At the risk of sounding a bit nerdy here, one of the habits I’ve developed over the last few years is to choose an area in my life to focus on or experiment with each month. Sometimes it’s something I do on my own but often I’m able to convince my Irishman to join me.
For example there was vegetarian month a few years ago and then alcohol-free month (aka ‘Famine February’). We’ve also done exercise every day month and of course the current focus is all about parenting.
Recently we experimented with going gluten-free for a month.
The interesting thing is that even only having gluten once a week or so, my Irishman had been having some ‘digestive’ problems. Which sparked the idea to experiment with going completely gluten-free.
The good news is that it made a huge difference to the digestion problems. And really it wasn’t as difficult as you’d think.
By approaching it from a ‘let’s focus on what we can eat’ mindset there are so many options that don’t include gluten or rely on expensive commercial ‘gluten-free’ substitutes.
16 15 of my favourite GF ideas.
1. eggs not toast
While there are some surprisingly good gluten-free breads available these days, they tend to be very expensive. A better and even healthier alternative is to switch to having a hot breakfast a few days a week. Fried eggs are my Irishman’s favourite where as I prefer mine poached (and am very much enjoying my post-pregnancy runny poached eggs).
3. quinoa porridge (oatmeal)
My local supermarket now stocks rolled quinoa in the health food section. I’ve been loving using it to make a gluten-free porridge or oatmeal, pretty much just cook it the same way you’d cook oats.
4. gluten-free oats
Oats themselves don’t contain gluten but are often produced on equipment that also processes wheat so there can be gluten present from cross contamination. These days you can find oats that have been kept gluten-free but they do tend to come with a hefty price tag.
UPDATE: Thanks to the Stonesoup readers who emailed and commented to let me know I was wrong here. (I should know better than just using Wikipedia for my research!). I’ve since learned that gluten is the name for a group of proteins. Oats do contain a protein that is classed as a ‘gluten’, although it’s a different protein to the one in wheat which is also classed as a gluten. So oats can be wheat free, if handled and processed on separate equipment. But they can’t be gluten free. So if you’re coeliac oats can still cause problems.
Interestingly it’s apparently illegal in Australia to label oats as being gluten free but not so in other countries.
5. chia seed bran, psyllium,
gluten-free oat bran instead of wheat based bran.
If you love your wheat bran based cereal, try using one of the above options instead. I particularly love chia seed bran because it isn’t as gloopy as psyllium and is quite high in protein.
6. lettuce leaf wraps
Instead of regular wraps or sandwiches wrap your filling in iceberg lettuce leaves. You’ll need more filling to make up for the lack of bread.
7. lunchbox salad
Make a composed salad to take to work with you. I’ve been doing this for years without thinking too much about it but Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall brought the idea to life in his book River Cottage Everyday.
Here’s how you do it…
i. Choose a protein.
Think leftover cooked meat or fish, canned tuna, boiled eggs.
ii. Choose something to bulk it out.
Starchy foods work well here such as canned chickpeas or beans, leftover cooked potatoes, roast vegetables or cooked quinoa. Or try some vegetables like finely chopped raw or steamed broccoli, grated raw vegetables, salad leaves or avocado.
iii. Add a highlight ingredient.
Like goats cheese, other cheese, roast nuts, fresh herbs (basil, mint or parsley are best) olives or cherry tomatoes.
iv. Add a ‘dressing’.
It could be just a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon or lime. Or a big dollop of pesto, hummus or olive tapenade.
8. legume salads
Toss your favourite sandwich filling with a drained can of chickpeas, beans or lentils and a little olive oil for a quick lunch salad. In Winter you can warm the legumes first in a pan with a little oil.
9. skip the crackers or bread
If you’re in the habit of having cheese and crackers / bread or dips and crackers to start a meal, either skip the crackers or replace with raw veg such as carrots or celery.
10. vegetable ‘pasta’ or ‘noodles’
There are so many options to replace your pasta with vegetables. My favourites are zucchini ‘fettuccini’ (see varations below for cooking instructions), carrot ‘spaghetti’ (shave with a vegetable peeler to get ribbons then cut into ‘spaghetti’. Simmer in boiling water until just tender) or zucchini ‘orechetti’ (slice zucchini into coins and pan fry in a little oil until just tender).
All can be used in Italian style dishes or to replace wheat based noodles in Asian cooking.
11. a bed of greens
Serve your favourite bolognese or other hearty pasta sauce on a bed of greens. Baby spinach is great or try wilting greens such as kale, spinach, collards, chard or silver beet in a pan with a little olive oil.
12. almond meal ‘bread crumbs’
Replace bread crumbs in meatballs or meat loaf with almond meal. Same goes for bread crumbs used as a coating.
13. cauliflower ‘couscous’
Whizz raw cauliflower in a food processor until you have instant ‘couscous’. No need to cook but if you’d prefer it warm you can heat it through in a pan with a little oil before using.
14. red lentil ‘couscous’ or ‘risoni’
Just boil red lentils until tender. Drain and use anywhere you’d use couscous or risoni (little rice shaped pasta).
15. almond meal ‘flour’
The problem with most commercial gluten-free flours is that they’re very low in protein whereas wheat flour contains gluten so has a higher protein level. So I’ve found that just substituting ‘gluten-free’ flour doesn’t give good results.
Almond or other nut meal or ‘flour’ tends to give better, if heavier results. In general I’d recommend looking for a recipe that is designed to use almond meal rather than experimenting yourself. Most of the recent sweet treats on Stonesoup are either gluten-free or contain a GF variation.
I’ve been experimenting with flour from higher protein sources like chickpeas and quinoa but haven’t found anything I’m super happy with yet.
16. GF ‘pastry’ for tarts
My favourite ‘cheat’ way to make GF tarts is to crumble commercial GF cookies or biscuits like shortbread and combine with a little melted butter. Then spread the mixture in your tart shell and chill until set.
GF Mung Bean Pasta with Rocket & Chilli
Mung bean pasta is something I discovered in a health food shop. While it sounds a bit to ‘healthy’ tasting and is quite green in colour, it’s actually surprisingly delicious and hits the spot when you’re in need of some pasta ‘comfort’. It’s gluten free but the best part is that it’s very high in protein and fiber and much lower in carbs than regular pasta. Win win!
I don’t normally like to recommend brands because the Stonesoup readership is global, but the one I’ve been using is called ‘Explore Asian’.
Enough for 2
150g (5oz) mung bean fettuccini or other pasta
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 large handfuls rocket (arugula) leaves
2 large handfuls grated ricotta salata or parmesan
1. Cook pasta in a pot of salted boiling water as per the packet directions.
2. Drain pasta and return to the pot.
3. Toss in 3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, chilli, lemon juice, rocket (arugula) and about half the cheese.
4. Taste and season. Serve in bowls with remaining cheese sprinkled over.
different pasta – Just use your favourite gluten-free pasta. Of course it will also work with regular pasta as well. I prefer long pasta like fettuccini, linguine or spaghetti for this for some reason. But short pasta will be fine too.
paleo / pasta-free – replace cheese with finely sliced prosuitto or ham and replace pasta with zucchini ‘noodles’. For zucchini noodles, shave 2-3 zucchini (courgettes) into ribbons using a vegetable peeler. Layer onto a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil and bake (200C / 400F) until tender, about 10 minutes.
no pasta – replace pasta with a drained can of chickpeas or white beans. Heat the beans in a little oil in a frying pan then remove from the heat and continue from step 3.
vegan / dairy-free – replace cheese with chopped or finely grated brazil nuts (use a microplane).
carnivore – toss in some torn, finely sliced ham or proscuitto as well as or instead of the cheese.
different leaves – replace the rocket (arugula) with basil, flat leaf parsley, baby spinach or finely shredded raw cabbage.
less heat – just skip the chilli.
Video version of the recipe.
ps. What about you? Do you struggle with food allergies? Got any favourite Gluten-Free ideas? I’d love you to share your thoughts in the comments below…