Gluten-free is the new normal for so many these days. Aside from those with a coeliac condition, leaving this wheat protein out of our diets can leave us feeling more energetic and less prone to ‘carb-coma’, the sleep-inducing attack that generally occurs after high intakes of bread and other carb-laden foods. Let us take a look at what gluten actually is, and more importantly, is it possible to cook without it?
First, the lowdown on gluten. It’s a basic protein that provides elasticity in baking, like the stretchy effect in pizza dough. It is what gives cakes their fluffy height and pasta its signature al dente bite. So, it’s natural to imagine that taking out this magic ingredient will produce dry, crumbly and flavourless results.
Not so! Gluten free doesn’t have to mean flavour free so don’t panic when you realise your guests are gluten free; with a few simple tips, you’ll hardly notice the difference.
To start with, identify the hidden gluten in foods we’re familiar with. Bread and pasta may be obvious, but how many of us realise that it also resides in beer, malt vinegar, or couscous? Bouillon, vitamin tablets and many sauces and dressings are also culprits. Learn to read your labels, and you’ll get to know the brands and products that are safe. While there are untold numbers of allergy-friendly goodies on the market, it is not hard to find simple substitutes that are half the cost. Try corn chips with salsa or raw vegetables with a hummus dip for the perfect crowd-pleasers.
When cooking, find ways to swap out the glutinous components. There are many wheat flour alternatives available, from almond, rice, amaranth or coconut flour. Although a close relative of wheat, corn actually contains no gluten at all, opening vast numbers of recipes and menu choices from corn tortillas to polenta crostini! Replacing flour with cornstarch, or cornflour, in gravy will give you the same result and allow all your visitors to enjoy dousing their roast with it. If you really can’t live without that garlic sesame dressing, consider serving it on the side rather than slathered all over your vegetables and rendering them inedible for those going without gluten. The same applies to salads; your French vinaigrette will taste just as good in a jug on the side. Our scrumptious Berry Crumble calls for an oatmeal crumb that is both delicious and safe for everyone. If you do find your baking is a bit dry and crumbly (preserve the thought), try adding an extra egg to the mix, which acts as the elastic binding agent usually provided by gluten. If in doubt about a particular ingredient, don’t hesitate to ask your gluten-free guests ahead of time; it’s always appreciated and much safer than making assumptions!
With a bit of practice and good quality ingredients, gluten-free eating need not be dull. From tasty snacks to delectable desserts and every course in between, you will find success, satisfaction, and excellent health.
Who could ask for more?