Staples For A Healthy & Delicious Gluten-Free Life

gluten freeHave you noticed recently that just about every isle in your local market contains products screaming gluten-free? These days, gluten-free diets are not just for those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance. It seems to also be appealing to the everyday Joe interested in the claimed health benefits like more energy and lack of head fog. I fall somewhere in between. I’ve never been diagnosed with celiac disease, but after a little experimentation, I’ve self-diagnosed myself as gluten intolerant and I have the energy, clear mind, and healthy feeling body to prove it.

This all started about two years ago. No, my interest in a gluten-less diet had nothing to do with Gwyneth Paltrow’s popular cleanse, although it does seem that she’s contributed to a bit of a trend. So why this sudden urge to avoid white flour and wheat? Well, I may not have been influenced by celebrity craze, but I was influenced by the local food movement that’s going on around us. Truth be told, in the matter of a few months, I watched Food Inc, read Michael Pollan, and changed my entire philosophy on what to feed my body. I began eating a mostly plant based diet, embraced protein packed grains that were once foreign to me like quinoa, and before I knew it, I was naturally avoiding gluten. With this, I began to notice that I had more energy during my days, my head was less cloudy, and the general rumbling in my stomach that I had become accustom to had disappeared. So,I continued on this path of a mostly gluten-free life and I haven’t looked back since. When it comes to fresh baked bread on the dinner table though, I generally can’t resist- and don’t. But I do pay for it later.

Perhaps the biggest misconception about eating a gluten-free diet is that it’s limited and bland. I disagree and I’m about to share with you the staples that I keep on hand for delicious breakfasts, lunches and dinners.

One other point that I would like to stress is that I don’t go out and purchase every gluten-free item on the shelf. In fact, I rarely reach for those boxes touting “celiac-friendly”. What’s more important to me is knowing where my food comes from and what ingredients are in the items I am buying off of the shelf. I tend to stroll the market with two of Michael Pollan’s food rules in mind at all times: Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients in it and don’t eat anything containing ingredients that a third grader cannot pronounce. Keeping these wise words in mind, I am generally able to avoid putting- for the sake of being dramatic- processed crap in my body. There is a rainbow of options out there, and as someone who has tried it all, these are my top picks. Of course, if you have any specific questions always feel free to leave a comment!

Quinoa Pasta: I live off of this stuff! It’s not only made with simple good for you ingredients (non-gmo organic corn flour and protein packed quinoa flour), but its consistency and flavor are identical to the regular white flour pasta that we’re all used to devouring. I’ve tried other gluten-free pastas, including brown rice pasta and pastas made with potato starch and soy flour, and none of them compare. Brown rice pasta tends to be very mushy in consistency and other gluten-free pastas all seem to have a higher price tag and far too many ingredients in them. A box of quinoa pasta should cost you about $2 and change (small change). Or, you can purchase in bulk from the Ancient Harvest website.

Quinoa: The thing that I love most about quinoa is the endless number of recipes you can create with it. I’ve made it a mediteranian meal with some garlic roasted tomatoes, feta and chickpeas. I’ve made it Mexican style with roasted tomatillos, chili, peppers and cilantro. I’ve made it for breakfast with almond milk, toasted pecans, strawberries. cinnamon and agave. The amount of fun and creativity you can have with this protein packed ancient grain makes for ever-exciting meals. If you’re not familiar with quinoa, you may be wondering what the difference is between the white, red and black varieties. Here’s a quick cheat sheet: White quinoa is fluffy, closer to the consistency of couscous. Red quinoa is a bit nuttier and more flavorful and black quinoa has a drier consistency and still a bit more flavorful than the white. Of course the real flavor is all in how you cook it. For something savory, I cook it with vegetable broth and sometimes a little dry white wine. For my sweet breakfast, I cook it in some almond milk. One box may cost around $7 but it goes a long way. One cup of quinoa will double when cooked and provide one person with a hearty meal and there’s about 12oz per box.

Almond Flour: When it comes to baking, you can always purchase a pre-mixed gluten-free flour mix which usually contains a blend of garbanzo flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, sorghum flour, and fava flour. There are many other options as well including coconut flour and quinoa flour. After testing them all, I find that almond flour produces the tastiest flavor. The others tend to either result in a grainy texture or a starchy flavor. Keep in mind that blanched almond flour binds much better than un-blanched. Bragg

Liquid Aminos: Most soy sauces have gluten in them which equals a sad face for those of us wishing to indulge in a little asian flavor. But, you’re in luck! Bragg Liquid Aminos, which tastes exactly like soy sauce, is gluten-free. So what is this stuff? It’s certified NON-GMO liquid protein concentrate, derived from healthy soybeans that contains essential amino acids. While it only contains naturally occuring sodium, it does taste pretty salty, so use it sparingly.

Gluten Free & Sprouted Grain Breads: I’m a huge fan of Food For Life products. While the bread, tortillas and english muffins from Food For Life that I eat (Ezekiel & Genesis) are not technically gluten-free, they seem to agree with me. This may be due to the break down of the gluten when the grains are sprouted. I love to toast their tortillas and break them up into chips. If you’re gluten intolerant, or simply trying to avoid gluten as an experiment, give it a try. If you have celiac disease, you may want to consult your doctor first or try out their gluten-free products.

Veggies: Specifically potatoes. Why? Because you can make a pizza crust out of them! Simply julienne some starchy potatoes and place them on a smoking hot pan with olive oil. The potato strings will bond together and after a few minutes, you can top it with ingredients of your choice. It may not be your classic NYC slice, but I happen to think it hits the spot. As far as other veggies go, I’m a cheerleader for them all so have at them.

Beans: I’m including legumes because they are a great way to add some substance to your meal and fill you up. With a million ways to prepare them, one of my favorites is a white bean puree with a poached egg. It’s my go-to dinner when I’m not in the mood to cook anything too complicated.

Here’s the recipe:
1 can cannellini beans (drain and discard liquid)
1/4 cup vegetable broth
1 clove minced garlic
2 tsp olive oil
2 tbs vinegar (apple cider vinegar works great)
1 tbs white vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

In a small pot, combine beans with vegetable broth and garlic. Heat on medium for a few minutes or until hot. Pour into food processor, add remaining ingredients and blend to desired consistency.

In a separate pot, boil about 2 inches of water and add a few tablespoons of white vinegar. Once water comes to boil, reduce to simmer. Crack an egg into a small cup and pour egg into simmering water, using a spoon to pull the whites of the egg towards the yolk. Let simmer for about 3-4 minutes. Remove egg and place on top of bean puree.

If you’re less inclined to cook your food, here are a few products that I’ve tested and quite enjoy:

Gluten-Free Rice Cereal – Basically your classic rice crispies but sans gluten

Gluten-Free Hot Cereal
– I love this stuff because it’s like the cream of wheat I used to eat as a kid, but maybe even a little bit tastier.

Quinoa Crackers: There are tons of gluten-free crackers on the market, but I enjoy these as a snack on their own because they remind me of rice cakes.

Need some wine to pair with your gluten-free meal? Learn what wines will make the flavors in your dish shine at Astor Center’s Elements of Wine class.