Going gluten-free doesn't have to mean tasteless meals, expensive special ingredients, or (gasp!) no bread. Just ask Danna Korn, co-author of Living Gluten-Free For Dummies®, 2nd Edition – and a leading expert on gluten-free diets.
"More families are learning to go the gluten-free route, and it's not just for those who suffer from the increasingly common celiac disease," she says. "Families everywhere are facing wheat allergies, gluten intolerance, and even autism – all diseases that are linked to the gluten we get from the food we consume. And more and more, people are taking the gluten-free plunge in the hopes of getting their families on the road to healthier eating."
The trick, she says, is learning how to swap out a few staple ingredients in your kitchen. If you're tempted to experiment with making your favorite recipes gluten-free, here are some savvy substitutions.
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If you do any sort of baking or cooking at home, you know flour is an essential ingredient in many recipes. Finding a flour alternative can be a top priority. If a recipe calls for flour, try cornstarch or a gluten-free flour or mix. Or test the many new flours available – like bean flours, sorghum and amaranth – and see which you like best. They're nutritious and add flavor. Most importantly, they're gluten-free!
2. Breadings and coatings
If a recipe calls for breading, breadcrumbs, flour coating or similar preparation, consider a wheat- or gluten-free mix (homemade or store bought). Bread and muffin mixes work well for coatings on chicken and other fried goodies. Seasoned cornmeal or corn flour (masa) and crushed potato chips are also excellent alternatives.
Gluten-free breadcrumbs are one of the easier alternatives to come by in your kitchen. Many gluten-free breads turn to crumbs. And certainly, there are plenty of crumbs in the bag; just use them as extras for cooking! If you need a larger quantity, try crumbling bread slices and toast or broil the crumbs to make them crunch.
Croutons are a great way to take a salad from so-so to sensational with very little trouble. Making your own, gluten-free croutons is simple, too: cut fresh, gluten-free bread into cubes, deep fry them and roll in Parmesan cheese and spices. Some people suggest letting the bread get just a tad stale (not moldy) before making croutons this way.
Granola is a multifaceted ingredient that should be a staple in any kitchen! It's great with yogurt and fruit, in trail mix or as a stand-alone snack. If you can find gluten-free oats at the store, you're set. If you can't, you can still make granola with very little trouble. Toss toasted nuts and seeds; then mix with gluten-free cereal, honey, vanilla, a tiny bit of oil – and a smidge of spices or seasonings, until it tastes like you like it. Bake at 300 degrees F for an hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Add dried fruit (that's been soaked in water for 10 minutes), let cool and refrigerate or vacuum seal and freeze.
6. Trail mix
Trail mix is great for snacking on the go and is a healthy treat kids enjoy. Many trail mixes that are available in stores are already gluten-free, but if you like to make your own, mix some peanuts, raisins, dried fruit and gluten-free chocolate candies or chips.
7. Oatmeal or hot cereal
Try substituting your bowl of steaming oats with corn grits. Prepare them just like oatmeal and top with butter, cinnamon and sugar, or fry them. You may also be able to find hot cereals that are made from grain-free flours. Some new amaranth and quinoa hot cereals are available, too. (Added bonus: They're nutritional powerhouses!)
"Don't be afraid to get creative," Korn adds. "Having a gluten-free kitchen shouldn't take the joy out of preparing meals and creating new culinary delights. In fact, it should make you that much more skilled as a chef.
"With a little planning and an open mind, you just may be surprised at the safe, nutritious and downright tasty dishes that come out of your kitchen!"