Living the WELL Life

Gluten-Free Cuisine

Thursday, January 28, 2010

As an off-shoot of my cooking show, my husband and I own a travel business.  We organize holidays for people who want to continue their commitment to health even while on vacation.  We organize tours of Europe, scuba trips to the Caribbean and retreats in the U.S.  My staff and prepare meals to keep our guests sated and healthy.  The challenges of cooking in varying locales can be exciting and daunting.

Several years ago, we received a call from a potential guest who had concerns about the food he needed for his health condition, Celiac’s Disease and had very specific needs in order to maintain his health.  I confess to having the same reactions as many chefs would, even in my line of work, healthy cooking.  At first, I felt so sorry for him; no wheat seemed like an awful fate to me.  And then I thought about the challenges I would face trying to prepare special meals within the context of serving the needs of 28 other guests for three daily meals during their 10-day holiday.  I admit to feeling a bit vexed over the whole thing.

I did some research to see what our guest would need and discovered that I faced the most wonderful challenge, that there was so much creativity to be considered when cooking without wheat.  I developed recipes that could work for the entire group and with the exception of a few desserts and pasta dishes, was able to feed the entire group in the same delicious manner as my special guest, so there was no extra work and everyone loved the gourmet foods we were able to prepare.

Since that time, I have become very involved in creating delicious gluten-free dishes, for students, for friends and as part of the work I do for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. I have no vested interest in gluten-free eating; I have no issues with wheat, but I think it’s high time that people pay attention. This is one disease that has only one cure…food. It’s a wonderful way for me to spread the message of healthy eating to more and more people and for more and more people to see the power of food in their loves.

While this condition is not without its challenges, I am here to tell you that cooking wheat-free need not mean a diet that is dull and grim, but can be decadent, enlivening, creative and most of all, yummy!

Quinoa Tabouleh with Avocado

Makes 4 to 5 servings
1 cup quinoa, rinsed very well (see Note below)
2 cups spring or filtered water
Sea salt
Cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon brown rice syrup
6 to 7 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped (about 1/3 cup)
2 cloves fresh garlic, very finely minced
½ red bell pepper, roasted, cut into small dice
¼ red onion, cut into small dice
2 to 3 plum tomatoes, seeded, cut into small dice
½ cup small dice cucumber
½ avocado, ripe, but firm, cut into small dice

Add quinoa and water to a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add a pinch of salt; cover and reduce heat to low. Cook until quinoa has absorbed all the water and has opened (a small “tail” forms on each grain, like a tadpole), about 25 minutes. Transfer quinoa to a mixing bowl, fluff with a fork and allow to come to room temperature.
    While the quinoa cools, whisk together ½ teaspoon sea salt, 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, lemon juice, oil and rice syrup. Set aside.
    When the quinoa is cooled, fold in oil mixture and all the vegetables, tossing very gently to incorporate, but not break the avocado into mush. Serve within 2 hours of making this dish or it will get soggy. (If making ahead, do not add the oil mixture until close to serving time.)

Quinoa and Sweet Potato Croquettes with Black Bean Salsa

Makes about 6 servings

Black Bean Salsa

½ red onion, cut into small dice
2 plum tomatoes, seeded, cut into small dice
1 small jalapeño chili, finely minced
1 clove fresh garlic, finely minced
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 cup cooked or canned organic black beans
3 scallions, finely minced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon or lime juice
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil


Quinoa and Sweet Potato Croquettes

2 cups spring or filtered water
1 small sweet potato, peeled, diced
1 cup quinoa, rinsed very well
Sea salt
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 scallions, finely diced
4 sprigs parsley, minced
1 jalapeño chili, seeded, finely minced
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon dried oregano
2 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
½ cup pureed silken tofu
3 tablespoons grated vegan mozzarella cheese alternative
Avocado oil, for frying

Make the salsa: Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Mix well, cover and set aside for flavors to develop.
    Make the croquettes: Bring water to a boil and add sweet potato and quinoa. Add a pinch of salt; cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook until quinoa has absorbed the water and has opened, about 20 minutes.
    While the quinoa cooks, place olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add scallions, parsley, chili, cumin, oregano and garlic and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
    Mash cooked sweet potato and quinoa together with a fork to break up the sweet potato. Fold in scallion mixture, tofu and cheese alternative. Mix very well. Form quinoa mixture into 2-inch patties.
    Heat 1 tablespoon of avocado oil in a skillet over medium heat, turning the skillet so that the oils coats the surface. Fry croquettes until golden on each side, turning once to ensure even browning, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a platter and spoon 1 to 2 tablespoons salsa on top of each croquette.

Fried Soba with Ginger and Scallion

Makes 3 servings

8 ounces soba noodles (pure buckwheat flour)
2 tablespoons avocado oil, plus extra for cooking noodles
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh ginger
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 tablespoon natural wheat-free tamari
1 teaspoon agave syrup

Bring a pot of water and a splash of avocado oil to a boil. When the water boils, cook soba until 80 percent done, about 7 minutes. Drain and rinse very well. Set aside.
    Heat the 2 teaspoons oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add ginger, scallions and a splash of tamari and sauté until scallions wilt, about 3 minutes. Place noodles on top of cooked scallions, season with remaining tamari and drizzle with agave. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 3 minutes. Stir well and serve hot.

Citrus-Scented Seeded Muffins

Makes 24 mini muffins

2 cups quinoa flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup avocado oil
½ cup  agave syrup
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Grated zest of 1 orange
½ cup combined lemon and orange juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 to 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 teaspoon chia seeds
2 teaspoons chopped sunflower seeds
2 teaspoons chopped pumpkin seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 24-cup mini muffin pan.
    Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Combine oil and agave and stir in zests, juices and vanilla. Mix into dry ingredients and slowly mix in almond milk until a smooth batter forms. Fold in seeds until incorporated through the batter. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups, filling cups two-thirds full.
    Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the tops of the muffins spring back to the touch. Cool for 5 minutes before carefully removing the muffins from the cups. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely.

Pan-Braised Tempeh with Tropical Salsa

Makes 4 servings

Tropical Salsa
1 cup finely minced fresh pineapple
1 cup finely minced fresh papaya
½ red onion, finely diced
3 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
1 jalapeño chili, finely diced, do not remove seeds or ribs
2 small, firm plum tomatoes, finely diced, seeds removed
Juice of 1 lime
Juice of ½ orange
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh cilantro
4 tablespoons finely minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
½ teaspoon sea salt
Scant pinch cracked black pepper

3 tablespoons avocado oil
1 tablespoon agave syrup
2 teaspoons wheat-free tamari
16 ounces tempeh, cut into 2-inch slices

1 bunch bok choy, bottom removed, rinsed well, leaves left whole

Make the salsa: Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Set aside to allow the flavors to develop.
    Prepare the tempeh: Place oil, agave and tamari in a skillet over medium heat. When the mixture is hot, add tempeh and cook, turning each piece until evenly browned. It can take 7 to 8 minutes for all the tempeh to evenly brown.
    While the tempeh cooks, bring a pot of water with a pinch of salt to a boil. Add bok choy and cook until the stems are crisp-tender and the green part of the leaves are wilted and bright green, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain the bok choy and slice into bite-size pieces. Arrange bok choy on a platter, and place tempeh and salsa in separate bowls. To eat, top greens with tempeh and a dollop of salsa.

Indian Rice Pudding

Makes 8 servings
4 cups unsweetened almond milk
½ cup agave syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon saffron threads soaked in 2 tablespoons hot water
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
Pinch sea salt
2 cups cooked basmati rice
½ cup golden raisins, plumped in about 1 cup warm water (see Note below), drained and ½ cup soaking water reserved
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons slivered almonds
2 teaspoons coarsely chopped, shelled, unsalted pistachios

Combine almond milk, agave syrup, vanilla, saffron with soaking water, cardamom and salt in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Whisking constantly, bring to a boil. Stir in rice, raisins and raisin water, and return to the boil. Reduce heat to very low, cover and cook, stirring frequently, until the pudding is quite creamy and thick, about 35 minutes.
    While the pudding cooks, make the garnish. Combine cinnamon, almonds and pistachios in a small skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until the nuts are fragrant, about 4 minutes.
    To serve, spoon rice pudding into dessert cups and garnish with toasted nuts.

Almond Bar Cookies

Makes 18 (1½ × 3-inch) bars

½ cup almond meal (blanched almonds ground into a fine meal)
¼ teaspoon sea salt
2/3 cup agave syrup
1 cup vegan buttery spread (like Earth Balance)
1 teaspoon almond extract
1¼ cups quinoa flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup slivered almonds, lightly pan-toasted
1 cup unsweetened raspberry preserves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 9-inch-square baking dish.
    Combine almond meal, salt, agave syrup and buttery spread in a small saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in almond extract. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
    Whisk dry ingredients into almond mixture and stir until a spreadable batter forms. Fold in almonds. Spread half of the batter evenly in prepared pan. Spread raspberry preserves evenly over top. Drop the remaining batter on top of the preserves to cover completely. Bake until the topping is firm and lightly browned, about 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool completely in pan before slicing into bars.


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