it’s low carb and low calorie as well. Top with your favorite sauce. Rice noodles are another option, although I tend to only use them for Asian dishes. This is what my brain associates them with, and eating marinara on pad thai noodles seems a bit weird to me. If you are concerned about the glycemic load, there are plenty of brown rice noodles on the market now. I prefer the Annie Chun’s brand. They come in both wide and skinny varieties.
BREADING – Kinnikinnick makes wonderful gluten-free panko bread crumbs that I love. However, everyone else does, too, and it sells out fast. If you find yourself in this situation, you can easily make breading out of a number of other items, depending on what you are coating. Coconut makes a great breading for seafood or chicken. Ground almonds, or almond meal, also works for just about anything. Instant mashed potato flakes lend a unique flavor. Of course, there is also cornmeal. Season up your own or try Zatarain’s fish fry. It’s cheap, gluten-free and doesn’t just have to go on fish. Tip - You can also use the ground almonds to make those buttered bread crumbs for the top of your gluten-free macaroni and cheese.
PIE CRUST – My absolute favorite, go-to pie crust is from the Whole Foods Gluten-Free Bakehouse. However, it can be a bit expensive and heavy on the butter (and calories and fat as well!). I save it for special occasions, like Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. You can always make a “crustless” pie. It’s the filling that’s delicious anyway, but sometimes, yes, you just have to have that crust. For sweet pies, coconut and ground almonds come to the rescue again. For quiche, shredded hash brown potatoes make it two dishes in one. For a pot pie, you could try the hash browns or mashed potatoes ala shepherd’s pie.
PIZZA – No, this won’t be quite the same, but it can still be yummy! I have two versions. Portobello
mushrooms make a nice, low carb and low calorie pizza crust. Depending on the size of your mushrooms, you may need to eat more than one. You can also use polenta. Make it, pour it into your crust pan, chill it and when you are ready, top it and bake. If you just have to have a hand-held pizza,
go with Schar. Don’t forget the New Planet or Bard’s gluten-free beer to wash it down.
BREAD – Canyon Bakehouse is my choice for sliced bread. There are several varieties: seven grain, cinnamon raisin and caraway, to name a few. They also make great hamburger buns. If I want a baguette or ciabatta, I go with Schar. You can also make great sandwiches by using collard greens as a wrapper. Wash a leaf, fill it with your sandwich topping and roll it up. Iceberg lettuce makes a great bun for a hamburger, or use it for any sandwich in the style of Asian lettuce wraps – tuna salad would be a good choice.
CRACKERS – Schar and Crunchmaster are the best. Depending on what you’re using the crackers for, you have some options. Potato chips can be used for canapés, as well as sliced cucumber rounds, endive leaves and halved mini bell peppers.
COUSCOUS/CRACKED WHEAT/BULGUR – Looking for something to put in your tabbouleh or under your tagine? Lundberg Family Farms makes a nice brown rice couscous. Quinoa is also a good alternative. It’s the same size and mouth feel of couscous, but with a little crunch. Plus it’s a complete protein.
TORTILLAS – You can use a corn tortilla for anything you would use a flour tortilla for. I love quesadillas made with them. They have a “heartier” quality.
PHYLLO/EGG ROLL WRAPPERS – While it will be a bit different, rice paper is a great substitute. These are commonly used for summer rolls, but you can get creative with fillings, then bake or fry them to get an egg roll or other asian appetizer. I have made spanakopita with them by layering just as I would phyllo, using butter and baking. Not as crispy but still good. Unfortunately, I have never found gluten-free egg roll wrappers or gluten-free phyllo. If you have, let me know.
Author's note: Since writing this article, some other good products have come out. Dellalio makes great pasta, and I like Udi's, Rudi's, and Glutino products. Pamela's makes great cookies and baking mix. Against the Grain is the best "French bread" I have found.