Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Gluten-free isn't so bad

When I was diagnosed with a gluten sensitivity several years ago, I thought I might as well forget about enjoying food ever again. (I recognize that look of terror in many of my patient's eyes when they first find out the same thing.) It was a rocky start, I ate a lot of chips and salsa. But, now, thankfully, my diet is considerably more varied. I would love to share with you what I've learned so that you don't have to go through what I went through... which was a lot of Chinese take-out, hold the soy sauce.

Now let me tell you two things I've learned about food that changed my life:  First, eat more vegetables. Like, WAY more vegetables. Vegetables should constitute 40% to 50% of your diet. That means half your cart at the grocery store. Also, when you're choosing veggies, try to get all the colors in the rainbow. This will ensure that you are giving your body the full spectrum of nutrients. Example: Red tomatoes, orange carrots, yellow bell pepper, green broccoli, purple cabbage, white cauliflower.

Second, plan your meals. This will save you energy, time, and money in the long run. Once a week, jot down 5 or 6 dinner ideas (that incorporate plenty of veggies). Write down dinners on the left side, ingredients and other items on the right. (You know you're in a dinner-rut when you don't have to write down the ingredients anymore, like this note here. See my tip at the end of this post to remedy the dinner-rut situation.)

Monday night: Tortilla soup. This is one of my favorite recipes given to me years ago from one of my closest friends. (Thanks, Molly!) It's quick and easy to make, gluten-free, nutritious, and can be made vegetarian. Not to mention it's ridiculously yummy.

You will need:
1 carton organic chicken broth (or veggie broth)
2 heaping spoonfuls of your favorite salsa
1-2 tsp cumin
1 lime
2-3 cloves of garlic (Actually, I usually do 4 or 5 cloves, depending on the size. I love garlic.)
1/2 small white or yellow onion
splash of olive oil
1 fresh tomato
1 handful fresh chopped cilantro
1/2 can corn or hominy
1 ripe avocado
generous amount of feta cheese (I like to use goat feta)
tortilla chips
pinch of salt and pepper

Saute garlic and onion with olive oil in a sauce pan. Add broth, lime juice, cumin, salt, pepper, corn/hominy, and salsa. Let simmer 3-5 minutes. Serve in bowls with crumbled tortilla chips. Top with chopped fresh tomato, cilantro, avocado and feta cheese. You can also try adding other ingredients like radishes, peppers, tofu, black beans, or chicken. I like to add meat from a rotisserie chicken.

Tuesday night: Shrimp Tikka Masala. This one's a lot easier than it sounds. The trick is finding a good, pre-made Tikka Masala sauce like this one from Seeds of Change, which you can usually find in the "ethnic" food section at the health food store.

Saute your favorite veggies in a frying pan with a little olive oil. I like to use garlic, onion, mushroom, zucchini, green and red bell pepper. In a separate pan, cook the shrimp with olive oil until they go from grey translucent to opaque pink, which only takes a few minutes. Set the shrimp aside. (Unfortunately, shrimp are scarce in the supermarkets since the recent oil spill, so chicken, tofu or beef would be a good substitute.)

Don't overcook your veggies! When they are tender, but still vibrant in color, pour in the jar of Tikka Masala sauce. When it starts to simmer, throw in the shrimp for another minute or two just to warm them up. Serve over a bed of rice and add a dollop of plain goat yogurt.

Wednesday night: Pizza. What I love about pizza night is that it's quick, easy and fun, with infinite topping possibilities.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. When I'm cooking for two, I like to make all four of the Glutino personal sized pizzas (find them in the freezer section) and then save the rest for lunch leftovers. They heat up nicely in the toaster oven.

Spread tomato paste or pizza sauce generously on your pizza crusts. Grate a thin layer of goat mozzarella cheese. (Goat dairy is easier to digest than cow dairy, and it tastes fantastic. I pretty much only eat goat dairy.) Top with your favorite toppings. I like to use black olives, artichoke hearts, red onion, pepperoni, mushroom and green bell pepper. Then add another layer of grated mozzarella.

Place pizzas directly on the oven rack and bake for 7-10 minutes or until crust and cheese begin to turn golden brown. Serve with a simple salad tossed with vinaigrette. Bragg's is one of the few dressings I've found that uses olive oil instead of canola. (Canola oil is made from rapeseed, and is not meant for human consumption.)

Thursday night: Spaghetti and meatballs. Spaghetti has been my favorite meal since I was a kid, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to find Tinkyada gluten-free pasta that actually tastes like real pasta. After having lived in Italy for a year in my 20s, my "pasta palette" is not easily fooled.

Start by putting water on to boil for the spaghetti. While you're waiting, start chopping veggies. I like to use garlic, onion, a quarter of an orange and yellow bell pepper, broccoli and mushrooms. Throw them all in a frying pan with a little olive oil and saute. Again, don't overcook. When veggies are tender and vibrant, pour in your favorite spaghetti sauce. Cover and let simmer on low heat.

If your water is boiling, add the noodles and follow directions on the package. I like to add a little sea salt and vegetable oil to the water to add a little flavor, and so they don't stick together as easily. Stir frequently. Taste until they are cooked al dente, about 10 to 12 minutes. Strain and spray with cold water.

While the spaghetti is cooking, start on the meatballs. In a bowl, using your hands, mash together 1 lb. of grass-fed beef or buffalo, one egg, and gluten-free bread crumbs. You can also add some chopped up garlic, onion, and salt and pepper. Form the mixture into 12 balls, and place them in a frying pan with a little vegetable oil. (Olive oil will get too hot and burn.)

When the meatballs are cooked through, add them to the simmering sauce and veggies. Serve over noodles and enjoy!

Mmmm. All this talk of food is making me hungry!

Friday night: Tacos. Next to spaghetti, tacos might be my second favorite meal of all time.

In the Mexican food section of the grocery store, find a packet of taco seasoning. Cook the meat according to the instructions on the package. I recommend using grass-fed beef, buffalo or elk.

While the meat is cooking grate some goat cheddar cheese, and chop up some lettuce and/or red cabbage, cilantro, avocado and onion. Warm some taco shells in the toaster oven for a minute or two. (Careful, they burn!) Fill the shells with the meat, toppings, and your favorite salsa. Easy-peasy!

Saturday night: Cashew carrot ginger soup w/ halibut. Pacific Natural Foods makes this soup, and it's easy to transform it into a full meal by adding your favorite ingredients. The cashew makes it creamy, but it's dairy-free as well as gluten-free. The flavor punch of this soup is off the charts. Seriously, get ready for a party in your mouth.

Saute some onion, garlic, mushroom, broccoli, and bell pepper in a sauce pan with a little olive oil. When the onions start to turn translucent, pour in the carton of soup. Let simmer as you cook the fish.

Halibut or cod are good flaky, white fish to add into the soup. (Check here for Dr. Andrew Weil's opinion on incorporating more fish into your diet.) In a separate pan, lightly cook the fish in a little butter or olive oil. It's easy to overcook fish, so be mindful. After a few minutes, when the fish is done, add into the soup and top with freshly chopped cilantro or red cabbage.

The dinner rut. When you find yourself in one of these, find a friend or two and ask to trade some recipes. Recently, a friend copied some recipes for me that she had downloaded, tried, and loved from epicurious.com. You can type in any ingredient and it will instantly sort through thousands of recipes for you. It's a great way to use up certain food items and expand your horizons. A similar website I've found is supercook.com.

Don't forget about dessert! On a side note, the best dairy-free ice cream I've found (and I've tried them all) is Turtle Mountain's Purely Decadent. They use coconut milk instead of soy as the base, which makes the texture unbelievably creamy. Instead of sugar they use low-glycemic agave, and they even make a gluten-free cookie dough ice cream! 

Keep an eye out for a future post on gluten-free breakfast ideas. And in the mean time, buon appetito!