Cooking without wheat
What follows is not intended as a blueprint for coeliacs; I write as a cook with an informed interest in nutrition and dietetics rather than a qualified dietician with an interest in cooking.
However, I do have experience of cutting wheat out of my diet for a period of about 18 months, and of cooking for others on a wheat-free diet. It is important to note that this is not the same as a gluten-free diet.
Bread, cakes, desserts and other baked goods present the most obvious challenge, although gluten-free, wheat-free plain flour is widely available. Composed of rice flour, cornflour and other soft flours, it makes very smooth béchamel-type sauces and can be used for cakes and biscuits.
Gluten-free bread flour usually includes a recipe on the pack; it is often worth dressing up the recipe with the addition of herbs, bacon bits, onion, cheese, sun-dried tomatoes etc because the one thing that wheat-free bread does not do is rise; it is the gluten in wheat which ‘supports’ the yeast as it expands the dough.
I find gluten-free flour most successful in cakes which are not required to rise, such as Christmas cakes, Dundee cakes and other fruit cakes, as well as shortbread and other crisp biscuits. But there are many dainty delicacies which require no flour at all, such as meringues, macaroons and macarons, as well as the homely flapjack. In the case of meringues and macarons, egg whites are used as the raising agent, trapping air and lightening the mixture.
Nut flours and ground nuts are particularly useful in wheat-free baking. Neither do you need to give up fruit crumbles; use oatmeal and ground and chopped nuts crumbled with butter and sugar. Add cocoa and chocolate chips to a crumble topping for pears, or white chocolate to a peach or apricot crumble.
Potatoes, barley and other whole grains and seeds such as quinoa and buckwheat, as well as pulses such as beans, lentils and chick peas can be made into fabulous dishes. Consider rice for paella and risotto. Use polenta, either coarse or fine, to serve soft or grilled, especially good with rich casseroles, or make it into cornbread or muffins.
As a substitute for coating in breadcrumbs, polenta also gives a lovely crusty finish to escalopes of veal, fish fillets or calves liver. Or use gram flour, made from split peas. Ready-made corn tortillas can be used for a multitude of snacks and main courses, such as cheese nachos and beef fajitas.
As a change from the pasta and pizzas of the Mediterranean diet, one might further explore Asian cooking with rice in its many forms, including rice noodles and rice flour wrappers, such as those used for Vietnamese spring rolls and plenty of stir-fried vegetables, for which I have given some recipes below, together with some wheat-free desserts.
The hardest food stuff to remove from my wheat-free eating was, of course, bread. But, as I kept telling myself, if I am not eating bread, I am not eating butter either, so a double benefit.
Char Siew – barbecued pork
(Serves 6 to 8)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon ginger juice – squeezed from grated ginger in a sieve
1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder
2 tbsp dark muscovado sugar
2 tablespoons rice wine or Amontillado sherry
500g boneless pork shoulder in a piece
1 tablespoon traditionally brewed soy sauce
2 tablespoons clear honey
Mix the first five marinade ingredients, rub all over the pork and leave to marinate for two hours, or longer, if more convenient. Before roasting, brush the meat all over with soy sauce. Roast on a rack in a roasting tin in a pre-heated oven, at 220 C, for about 30 minutes, basting every 10 minutes with the honey and the marinade.
The pork can be served on top of rice, as a garnish for noodle soup, and left-overs can be used in fried rice.
The perfect fried rice
As the rice for this recipe is best cooked the day before required, it is a good use of left-over rice. Use Thai fragrant rice, Basmati or Patna.
• 6 tablespoons groundnut oil
• 4 eggs beaten with a little salt
• 3 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
• 500g cooked rice, fluffed and separated
• 200g peeled prawns
• 1 to 2 teaspoons traditionally brewed soy sauce
• 1/2 teaspoon sugar
• 4 tablespoons chicken stock
• 200g barbecued pork or cured ham, diced or shredded
Heat half the oil in a wok and when hot, pour in the eggs and spring onions and scramble them thoroughly before heating up the rest of the oil and adding the rice. Stir and cook this for about four minutes, before adding the prawns, stock and seasonings. Cook for a further four to five minutes, add the pork or ham and cook for a minute or two more before serving.
Thai style beef and omelette salad
Make the vinaigrette first
• 2 tablespoons soy sauce
• 1 tablespoon rice or sherry vinegar
• 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
• 1 tablespoon lime juice
• 1 teaspoon grated ginger
• 1 stalk of lemon-grass, sliced
• Grated zest of a lime or lemon
• 1 to 2 teaspoons brown sugar
Bring the liquid ingredients to the boil, pour over the ginger, lemongrass and lime zest and sugar. Let it steep for 30 to 60 minutes, much longer if you prefer, and sieve into a jug.
• 3 eggs
• 500 to 750 g grilled skirt steak, cooked rare OR leftover rare roast beef
• 125 g bean sprouts, blanched
• 4 spring onions, trimmed and sliced
• Few sprigs fresh coriander, mint and basil leaves
• Fresh red or green chillies to taste, deseeded
• 50 g toasted peanuts, roughly crushed
Make three very thin one-egg omelettes. Allow them to cool slightly, and then roll them up and cut into strips, the width of tagliatelle. Slice the beef, and mix with the bean sprouts, onions and omelette strips. Chop the herbs and chillies, and mix into the salad. Dress with the vinaigrette, and scatter peanuts on top. Serve immediately.
Try out these three wheat-free desserts
Melon and tapioca
• 75 g tapioca
• 500 ml skimmed milk
• 200 g block of coconut cream
• Sugar to taste
• 1 ripe melon
Cook the tapioca in the milk until tender. Remove from the heat. While still hot, stir in the coconut cream until melted. Add more milk or coconut milk to obtain a soupy consistency. Halve the melon, remove the seeds, and scoop out balls of melon flesh. When the tapioca is completely cool, stir in the melon, and chill the dish until required. This is a lovely dish to serve after a meal of oriental flavours.
Clove and almond crisps
• 125 g ground almonds
• 15 g rice flour
• 200 g caster sugar
• 1 teaspoon ground cloves
• 2 egg whites, lightly whisked
Line two baking sheets with rice paper. Mix together the dry ingredients, and then fold in the egg whites until thoroughly blended. The mixture can be piped or spooned on to the baking trays. Leave plenty of room for the mixture to spread.
Bake at 180˚C, gas mark 4 for 20 minutes or until a pale golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. These are delicious served with ice-creams, sorbets, mousses and custards, and indeed on their own with a cup of tea or coffee.
Squid noodle salad with chilli and ginger dressing
(Serves 4 to 6)
• 2 celery stalks
• 100 g piece of butternut squash, swede, or turnip
• 75 g bean sprouts
• 2 to 3 tablespoons ground nut, or grape seed oil
• 500 g prepared squid, i.e. skinned, cleaned and sliced into rings
• 2 teaspoons shredded fresh ginger
• 1 small green or red chilli, seeded and finely sliced
• 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
• 2 tablespoons soy sauce
• 350 g cooked, rinsed and drained rice noodles
• 1 red chilli ‘flower’ for decoration
Trim the celery, and slice into thin, broad, oblique pieces. Slice the squash, swede or turnip similarly. Drop all three vegetables into boiling water, boil fast for a minute, and then drain, and rinse them under cold water.
Heat the oil, and in it fry the squid until just cooked, opaque yet tender. With the squid still in the pan, add the ginger, chilli, garlic and soy sauce. Cook for a minute more, and remove the pan from the heat. Drain the chilled noodles, and put them in a bowl or bowls. Arrange the vegetables on top and the seasoned squid on top of the vegetables. Decorate with the chilli to indicate that this is a hot dish.