Gluten-Free Cooking Substitutions

 Almond meal

Photo by Elana’s Pantry

Though gluten-free diets may be trendy for some people, for others, living gluten-free (GF) is a vital way of life. Those of us with Celiac disease and gluten sensitivities have to ensure that  no products made from wheat, barley, spelt, rye, or kamut passes our lips, and unfortunately, most recipes out there call for ingredients based on these very things.

It’s not just in raw ingredients that gluten can be found, either: items like soy sauce are usually made with wheat, as are many pre-made soup stocks, and even the faux crab made from pollock uses wheat starch as a binding agent.

Needless to say, maintaining a gluten-free kitchen requires a fair bit of diligence, and some creative substitutions.

 

Flour

This is a tough one. There are so many different gluten-free flours out there, and each one has its specific purpose. One blend might be ideal for cakes, while another is better for pastas, and the one you use for bread-making will be utterly useless for pie crusts. Your best course of action is to determine what you use gluten-free flour for the most, and then create a flour blend that will best suit your needs.

A great general, all-purpose GF flour blend can be made as follows:

  • 2 parts sorghum flour
  • 2 parts millet flour
  • 3 parts sweet rice flour
  • 3 parts potato starch

This is a basic flour that can be used for most of your needs, but different dishes may require some extra ingredients in order to work properly. Remember that the elastic stretch you’ll find in wheat flour is missing when you use gluten-free flour (it’s the gluten that makes wheat dough so delightfully chewy), so you’ll need to add a little bit of xanthan gum if you want baked goods to hold together properly.

Adding extra fat—especially butter or cream cheese—to pie crusts will help to keep the dough together, while a little flax meal and tapioca starch can work wonders for scones, breads, and even cakes. You can also add a bit of ground almond meal to your baking flours for added texture and moisture.

Gluten-free pastaPasta

Most commercial pastas are made with either semolina or whole wheat flours, both of which are poisonous to the GF crowd. Although many new gluten-free foods have been appearing on the market, it’s still difficult to find a good pasta that can stand in for the standard fare. Rice pastas can be very mealy, and are only ever good immediately after serving: don’t even think about refrigerating leftovers. The exception to this is those very thin Asian vermicelli rice noodles that are made for padh thai or pho—if used for their intended purpose, they’re lovely, but you can’t use them for tomato or cream sauces without disastrous results.
Photo by Peter Baer

If you’re looking for a good pasta to use with Italian-style sauces, try to find those made of corn, wild rice, or a corn-rice blend; these have great texture, maintain their integrity even in a rolling boil, and are almost as good as regular pastas. Almost.

Pizza Crust

Creating a GF pizza crust is a bit tricky: since it needs elasticity to stretch out (which gluten-free dough doesn’t usually have), you need to add a bit into it yourself. Be sure to use xanthan gum and tapioca starch for your pizza dough, and you can also add a bit of milk or cheese to it for added stretch.

Some people have made pizza crusts out of riced cauliflower, eggs, and cheese, but that type of crust isn’t terribly sturdy—it’s best for individual mini-pizzas rather than a family-sized one.

Soy Sauce

Since most soy sauces have wheat in them, you’ll want to get your hands on some 100% soy, gluten-free tamari sauce. If you can’t find one at your local supermarket or health food shop, you may have to go to a Japanese grocery store instead. While you’re there, stock up on rice flour, and pick up some mochi snacks: they’re amazing.

Photo by DFBGluten-free tamari

Roux

This one’s easy: all you need to do is swap out the wheat flour for sweet rice flour, blend it with the fat of your choice, and then use it to thicken sauces, soups, and stews to your heart’s content. If you don’t have rice flour, you can use hardier flours such as sorghum, amaranth, or quinoa instead, but try to avoid using tapioca, flour, or corn starch: they just go gummy, and you’ll end up with strange, sticky, buoyant lumps in your dish.

Soup Stock

Hopefully you make your own stock to work with, but if you’re using store-bought bouillon cubes or stock concentrate, be very careful about checking the ingredients first; some have wheat in them and others may have barley malt, so double-check everything.

 

When you’re cooking for people on a gluten-free diet, it is so very vital to double-check everything you use to create your dishes. If you haven’t made something from scratch, make absolutely sure it hasn’t come into contact with any contaminants. Your best bet is to use products that are specifically labeled with a big, shiny “Gluten-Free” sticker, and when in doubt, use something you know is safe.

- Lana Winter-Hébert

Lana Winter-Hébert fell in love with cooking while still in primary school. The various dietary needs of her extended family (i.e. gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, vegetarian, and paleo diets) have helped her to learn a fair bit about substitutions and meal plan modifications, and though her first love will always be the Scandinavian/Eastern European cuisine she grew up with, she has a penchant for Mexican food and can be bribed heartily with the offer of good huevos rancheros. Lana currently resides in rural Quebec with her husband and family, where she divides her time between writing, editing, design, and tending her permaculture garden. She cans and preserves whatever's in season, and is having some fantastic adventures with home cheese-making and mead-brewing.

Comments

  1. I work with people who need or want to be gluten-free, and have found the brand “Tinkyada Pasta Joy” to be a very nice substition for wheat pasta. Follow the directions on the front of the package: Cook 1-2 minutes in boiling water and stir gently. Turn off heat and cover pot. Set timer for 16 minutes and taste. You can eat now or continue to keep covered for your desirable done ness, checking ever minute or so.

    Love what you’re doing here!

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