The decision to go on a gluten free diet more than three years ago, while at first devastating (goodbye chocolate croissants), ended up being wonderfully transformative and opened a whole new culinary world for me (hello raw walnut bars). Although I am not celiac, I credit my gluten free lifestyle with great energy levels, vanished joint pain and improved digestive health. When I got over my initial shock of how many everyday staples contain wheat (pasta sauce, salad dressing, soy sauce), I became an avid food label reader. Realizing how much crap is in our food (sugar in chicken stock?!) prompted me to start seeking out the cleanest ingredients possible and ultimately cooking whole foods instead of relying on processed supermarket junk. The journey to regain control over what I put in my body was very empowering. I became much more adventurous in the kitchen and comfortable experimenting with a whole foods, plant based diet.
Since I love making sweet treats, a whole new world of exotic gluten free flours needed to be explored before I had any success in the cooking and baking department. I discovered grains and flours I have never heard of before like teff, sorghum and millet. I started buying more nuts, grinding them into butters, replacing black beans for flour and spirilizing vegetables into “spaghetti“.
As I examine my pantry, I want to share with you a list of 12 staples that help me create perfect recipes so that nobody in my household ever feels deprived on a gluten free diet.
1. Almond flour. Made from skinless, blanched and ground almonds, almond flour is a perfect gluten and grain free replacement for wheat. A must for anyone on the Paleo diet, it’s low in carbohydrates, full of protein, magnesium, Vitamin E and good fats. With a moist texture and buttery taste, it’s great in most baking recipes and as breading for meats and veggies.
2. Sorghum Flour. A cereal grain that originated in Africa, sorghum is gaining popularity in the US because it has a good nutritional profile and a mild taste. While rice flours can add a gritty and gummy texture to gluten free baking, sorghum has a smoother consistency resulting in a superior final product. I like to make a baking mix from sorghum, tapioca and almond flour. On its own sorghum may be a bit dry.
3. Quinoa (grains, flakes and flour). This popular seed is a superfood in my kitchen because it’s extremely versatile, a complete protein and cooks up in less than 15 minutes. I use it to make salads, warm breakfast porridge and savory quinoa cakes. Quinoa is fantastic in combination with almond flour in any muffin or cookie recipe. Quinoa flakes are wonderful in cookies and as an alternative to oatmeal (cooking time is under 2 minutes!). Grate a bit of apple, add a touch of maple syrup and top with berries and nuts to have a perfect breakfast on a busy morning.
4. Golden flax seeds. These are less dense than brown flax seeds with a more delicate, nutty flavor. High in Omega 3’s and fiber, flax seeds are great in baked goods, smoothies and as a replacement for breadcrumbs. Vegans use flax seeds as an egg replacement as it helps bind ingredients (to replace 1 egg mix 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseeds with 3 tablespoons of water and let it sit for 10 minutes).
5. Rolled oats. While oats are naturally gluten free, most brands are contaminated with wheat during processing. Look for a certified gluten free seal, I get mine from Bob’s Red Mill. Grinding oats in a food processor will give you a quick gluten free flour.
6. Coconut flour. Made from dried coconut meat, coconut flour is high in fiber and low in carbs, making it a great alternative to wheat flour. It blends well in baked goods and makes a great coating for chicken and other proteins in place of regular breadcrumbs. It’s a bit tricky to bake with because it absorbs liquids like a sponge so be sure to follow recipes closely.
7. Millet. A nice cross between rice and corn, millet’s mild flavor and cake like texture lends itself well to baking. Whether used for porridge, in soups or as flour in baking, millet is a tasty addition to your gluten free pantry.
8. Chia seeds. These tiny black seeds are having their moment for a good reason. This superfood is packed with nutrients (calcium, iron, magnesium), fiber, good source of protein and omega 3 fatty acids. They absorb water like crazy, creating a gel like substance which expands in your stomach and increases the feeling of fullness. They are also great for your gut health, feeding the friendly bacteria in your intestine. White perfect as a topping for your oatmeal, yogurt or salads, they are delicious in baked goods, smoothies or as the star ingredient in puddings.
9. Brown rice. Naturally gluten free, rice is a perfect replacement if you are craving a starch with your dinner. Choose organic to avoid pesticides (including arsenic) and soak overnight before cooking to make it more digestible.
10. Quinoa pasta. Finding a gluten free pasta that actually tastes good is a challenge, even with many brands on the market. Most have rice and corn as their main ingredients, which result in mushy noodles. The one brand that stands apart from the rest is the quinoa and rice pasta from Andean Dream. Perfect consistency and hard to tell it’s gluten free.
11. Canyon Bakehouse bread. Ask anyone on a gluten free diet which food they miss the most and the answer will overwhelmingly be bread. Most gluten free breads on the market are tasteless cardboard like substances, filled with questionable ingredients. Canyon Bakehouse does not only taste good but is free of chemicals and preservatives. You can find it in Whole Foods’ frozen section or buy directly from the company, they ship in the US. Try the 7 Grains and Raisin.
12. Tamari. I was surprised to learn that most soy sauce on the market was made with wheat. Tamari, traditional Japanese soy sauce, is free of wheat and tastes exactly what you would expect so you are not sacrificing taste, just the allergen.