Through the Kitchen Window

So most of you know that my partner is allergic to wheat. This isn’t something that we’ve always known but something we discovered in the last couple of years and so learning to accommodate it has become a learning experience to say the least. I’m Italian and one of my comfort foods is pasta -- wheat, big time. Crusty bread -- wheat. Pizza -- wheat. Most desserts -- wheat. I think you can see a trend.

While I thought it would be the most difficult, pasta was actually the simplest fix. There are many varieties of wheat and/or gluten free pasta out there. The most prevalent and popular are the rice pastas. While they’re not my favourite because of texture, they’re a passable substitute if you’re careful to adjust the cooking time. For some reason, the makers of rice pastas in general seem to think it needs to be cooked to death. I usually find myself taking as many as 5 to 6 minutes off the recommended cooking times. Start at half the time and then check for “al dente”. It is trial and error, but it’s worth it to make sure it’s done right. But doing a bit of research will most likely find you some great alternatives. There are a couple of brands of pasta, available in some of the larger grocery store chains, that are made from spelt flour. These are fairly close to pasta made with semolina without the gumminess that seems to be integral to rice based pastas, though they tend usually to be a thicker pasta. By far my favourite, however, with a texture and flavour close to semolina pasta is pasta made with corn flour. I’m not mentioning brands because this column gets read everywhere and manufacturers vary region to region. But your best source for some of these will be your local natural food co-op, this is where I first started to find so many options. Experimentation is the key and you may have to try a few duds till you find the one that best suits your tastes.

With breads and pizza, we haven’t been so lucky. Stands to reason though since it’s the gluten that makes bread and pizza what it is. For the most part we’ve found the rice breads dense and heavy and crumbly. If not exactly inedible, then close to it. Breads made with spelt fare better, but again trial and error is the key to finding a bakery that does it justice. We’ve found a passable bread for toasting, but so far a crusty baguette remains elusive.

But here’s something interesting. While the savoury side of the wheat substitute equation remains a mystery, the sweets side is an open book. The local natural food store and even the bulk food store has an assortment of wheat free / gluten free mixes that are pretty good. Cookies, cakes and even pie crust mix.

Or, if you want to convert a recipe that you already have, then this flour mix will work well for you. All of these ingredients can be found at any good natural food co-op or store.

Wheat / Gluten Free Flour Mix

  • 1 cup white rice flour
  • 1 cup brown rice flour
  • 2/3 cup potato starch
  • 1/3 cup tapioca starch

Try some of these other combinations:

  • ½ soya flour, ½ cornstarch
  • ½ soya flour, ½ potato starch
  • ½ soya flour, ¼ potato starch, ¼ rice flour

It’s important to remember any time you’re making up a flour substitute, that for every cup of gluten free flour you’re going to use, you need to add 1 teaspoon of xanthum or guar gum. It helps the process.

Use self raising flour? Try this:

Self Raising Flour Mix

  • 2 tbsp potato flour
  • Add enough white rice flour to the potato flour to make 1 cup
  • ½ tsp bicarb (baking soda)
  • ½ tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp xanthum gum

There are many gluten free flours available. I’ve found that for making batters for deep frying, a lesson learned from the Indian culture has served me well and I use chick pea flour. It makes a nice batter with a slightly different flavor that works well. But check out your natural food store and see what’s available. If I’m just using flour as a dredge, then I prefer to use a mixture of 2 parts brown rice flour and one part potato flour. To thicken gravies, I use either corn starch or arrowroot. We’ve also found amaranth flour, arrowroot, brown and white rice flours, buckwheat flour, corn flour, corn meal and maize, millet (which is great for making flatbreads or griddle cakes), quinoa and soya at our local natural food grocery. I also found a really good gluten free cake mix at my natural food co-op that I’ve tried several different ways. By far my favourite is the following.

Pineapple Cake

  • 1 gluten free cake mix
  • 2 eggs
  • 14oz can crushed pineapple

Combine all ingredients till smooth. Pour into a 9 x 12 prepared pan and bake at 350 till done, about 45 minutes. Allow to cool slightly in the pan then invert onto a platter. Make a glaze of pineapple juice and gluten free icing sugar and pour it over the top.

I used this recipe, substituting a frosting for the glaze, for Larry’s birthday cake. Everyone loved it and no one noticed it was gluten free.

I hope the New Year brings you all great food adventures!