Is this your first holiday being gluten free? Does someone want to cook for you but they do not know where to start? Are you looking for the right words to explain how to cook gluten free to someone who has no idea what gluten is?
I’m going to try to help! Disclaimer: I have been gluten free for just over 6 months. In that short time, I’ve explained to a lot of my friends and family how to safely prepare some delicious gluten-free foods! This is my attempt at providing some accessible tips that you can share!
How Do I Cook Gluten Free For You?
What is gluten? Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barely and rye that provides elasticity in food. Oats often make this list because they are cross-contaminated (grown in the same fields, ground on the same mills…it IS possible to find certified gluten-free oats!).
So what is off limits? Wheat, barely, rye and most oats. And anything prepared with those foods. Many processed foods in colorful packages contain gluten. Some hidden sources of gluten include beer, licorice, some broths and bouillon cubs and most popular soy sauces. Some obvious sources are pasta, bread, bagels, cookies, bread crumbs, croutons, waffles, pancakes, pretzels...
So all I have to do is read a label? Depends. Some companies are GREAT with labeling “gluten free” on the front of the packaging. Sometimes you can find the gluten-free claim next to the ingredients list. In the United States, companies are required to declare wheat as an ingredient because it is one of the eight major food allergens. Gluten is not! Some cereals, for instance, do not identify wheat in their ingredients, but they contain malt flavoring so they are not gluten free. The easiest option is to buy many whole ingredients – such as rice, fruits, vegetables, eggs, oil, and most meats. When in doubt, pick up your phone and call the phone number listed on the packaging – you can quickly get an answer from the company about whether it is gluten free or not. The representatives are knowledgeable and can answer questions about cross-contamination risks (such as if the factory lines are dusted with flour to prevent foods from sticking!). A quick internet search of the product you would like to buy and the word “gluten” will trigger a flood of responses – from bloggers raving about delicious foods to people on message boards complaining that they got sick.
Where do I find gluten free food? Some grocery stores have a section or part of an aisle with gluten free foods while others have their gluten free pasta next to their wheat pasta. Big box grocery stores like Jewel and Dominicks (Safeway) are great. Meijer and Super Target carry many products. Specialty grocery stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joes carry the widest variety, often at the lowest prices since popularity of gluten free foods is higher. Stores like the Woodman’s (a grocery store popular in the Midwest) have half an aisle dedicated to gluten free! If you are lucky, there will be tags next to the product to catch your eye that this is a gluten free product. Whole Foods uses purple tags. Trader Joes has a gluten free (gf) symbol. Gluten free bread is often found in the freezer section. Udi’s is the best bread – just buy a loaf and defrost it on your counter overnight and it is good for a week!
Well what can you eat on a gluten-free diet? The same food as anyone else, just a few ingredients in the grains section of the food pyramid are different. There are spaghetti made with rice or corn, soy sauce without wheat (San-J is my personal favorite – they even label Gluten Free right on the front!), waffles, corn tortillas, tapioca flour rolls, bagels, pizza crusts, chocolate chip cookies and so forth! Obviously, eating lots of fresh, whole fruits and vegetables are easy choices. There are some fun gluten free foods like quinoa that are delicious and are fun and easy to make if you are feeling adventurous! The internet is full of recipe sites and food blogs offering tasty ideas from low key to gourmet.
I have no idea what to make! Just remember, you are only cooking ONE meal. It does not have to be a culinary showpiece. Keep it simple. Keep your ingredients list to a minimum. ASK lots of questions if you aren’t sure – I’ve been navigating the gluten free diet so can offer some suggestions, including preferred brands! Most restaurants offer a bowl of fruit as their gluten free dessert option.
But my recipe calls for a tablespoon of flour! You can use corn starch instead! There are some great gluten free flours out there – try substituting white rice flour. If you need more than a little bit of flour, sometimes a combination of flours will provide the right flavor profile. There are all-purpose gluten free flour mixes for sale.
Now I’m in the kitchen – what now? Cleanliness is key. Wash your hands, especially after handling any wheat products. Gluten intolerance is a parts-per-million sensitivity. A little speck of gluten can make someone sick. Everyone’s responses are different – some people are non-symptomatic Celiacs while others get sick almost instantly and need a few days to bounce back from a reaction. In the end, no amount of gluten is good for someone with gluten intolerance or Celiac disease. Make sure all your prep bowls, measuring cups, knives, and so forth that you will be using are clean. AND NO WOODEN SPOONS OR CUTTING BOARDS! Those are extremely difficult to get clean and can quickly cross-contaminate an otherwise gluten free dish. If you do not have dedicated gluten free appliances, avoid using things like a toaster, pizza stone or other stoneware, waffle maker or bread maker to make a gluten free product. If deep frying anything, make sure the oil is fresh – you don’t want specks of bread crumbs leftover in the oil coming into contact with your gluten free food! When baking foods in the oven, lay down parchment paper or aluminum foil. It will help protect food from cross contamination and make clean up a breeze! Same goes for the grill!
But I want to serve gluten too! If you’re preparing gluten free and gluten filled foods at the same time, always make the gluten free version first. (Making two types of French toast? Fully cook the gluten free version before cooking the wheat version.) Keep the food on separate plates – preferably ones that look different. If you are having trays of crackers, cheese, and fruit, be sure to lay out the other food before you touch the crackers. And no mixing gluten free crackers with their wheat filled counterparts!
Wow – there’s a lot to think about. I know. Thanks for making me a gluten free meal! I’ll help with the dishes!
P.S. Also dairy free? Instead of butter, use a vegetable oil spread or Earth Balance vegan butter. Use Crisco in cookies. Many foods can be cooked with vegetable oil or extra virgin olive oil. Use rice or soy milk instead of cow’s milk. Ask a vegan what he or she uses! Many vegans have found AMAZING and creative recipes that do not use any dairy. (Okay, if you don’t know a vegan, google what you would like to make and the word vegan – the vegans even figured out how to make dairy-free fudge that is to die for!) Tofu is a popular substitute. Instead of milk chocolate, use dark chocolate. (Oh darn, you HAVE to eat super rich chocolate? Poor you.) Also, some lactose intolerant people are able to tolerate goat cheese or lactose free cheeses. This is something that is wildly different for every person – always ask first – never assume!!
Do you have more suggestions? Let's keep this list going