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Cheat Sheet

Gluten-Free Cooking For Dummies

Cooking and preparing gluten-free dishes and meals doesn’t have to be burdensome. In fact, doing so can be a fun adventure. Your goal is to make and create dishes that are tasty and yummy, while also ensuring that you or your family members who can’t eat gluten can enjoy delicious food. The following are some important tips to help you as you cook gluten-free.

Grains to Avoid on a Gluten-Free Diet

Some people may not realize that embracing a gluten-free diet means you must give up more than just wheat-based foods. Here are the grains you need to avoid on a gluten-free diet:

  • Wheat and most things with the word wheat in its name. You also need to avoid hydrolyzed wheat protein, wheat starch, wheat germ, and so on, but you may not realize that you need to beware of aliases like flour, bulgur, semolina, spelt, frumento, durum (also spelled duram), kamut, graham, einkorn, farina, couscous, seitan, matzoh, matzah, matzo, and cake flour.

    By the way, wheat grass, like all grasses, is gluten-free, as is buckwheat.

  • Wheat starch is wheat that’s had the gluten washed out. In some countries, a special type of wheat starch called Codex Alimentarius wheat starch is allowed on the gluten-free diet — but standards vary from country to country. Codex Alimentarius wheat starch isn’t allowed in North America because some people question whether the washing process completely removes all residual gluten.

  • Barley and its derivatives. Most malt is derived from barley, so unless it states otherwise, you need to avoid malt and malt flavoring as well as barley in its pure form.

  • Triticale, which most people have never heard of, is a hybrid cross between wheat and rye. It was developed to combine the productivity of wheat with the ruggedness of rye.

  • Rye isn’t really hidden in many foods, so the pure form of rye — usually found in rye bread — is what you need to avoid.

  • Derivatives of gluten-containing grains. If you thought you were done with derivatives when you finished your calculus class, you were wrong. You need to avoid derivatives of gluten-containing grains, and the most common one to watch out for is malt, which usually comes from barley. Malt, malt flavoring, and malt vinegar are definite no-nos. If malt is derived from another source, such as corn, it will usually say so on the label; for instance, “malt (from corn).” That’s not too common, though, so if the source isn’t specified, don’t eat it.

Foods to Avoid on a Gluten-Free Diet

Gluten hides in some places you may not thing of. Here are some foods that usually contain gluten. If you're on a gluten-free diet, you need to avoid these as well:

  • Beer

    Good news: Some great new gluten-free beers are available. Not only are smaller, specialty breweries making them, but even the big boys like Budweiser have come out with a gluten-free beer that you can buy just about anywhere beer is sold.

  • Bread, bread crumbs, biscuits

  • Cereal

  • Cookies, cakes, cupcakes, doughnuts, muffins, pastries, pie crusts, brownies, and other baked goods

  • Cornbread

  • Crackers

  • Croutons

  • Gravies, sauces, and roux

  • Imitation seafood (for example, imitation crab)

  • Licorice

  • Marinades (such as teriyaki)

  • Pasta

  • Pizza crust

  • Pretzels

  • Soy sauce

  • Stuffing

Basic Ingredients for the Gluten-Free Kitchen

When compiling the ingredients for your gluten-free kitchen, you want to make sure you don’t accidentally introduce an item with gluten. If you do, you have the chance of contaminating your entire pantry. Here’s a quick list of basic ingredients you might want to keep in your pantry:

  • All the gluten-free flours

  • Xanthan gum

  • Guar gum

  • A premixed batch of my baking mix

  • Quinoa (a personal favorite — great to toss into soups and other foods)

  • Rice (brown rice is best)

  • Gluten-free bread crumbs (which can be ordered online)

  • Gluten-free crackers (which you can crumble and use as coatings on foods, fillers in meatloaf, and in soups and salads)

  • Gluten-free snacks (important to have on-hand for kids)

Finding Gluten-Free Substitutions

Just because you’re living a gluten-free lifestyle doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice good food. You can still make your favorite recipes in many ways by just substituting gluten-free ingredients for the gluten-containing ingredients. Here are some savvy substitutions for some of your favorite ingredients.

  • Flour: If your recipe calls for flour, consider using cornstarch or a gluten-free flour or mix. Experiment with the many new flours available, like bean flours, sorghum, and amaranth. They’re nutritious and add flavor, and oh yeah — they’re gluten-free!

  • Breading and coatings: If a recipe calls for breading, bread crumbs, flour coating, or a similar preparation, consider using a wheat- or gluten-free mix (either homemade or store bought). Bread and muffin mixes work well for coatings on chicken and other fried goodies. Seasoned cornmeal or corn flour (masa) and crushed potato chips (my favorite chips for coatings are barbecued flavor) are also excellent alternatives.

  • Thickeners: Cornstarch, arrowroot flour, and tapioca starch make great substitutes for flour and other thickeners. Dry pudding mix works well for sweet recipes, and bread or baking mixes work well for just about anything.

  • Binders: Consider using gelatin, xanthan gum, or guar gum.

  • Pie crust: People think that if something calls for a pie crust — say a quiche or a pie — then it’s off limits unless they make a really complicated crust from a really complicated recipe. Think again! First, consider making the dish without the crust. Seriously — a quiche without a crust is still a quiche. And admit it — when you eat a pie, you just eat the crust to be polite, right? The crust is really just a means to get to the gushy stuff inside. Okay, if you really want to make a gluten-free crust without a schmancy recipe, crush a couple of handfuls of gluten-free cookies or a sugary gluten-free cereal, add some butter or margarine (a glob or a dopple, whichever you prefer), and press the stuff into a greased pie pan. Then follow the baking instructions for a regular pie. You’ll probably just eat the good stuff out of the middle, anyway.

  • Bread crumbs: Some gluten-free breads turn to crumbs when you look at them. And certainly, there are always plenty of crumbs in the bag; just use them as extras for cooking. Or crumble some bread slices, and toast or broil the crumbs to make them crunchy.

  • Croutons: Cut fresh, gluten-free bread into cubes, deep fry or pan fry, and then roll in Parmesan cheese and spices. Some people suggest letting the bread get just a tad stale (not moldy) before making croutons this way.

  • Granola: If you can find gluten-free oats, you’re set. But if you can’t, you can still make granola. Toss together toasted nuts and seeds, and then mix them with gluten-free cereal, honey, vanilla, a tiny bit of oil, and spices or seasonings. How much spices and seasonings? A smidge or so, till it tastes like you like it. Bake at 300 degrees for an hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Add dried fruit (that’s been soaked in water for 10 minutes), let cool, then refrigerate or vacuum seal and freeze.

  • Trail mix: Lots of trail mixes that are available at the stores are already gluten-free, but if you like to make your own, mix some peanuts, raisins, dried fruit, and gluten-free chocolate candies or chips. If you do buy store-bought trail mix, beware of prepared trail-mix dates, which are often rolled in oat flour (and therefore not gluten-free).

  • Oatmeal/hot breakfast: Try corn grits. Prepare them like oatmeal and top with butter, cinnamon, and sugar, or fry them. Hot cereals are also available from the producers of gluten-free flours. Some new amaranth and quinoa hot cereals also are available that are nutritional powerhouses.

  • Buns and flour tortillas: Substitute lettuce, gluten-free bread, corn tortillas, or rice wraps (found in Asian markets and often used in Thai cooking). If you like nori (the seaweed wrap on sushi), you can use it as a wrap with anything stuffed inside.

  • Soy and teriyaki sauce: Asian markets carry some absolutely amazing Asian sauces that are gluten-free, but you have to read labels carefully (and sometimes that requires a crash course in another language). A few of the large soy-sauce manufacturers are starting to make wheat-free (usually gluten-free) versions that are widely available, too. If you can’t find a gluten-free soy sauce, you can substitute Bragg Liquid Aminos. You can find Bragg in the health-food aisle of your grocery store or at a natural-foods retailer. To make your own teriyaki, add equal parts of sugar and wine to your favorite soy-sauce substitute.

Remember: When in doubt, leave it out. And really, what’s the harm in leaving it out, anyway? If your soup recipe calls for a tablespoon or two of flour, try leaving it out and see what you think.

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