These days, it seems every grocery store shelf and menu is touting specifically labeled gluten-free foods. This is great for those who suffer from Celiac (which, if you didn’t know, is the inability to digest gluten, a protein most commonly found in wheat), or other forms of gluten-intolerance.
For the rest of us, who thought we were doing pretty damn well by opting for a whole-wheat bagel with our morning latte, it can be very confusing. Even more so, if you are faced with cooking for said gluten-avoider(s).
Fear not, my foodie friends. Gluten-free cooking doesn’t have to be hard (or boring). It can be simple and delicious, even if you are the self-appointed president of the Gluten Fan Club. Thinking outside the (wheat-based) bun (or noodle, baguette, loaf) forces you to be creative with textures and flavors you might otherwise not be. Read on for 6 gluten-free ideas that will appeal to everyone.
Vietnamese Summer Rolls
This is one of those amazing recipes that costs very little, requires minimal effort, and yet, is so pretty and impressive-looking that people spend all night singing your praises. ("Isn't she just the most talented cook? And so sweet to make these for her gluten-free friends!”)
The rice-based wrappers are naturally gluten-free, so no extra work required there. I like to fill them with all kinds of flavor combinations. Veggies, avocado and tofu is a good one, as is poached shrimp and chilies with fresh herbs, or seared ahi tuna and ripe mango. Slice them on the bias for extra glamour, and serve with your favorite dipping sauce. I like peanut sauce or bottled sweet chili sauce (available at most Asian specialty grocery stores and well-stocked supermarkets, near the soy sauce).
To make, wet a rice paper spring roll wrapper (available at most natural foods stores and Asian specialty grocery stores) under the tap or in a bowl of lukewarm water and shake gently to remove excess liquid. Lay wrapper on a clean, dry surface, and arrange a few pieces of mint in the center of the wrapper.
Lay 2-3 pieces of bell pepper, a generous pinch of shredded carrots, a few pieces of cucumber and 1-2 slices of scallion on top of the mint, making sure that all ingredients are facing in the same direction (feel free to use other ingredient combinations). Once the wrapper is pliable enough to work with, tuck in the ends and roll up tightly, like a little burrito (don't worry if you mess a few up, this takes practice). Repeat until all ingredients are used up, and serve sliced on the bias with your preferred dipping sauce.
While you have those rice paper wrappers out, why not make gluten-free potstickers? Potstickers and dumplings are an oft-missed food item for those diagnosed with gluten-intolerance.
To make an easy and very tasty gluten-free wrapper, simply wet two rice paper spring roll wrappers, and stack one on top of another. The noodles will fuse together, and you’ll have a nice thick wrapper. I use a biscuit cutter or wine glass to cut out 3” rounds, which I fill with my favorite dumpling fillings (my current favorite is cooked, pureed sweet potato with lime, ginger garlic and a dash of gluten-free tamari), pinch to seal, and pan fry (cook in a little coconut or vegetable oil to brown the bottoms, then add a tablespoon of water to the pan, cover tightly and let steam for 1-2 minutes).
OK, I know you’re like, “What?! The whole point of pizza is that chewy-crisp, yeasty crust. Why would you take that away from me? What is wrong with you? Plus, aren’t you like super-into pizza dough?” But bear with me here. Once you bake up one of these lovelies, the crisp-yet-buttery-textured vessel transporting your favorite pizza toppings to your mouth will totally change your mind. This crust is particularly good for deep dish pizza.
To make, combine a packet of yeast, water and a teaspoon of sugar or honey in a small bowl. Stir gently, then let sit for 2-3 minutes, to activate.
Combine the 1 ½ cups gluten-free all-purpose flour, 2 tablespoons of whole psyllium husks (available in most health food stores) and a pinch of salt in a mixing bowl, or the bowl of a stand-up mixer. Gently stir in ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil and the yeast mixture. You may need to add a little more warm water, a little bit at a time, until a soft dough forms. It should be about the consistency of biscuit dough.
Gather the dough into a ball and put it back in its mixing bowl. Cover with a clean dishtowel, and let rise for an hour (it won't increase in size much, but the flavor will develop immensely and the texture will improve).
If you plan to make pizza at a later time, put the dough in a lightly-oiled zip-top bag, squeeze the air out of it, and put it in the refrigerator where it will keep for up to a week.
If you want to make pizza now, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F, and sprinkle cornmeal over the bottom of a large baking sheet or pizza pan (or line with parchment).
With lightly oiled hands, press the dough out on the prepared baking sheet into 1 14" circle or 2 7" circles. Use a pastry brush to coat lightly with olive oil.
Bake for 10 minutes or until the crust is firm. Put on toppings (sauce, cheese, veggies, etc). Then bake for 14-17 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and lightly browned.
Let cool for a few minutes, then cut into wedges.
Coconut Flour Pancakes
You guys, these taste like doughnuts. That alone should be enough of a reason to make them. The fact that they are also low in sugar, super-easy, and, yes, gluten-free, is beside the point. This recipe is enough to serve 2, but can easily be doubled or tripled.
Beat 4 eggs until fluffy (an electric mixer works well for this). Whisk in 1 cup any kind of milk (coconut or dairy are my choices) and 1 tablespoon of honey until well-incorporated.
In a separate bowl, combine ½ cup coconut flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and ½ teaspoon of salt. Pour in liquid ingredients and stir just until combined.
Heat a griddle or large frying pan, and melt enough butter to fully coat the pan over medium heat.
Working in batches, pour batter in 1/8-cup increments (I scraped my batter into a large spouted measuring cup, poured directly into the pan and found it worked well) into the hot buttered pan. Cook until pancakes are brown on the bottom and the edges begin to dry out (2-3 minutes—these take a bit longer to cook than regular pancakes). Gently flip and cook until the other side is golden-brown.
Serve hot with butter, syrup, honey, jam or on their own.
This stuff is like crack. Gluten-free, salty-sweet, heart-healthy crack. I keep it in a big mason jar in my pantry and spoon it onto Greek yogurt for breakfast. It’s also unbelievable over ice cream.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside (this part is really important—if you skip it, you’ll have a sticky mess).
In a large pot, heat ½ cup honey, ¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter (or coconut oil) over medium heat until completely combined. Remove from heat.
Stir ½ cup each of pumpkin seeds, slivered almonds and raw cashews, and 3 tablespoons of sesame seeds into the warm mixture in the pot and continue stirring until it is all evenly coated.
Spread the mixture on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 16-18 minutes, stirring occasionally. The granola should be golden-brown. Salt lightly.
Remove from oven, let cool completely, then break apart and toss with chopped dried apricots (or use raisins, dried cranberries or dried, chopped figs).
Granola will keep in an airtight container for up to a week. Makes about 3 1/2 cups granola.
Put these on a platter with cheese, and watch your friends (regardless of their relationship with gluten) gobble them up without a second thought. A blender or food processor is necessary to make the dough, but totally worth it. Make sure to pick up parchment paper for baking them on.
Place 1 cup of sunflower seeds in a food processor and process for about 2 minutes, until smooth (the mixture will resemble a dry peanut butter). Add 1 cup of sesame seeds, a pinch of salt, and 1-2 tablespoons of water (as needed) and pulse or stir, just until a thick, paste-like dough comes together.
Place the dough on a piece of parchment paper and use your hands to shape into a thick rectangle or square, to guide the dough’s shape while you roll it. Place a second piece of parchment paper over the dough and roll with a rolling pin until the dough is about 1/8” thick.
Remove the top piece of parchment paper and use a sharp knife or pizza cutter to lightly score (but not cut all the way through) the dough into squares (any size will work—mine were 2 1/2” squares).
Slide the parchment paper with the dough on it onto a baking sheet and bake for 17-20 minutes, or until golden-brown (be careful not to let the crackers get too dark—burned sesame seeds have a foul flavor).
Let cool for 10 minutes, then gently break apart along the scored lines (don’t worry if they’re imperfect—they’ll still be delicious).
Makes 24-32 crackers, depending on size.
What are your favorite gluten-free foods to make? Let me know in the comments!