Sunday, December 4, 2011

Waving goodbye to gluten

This story on giving up gluten (gradually) ran on Patch yesterday morning. If you'd like to leave a comment or share a recipe, please go to the Patch site. Thank you!

Sunday Night Supper: Saying Goodbye to Gluten, Gradually

Giving up gluten, and finding ways to make meals without it.

For the past couple of years, I have been slowly waving goodbye to gluten. I haven't thrown it out of my life completely - I still love baking (and eating) cookies, cakes, brownies and pies, and that includes giving into gluttony and licking spatulas covered with raw batter before the pans go in the oven. But I have what my gastroenterologist delicately calls a "gluten sensitivity." My mother and my cousin's daughter both have Celiac disease. My nephew and another cousin have type 1 diabetes. A study published by the New England Journal of Medicine shows that the two diseases are genetically linked.

An endoscopy is the gold standard for establishing a celiac diagnosis, according to gastroenterologist, Angie Eng MD. I had an endoscopy, which confirmed I don't have it. But whenever I eat gluten, I wish I hadn't, and given our extended family's history, I have been trying to make meals that don't include it, without sending my kids into a pizza-and-pasta-starved panic.

Celiac disease is an auto-immune disorder triggered by the ingestion of gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, malt and oats. It destroys the villi in your small intestine. You need those villi: They are small, finger-like protrusions that help the body absorb nutrients. Without them, the body has trouble absorbing food, and left untreated, celiac can lead to depression, osteoporosis, lymphoma, infertility, and neurological disorders, among other things. If you have celiac or a gluten intolerance you know some of the symptoms: bloating, joint pain and diarrhea. Celiac is often found in people who have thyroid disease, anemia and type 1 diabetes.

Approximately 18 million American have some kind of gluten intolerance and there are lots of new gluten-free products out there. Gluten-free products now make up a $6.3 billion market, up 33 percent from 2009. Anheuser-Busch sells a gluten free beer called Redbridge. Huge food companies such as General Mills have rolled out gluten-free lines. Kellogg's sells gluten-free Rice Krispies, Frito Lay has a range of gluten free potato and tortilla chips, and Post sells gluten-free cereals. Smaller companies such as Amy's, Glutino, Bob's Red Mill and Udi's Gluten Free Foods all sell gluten-free foods. General Mills has embraced this market with a passion. You can now wander the supermarket aisles and find gluten-free Bisquick pancake mix, Betty Crocker Butter Cream Frosting and Chex cereal. (For more info, check out General Mills's Glutenfreely website.)

Of course, if you really want to make your gluten-free life as simple as possible, you will avoid prepared foods altogether and stick to grilled and broiled meats, fish, chicken, vegetables, nuts, rice, pudding, meringue cookies, chewing gum and ice cream. That's what I've been doing. But we're all human and occasionally long for food that feels sinful and fun. Or your gluten-free kids want their food to look like what everyone else has on their plates.

With that in mind, I decided to pay attention to the emails and recipes my friend Denise has been sending me. Denise is a terrific cook and has been cooking without gluten for awhile. Her older son has celiac and she has been diligent and creative about making foods that he will eat. For her birthday last summer, she hired the chef Scott Savokinas, the owner of Cuisine Inspirations and a former regional chef at Williams-Sonoma, to make a gluten-free dinner party. (Savokinas's older daughter has celiac.) Some of his recipes included Ants Climbing a Tree (bean thread noodles with ground chicken) and Pretzel Chicken with Honey Mustard Dip. We were out of town for the party so Denise graciously sent me the recipes.

The Pretzel Chicken with Honey Mustard Dip was a huge hit right away. It takes about forty minutes to make it and that includes pounding the pretzels. If you cut the chicken into small strips, this dish will happily remind you of McDonald's chicken nuggets but will taste much, much better and be infinitely healthier. I've made it several times in the past month and every time, there are raves. (My husband emailed last night to say he was eating the "yummy honey chicken.") The dipping sauce is just a combination of honey and mustard but it is so good, you should think about doubling or tripling the recipe.

Ants Climbing a Tree, which combines bean threads with ground chicken and various spices and sauces, was a bit trickier to pull off because I screwed up. Bean threads are made of bean starch and water, and are also known as cellophane noodles or glass noodles. They look like white pasta. I bought the ground chicken and two bags of Kame bean threads ($1.99 for a 3.5 ounce bag at Kings) and thought I had everything I needed.

The recipe calls for four tablespoons of raw, grated ginger. It turned out the piece of ginger I had was small and rotten, so I used a teaspoon of powdered ginger instead. Bad idea. I also didn't have enough scallions. The recipe calls for two bunches; I could only find one in our produce drawer. (I found the second bunch the next day, under a bag of cilantro.) I made the dish anyway and hoped for the best. It looked beautiful - and the process of cutting those bean threads with a scissors was like being eight years old again and cutting Barbie's straight, shiny hair. I brought the steaming dish to the table and told everyone to dig in, without bothering to reveal that the bean threads weren't actually spaghetti.

My husband's not much of a cook - the last time he made dinner, the first George Bush was President. But he knows how things should taste. "This is missing some tang," he said gently. My kids agreed. Something was missing. The ginger and fresh scallions, perhaps?

The next morning, I bought a half pound of ginger root ($3.99/pound at Kings), took the second bag of scallions out of the fridge and set to work. I did this for a few reasons: a) I was writing this column; b) Denise had insisted the dish was really good; c) There was a lot left over, and I couldn't bear to throw it out. When you open those little 3.5 ounce packages of bean threads, you think, "Oh, that's not so much." A pound of ground chicken isn't all that much either. But together, with the sauces and herbs, this dish generates some serious volume, enough to feed several people several meals. I was determined that what I had made on Sunday would also be served for dinner on Monday and not tossed in the trash.

The rescue mission worked. Instead of mincing the ginger, I put it in the food processor with the shredding blade. (Half a pound of ginger root generates about 12 tablespoons of shreded ginger.) I sauteed the scallions and ginger in a combination of hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, Chinese hot chile sauce and soy sauce for five minutes. Then I let the whole thing cool and added it to dish. It was delicious, better than I expected. Both my kids loved it and the dish actually improved as it aged; my younger son, who hadn't been wild about it the first night, had seconds on the second night, and asked for it again on the third night. Lesson learned: Line up all your ingredients ahead of time.

My third attempt to make a gluten-free dish came in the form of Curried Quinoa. My friend Lynne shared this recipe from the Moosewood Restaurant New Classics cookbook. It was delicious, easy and also better on the second and third days. I doubled the amount of frozen peas the recipe called for because I really like peas and I had a feeling that if I put the bag back in the freezer, they would be lost forever. Plus, there is something almost magical about frozen peas. They are always sweet and in the dead of winter, remind you of spring.

I did have one major mishap on my gluten-free cooking journey. An apple crisp became a disaster. I blithely used the rice flour I had left over from the pretzel chicken. Savokinas said I should have used a multi-purpose gluten-free flour, like King Arthur's Multi-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour or Thomas Keller's Cup4cup gluten-free flour, available at Wlliams-Sonoma. (These products are expensive: Keller's C4C 3-pound bag is $19.95. King Arthur's 24-ounce box is $7.95) Both brands contain white rice flour, brown rice flour, tapioca flour and potato starch.

If you're going to make one gluten-free dish, start with the pretzel chicken. Whether you're gluten-intolerant or not, it is awesome. One afternoon, I was upstairs working. My younger son was home sick and watching TV. I came downstairs and there he was on the family room couch, a bag of gluten-free pretzels in his lap."What are you doing?" I screeched. "Eating those pretzels," he said contentedly."Those are for dinner!" I yelled. But inside, I was thinking, "Gimme some."

Scott Savokinas's Pretzel Chicken with Honey Mustard Dip

Makes 5 servings


2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast tenders, cut into strips

1 bag Snyder's or Glutino Gluten Free pretzels, crushed into small pieces

I cup rice flour

2 eggs

1 tablespoon water

salt and pepper, to taste

Honey Mustard Dip (double this recipe if you want more):

In a medium bowl, stir the following ingredients together:

1/4 cup whole grain mustard

1/4 cup honey

1 tablespoon poppy seeds


Place flour into shallow bowl with high sides. Season with salt and pepper.

In a second bowl, crack eggs, add water and whisk until completely mixed.

In a third bowl, place crushed pretzels.

Take chicken strips and dredge them in the seasoned flour. One at a time, remove chicken from flour and dip it into the egg mixture, thoroughly coating the chicken pieces.

Preheat medium saute pan over medium high heat. Place enough oil in pan to cover bottom. (You may need to add more oil as chicken cooks.)

Place chicken in saute pan and cook on both sides, until thoroughly cooked, about 4-5 minutes, possibly more.

Scott Savokinas's Ants Climbing a Tree


8 ounces bean thread noodles

3 tablespoons peanut oil (can substitute grape seed or canola oil)

4 tablespoons minced garlic

4 tablespoons finely minced fresh ginger root (I shredded it in food processor)

1 pound ground chicken

2 carrots, julienned


(in medium bowl, combine the following)

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

1/4 cup oyster sauce or ground bean sauce

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

2 teaspoons Chinese chile sauce

(I added a tablespoon of hoisin sauce. If you add this, make sure it is gluten-free.)


Place noodles in a large bowl. Cover with hot water and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. When noodles are soft, cut in half with kitchen shears or scissors.

Heat large non stick fry pan or wok over high heat. Add peanut oil.

Add garlic, ginger and scallions, and stir continuously, until fragrant, about 20-30 seconds.

Add chicken and cook until it is evenly browned and cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add carrots and the sauce. Cook for one minute.

Lynne's Curried Quinoa (from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics)


1 cup quinoa

1.5 Tbs vegetable oil

1/2 cup diced onions

1 tsp grated fresh ginger root

1/2 fresh green chile, minced, or 1/8 tsp cayenne (I used cayenne)

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp coriander

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1 3/4 cup water

1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas (I used 1 cup)

1-2 Tbs chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

Place the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse it with cold water. Drain well.

In a heavy saucepan, warm the oil and saute the onions on medium-high heat for 4 or 5 minutes. Add the ginger, chile or cayenne, and the quinoa and cook for a minute, stirring constantly. Stir in the turmeric, coriander, cinnamon, and salt and cook for another minute, stirring.

Add the water and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.
Stir in the peas, cover, and cook for 4 or 5 minutes, until the peas are tender and the water has been absorbed.

Before serving, fluff with a fork and add the cilantro, if you wish.

More information:

Scott Savokinas, Cuisine Inspirations LLC

973 219 6954 offers a wide range of information. Glutenfreegoddess has great recipes and beautiful, lyrical essays about cooking without gluten and living with celiac. The writer, Karina Allrich, has a new book entitled Gluten-Free Goddess.

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