November 2012 Issue

Gluten-Free Kitchen Essentials
By Juliann Schaeffer
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 14 No. 11 P. 40

These strategies will help even the most culinary-challenged, gluten intolerant clients make delicious meals at home.

For many clients newly diagnosed with celiac disease or other gluten-related disorders, the kitchen instantaneously becomes an intimidating place. They wonder, “What can I eat without getting sick?” and “How can I cook for my family and myself while avoiding cross-contamination?”

“Their concerns focus on two things: how to use new/strange ingredients that cost more and are hard to find and how to continue eating their favorite foods,” says Carol Fenster, PhD, author of 10 gluten-free cookbooks, including 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes. “The people who are most baffled by the new diet are those who don’t know how to cook in the first place; they don’t have the same comfort level in the kitchen as those who at least know the basics of cooking.”

Rachel Begun, MS, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics who blogs at The Gluten Free RD, says these concerns and more can lead new celiac patients to the packaged or frozen foods aisle. “There’s a big learning curve for newly diagnosed celiacs to understand which foods are and are not safe for them to eat,” she says. “I often see clients shy away from cooking with fresh foods because they don’t know what they can and cannot eat and instead concentrate their diet on eating packaged foods that are certified gluten free.

“The concern here is that concentrating the diet on highly processed packaged foods can result in not getting enough of some key nutrients,” Begun adds. “It’s OK for the client to rely more on packaged foods in the short term so long as they gradually increase their reliance and confidence in cooking with fresh, nutrient-dense foods.”

That’s no small task for the culinary challenged. But if you provide clients guidance on what staples they can stock their kitchen with as well as cross-contamination and easy meal makeover tips, they’ll have the confidence to become the master of their new gluten-free kitchen. The following strategies will help you get clients off to a great start.

Kitchen Basics
Nail down the essentials early. At what point after a patient’s celiac disease diagnosis should you suggest they get their hands dirty and learn the nitty-gritty of what it means to cook gluten free? According to the experts, the sooner, the better.

“As soon as possible,” says Fenster, who says learning gluten-free cooking basics can be empowering for new celiac patients. “Processed foods such as breakfast cereals and bars can help tide them over, but I advise them to take control of their lives as soon as possible so they don’t feel like a victim. That sense of empowerment is an important step to accepting the gluten-free lifestyle as a normal, healthful way of living, and it can be lived well without gluten.”

“Since so many foods are naturally gluten free, there’s no reason for celiac patients not to start cooking safe foods right away—once their kitchen is clean and safe, that is,” adds Kim Lutz, author of the gluten-free blog Welcoming Kitchen.

Getting patients on the road to recovery is priority No. 1, says Begun, and not everyone will feel comfortable tackling gluten-free dinners five nights a week—especially those who didn’t cook before their diagnosis. So for less experienced cooks or those who don’t have the time, “it may be more useful to focus first on how to eat gluten free in restaurants and slowly build up their knowledge and skills for cooking—or at least pulling together—their own meals,” she says. But for those more adept with their kitchen’s ins and outs, she says, “We can focus on cooking gluten free right away.”

The benefits of learning such gluten-free cooking basics early on are twofold: Not only can clients control what ingredients they’re ingesting in the short term and their health in the long term, but they’re also opening up a new world of nutrient-rich foods. Begun explains, “This adds spice and variety to the diet. It’s often the case that those with celiac disease who get into the kitchen for the first time in their lives now eat a wider variety of foods than before they went gluten free.”

Stock up on gluten-free staples. Once clients agree to take on the gluten-free cooking challenge, the first question is apparent: What can I eat? Stocking up on a range of gluten-free cooking staples can ensure clients start off on the right track.

First, Fenster recommends clients buy certain prepared items that will assist in assembling a range of dishes. Gluten-free bread can be used for sandwiches, tortillas for wraps or tacos, piecrusts for pies and quiches, and pizza crusts for a variety of pizzas. “With these in your refrigerator/freezer, you can prepare many dishes, and cooking at home won’t seem so daunting,” she says. “These are the foods that are most time consuming to make at home—though easily mastered with practice.”

She’s found that starting out with a store-bought base not only saves time but encourages people to cook at home. Fenster recommends the breads by Canyon Bakehouse, Rudi’s, or Udi’s; flour tortillas by Rudi’s, La Tortilla Factory, and Food For Life; pizza crusts by Udi’s or Gluten Free Bistro; and pie crusts by Whole Foods Market or Gillian’s Foods.

Next, Fenster recommends buying a selection of whole grains, “starting with quinoa since it cooks quickly [like rice] and is very nutritious,” she says. “Also, Bob’s Red Mill [will soon] offer whole grain sorghum, which is closest to wheat in flavor and texture of all the gluten-free grains.”

“When starting out, I recommend stocking up on gluten-free whole grains that are easy to cook with and incorporate into meals,” says Begun, who notes that wild and brown rice varieties as well as millet and quinoa are her top choices. “There are also many good gluten-free whole grain pastas on the market.”

Any of these grains can be used for breakfast as hot cereal or for lunch and dinner fare, including grain salads (eg, tabbouleh) or soups (eg, vegetable soup with quinoa). Once clients have mastered a few easier grains, suggest they explore others, such as amaranth, buckwheat, and teff. “They’re hearty and very nutritious,” Fenster says.

For details on how to cook with these lesser-known grains and gluten-free meals in general, a gluten-free cookbook is essential. “Investing in a few good gluten-free cookbooks is a really smart idea,” Begun says. “To start, I recommend cookbooks that aren’t too specific to one food category but those that provide recipes for all types of meals.”

Moreover, Fenster recommends clients load their cabinets with beans, which can be used in almost an infinite number of dishes. “They’re a very inexpensive yet extremely nutritious source of protein, fiber, and the B vitamins that we no longer get in highly processed, store-bought gluten-free food because most gluten-free food isn’t enriched, as wheat products are,” she notes.

“For those who have never baked before, it’s a good idea to purchase a packaged gluten-free flour blend, preferably one made with whole grains,” Begun adds. However, realize that clients interested in becoming gluten-free baking aficionados will need more instruction than a few tips and tricks, as gluten-free baking is more involved than cooking. Refer clients to a good gluten-free cookbook for details on whatever they’d like to learn to bake.

“I definitely suggest clients buy a gluten-free cookbook that suits their style and tastes and bake from that rather than try to convert their own recipes,” Fenster says. “It decreases their frustration in those initial stages because cookbook authors have figured out a lot of things that new cooks can stumble on, so follow a gluten-free cookbook at first.”

And don’t forget about condiments. For items such as soy sauce, dressings, marinades, sauces, and even seasoning blends, which clients may not immediately think contain gluten, Begun says restocking a gluten-free option is essential.

In general, Begun recommends that newly diagnosed clients purchase certified gluten-free products when possible, “as they’re new to shopping gluten free and may not have a sense of what is and is not safe.” Experts also advise clients to experiment with different brands of gluten-free products, since many can differ in texture, taste, and mouthfeel.

Avoid cross-contamination. While the easiest way to avoid gluten is to make an entire house gluten free, this isn’t always (or usually) practical, Begun says, “particularly if there are young kids in the household or if others have different dietary requirements. I see many clients where different members of the family have different dietary needs and all have to be managed simultaneously.”

Begun has a handout that offers tips for creating a gluten-free kitchen, which explains how best to avoid such cross-contamination concerns. Clients would likely benefit greatly from such a resource; you can either develop your own or refer to others found on the Internet.

For example, when storing items, Begun advises clients to dedicate space in their pantry and refrigerator for only gluten-free goods and place them on shelves above gluten-containing foods. “Use stickers or an indelible ink pen to label gluten-free products.” If possible, she recommends having dedicated gluten-free utensils and equipment as well, including colanders, cutting boards, baking bowls, rolling pins, mixing spoons, and spatulas.

Appliances also can introduce unwanted gluten into meals and snacks. “Any appliance or utensil that has cracks, crevices, or holes can harbor gluten, so it’s wise to use separate toasters, waffle irons, bread machines, etc unless you can thoroughly clean them between uses,” Fenster says.

“It’s also important to keep sponges and cloths separate, as a contaminated sponge can wipe gluten onto an otherwise gluten-free surface,” Lutz warns.

Offer easy meal makeover tips. A handout explaining simple ways to make over common gluten-containing meals (or even naturally gluten-free meals) can help get clients off and running once their kitchen is well stocked and equipped.

Fenster likes to recommend clients begin by cooking foods that are naturally gluten free but that everyone loves and recognizes, such as roast chicken with baked potatoes, roast beef with mashed potatoes, grilled salmon with rice, lentil or other types of bean soups, and mixed green salads. “None of these meals require wheat to taste delicious,” she says.

Egg dishes, such as omelets, frittatas, or scrambles, also can be easily made gluten free, Begun says, as well as tacos made with 100% corn tortillas or shells and grilled/roasted meats, poultry, and fish with simply prepared vegetables and potatoes or rice.

“When breading meat, poultry, or fish, you can replace wheat flour with an equal amount of rice or corn flour,” she says. “And for soups or stews that call for roux, you can thicken with cornstarch or rice flour instead. Just be sure there aren’t any other gluten-containing ingredients, such as barley or flavoring ingredients that contain gluten.”

— Juliann Schaeffer is an associate editor at Great Valley Publishing Company and a frequent contributor to Today’s Dietitian.


Gluten Free for the Holidays
No more pumpkin pie, turkey stuffing, or holiday cookies? Not necessarily, according to experts interviewed by Today’s Dietitian. With just a handful of holiday-specific tips and tricks, you can prevent a joyous holiday season from losing its luster for clients with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Indeed, according to Kim Lutz, author of the gluten-free blog Welcoming Kitchen, many of the season’s ingredient stars are naturally free of gluten.

“Focus on the bounty that’s still available and craft your menu from that abundance,” she says. “Basic holiday flavors are still readily available on a gluten-free diet: pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberries, candied carrots, winter squash, corn, apples, and roasted vegetables. You also can make a good stuffing from gluten-free bread that’s toasted and cut into cubes.”

Making two options for everything at holiday parties can be time consuming, so Begun advises making as much of the meal gluten free as possible. “Stuffed mushrooms are a holiday appetizer treat that can easily be made with gluten-free bread crumbs,” she says. And clients should thicken gravy with cornstarch or rice flour. “No one will know the difference,” she says.

For the turkey, Fenster suggests buying one that’s fresh, unprocessed, and untreated. “Use the same recipe for stuffing but substitute gluten-free bread or cornbread instead. And use the same spices, aromatics, etc, but be sure to use gluten-free chicken or vegetable broth.”

While traditional holiday desserts can be loaded with gluten, Fenster says all clients have to do is make their own holiday pies “with either store-bought gluten-free pie crusts or with a recipe from a gluten-free cookbook.”

And when it comes down to it, Fenster says don’t be afraid to start anew with whatever holiday dinner you’re preparing. “Don’t be afraid to establish new traditions in terms of what’s served during the holidays. Long ago, I made a rice-based fruit salad for Christmas and everyone liked it so much that it’s become a tradition for the past 20 years. It’s naturally gluten free, with no need for substitutes.”

— JS


Rice Pilaf With Cranberries and Pecans

Serves 12

1 1/2 cups brown rice
1 cup wild rice
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup sherry wine vinegar
2 T fresh thyme, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt, to taste
Fresh ground pepper, to taste
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup pecans, roasted and chopped

Cook the brown and wild rice according to their package instructions. While the rice is cooking, prepare the dressing by whisking together the olive oil, wine vinegar, thyme, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper to taste. In a large bowl, mix the vinaigrette with the warm brown and wild rice and toss to coat. Mix in the cranberries and pecans and evenly distribute.

Nutrient Analysis per serving
Calories: 240; Fat: 10 g; Sat fat: 1.5 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 50 mg; Carbohydrate: 33 g; Dietary fiber: 2 g; Sugar: 4 g; Protein: 4 g

— Recipe courtesy of Rachel Begun, MS, RD


Gluten-Free Chicken Pot Pie

Serves 12

Rich and hearty, this biscuitlike topping is perfect for our chicken version or your own favorite pot pie filling.


1 3/4 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 T sugar
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 cup butter or margarine (room temp)
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 tsp cider vinegar

1 lb skinless cooked chicken, cubed
1 cup green peas
1/4 cup corn
1 cup chopped carrots
1 small chopped onion
2 chopped celery stalks
1 garlic clove, minced
1 T cooking oil
2 1/2 cups low-sodium gluten-free chicken broth
1 tsp dried thyme
2 T tapioca flour
3 T water
1/2 cup fresh sliced mushrooms
1/2 tsp celery salt
1/2 cup dry white wine


1. Combine cubed chicken, peas, and corn and set aside. Place carrots, onion, celery, and garlic in skillet and cook in cooking oil until onion is transparent. Add cubed chicken, green peas, corn, and chicken broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until mixture is reduced one-third, about 5 minutes. Add thyme, sliced mushrooms, celery salt, and white wine.

2. Mix tapioca flour with 3 T water until paste forms, then stir into skillet slowly. Simmer until thickened. Place in greased 13- x 9-inch baking pan. Set aside.

1. Preheat oven to 400˚F. Combine dry ingredients (flour to thyme) in large bowl. Add butter, milk, egg, and vinegar and mix together thoroughly.

2. Drop dough by tablespoonfuls onto prepared filling.

3. Bake 25 to 35 minutes or until filling is bubbling and topping is nicely browned. Serve immediately.

Nutrient Analysis per serving
Calories: 220; Fat: 8 g; Sat fat: 3 g; Cholesterol: 60 mg; Sodium: 440 mg; Carbohydrate: 21 g; Dietary fiber: 2 g; Sugar: 4 g; Protein: 16 g

— Recipe courtesy of Carol Fenster, PhD, on behalf of Bob’s Red Mill