I don't have a lot of experience with gluten-free food—I have been lucky enough to have lived my life (thus far) without any dietary restrictions that weren't by choice. I've dabbled with restrictions: when my sister went to college, I latched onto her newfound idealism and dropped red meat from my diet for a year or two; for health reasons, I stopped eating all meat other than seafood for nine years; I fasted for the month of Ramadan while living in Egypt. Still, it was never an allergy that kept me away from anything.
In Los Angeles—home of the diet fad—I encounter countless people who are choosing to eat a gluten-free diet, but very few who have celiac sprue or other gluten allergies that force them to avoid foods, restaurants, and sometimes even friends' homes in order to remain healthy.
I wanted to spend a few days thinking about how often we find ourselves saying, "I could never live without (insert food item here)." Yes, you could. Avowed meat eater, you could live without meat if health or circumstances required it. Chocolate lover, unless you have some sort of theobromine requirement, you could live without chocolate. And all of us could, if necessary, live without gluten.
Gluten, I think, is the key - I've lurked on Shauna's blog "Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef" for ages, and if I've learned anything, it's that eating gluten free does not mean living without bread, or pasta (see below), or desserts (again, see below).
I was lucky enough to have the time to participate in the event Shauna and her husband (the Chef) called "Dancing in the Kitchen with Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef," and it taught me a few things.
First: Restocking a pantry with the staples for gluten-free food isn't cheap.
Second: I never would have bought quinoa flour without this challenge, and I can think of all sorts of uses for it.
Third: Oat flour is really easy to make with a good blender. Now I'm wondering if quinoa flour is, too.
Fourth: If you don't already, learn to love your kitchen scale.
All of the dishes below are from the new cookbook Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef: A Love Story with 100 Tempting Recipes (please purchase from your local bookstore if possible).
Seared Shrimp with Garlic-Almond Sauce
This recipe is why I love my blender: mix almonds, garlic, oil, and seasonings, and they sublimate to something akin to crack. I couldn't stop eating this - a little bit on my fork, a dab on my finger, great mounds that made the shrimp more of a utensil than a food item.
Fresh Pasta with Anchovies, Lemon, and Olives
Think of it as Puttanesca without tomatoes, if you like. This sauce was mind-blowing—the wine was subtle, the lemon was bright and fresh but not overpowering. I would dip bread in it, mix it with breadcrumbs to stuff artichokes or tomatoes, toss it with blanched green beans (oh, that sounds good!) ... or just eat it with mounds of freshly made fettuccine, as below. (Note: I had an olive emergency at home, so my pasta is olive-less, but I will definitely be adding them next time)
I found the gluten-free pasta a lot harder to handle than my standard fresh pasta, but I was very impressed with how it held up upon cooking - the freshly-cut, uncooked pasta was quite fragile, but even being tossed around by boiling water, it held together and cooked into a delicious, firm-yet-tender noodle that held the sauce like a champ.
Chocolate-Peanut Butter Brownies
Other than not allowing the brownies to cool completely before removing them from the pan (and honestly, who does?), these were a breeze. I think I may add oat flour to my standard brownie recipe, too—they add an interesting texture and, well, oatiness. My swirling skills leave a bit to be desired—I think I should have warmed up my peanut butter, which was really quite thick, but I ended up with fudgy-rich brownies bites and gooey, chocolate-peanut butter bites mixed throughout—not a bad thing.