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We are often asked for advice on using whole grains in a gluten-free diet. Because no one in our family has a problem with gluten, we haven't had much practical experience in this area ourselves -- so we asked a customer, Sarah Leslie of Ohio, to share some of what she has learned over the years.
Here's what Mrs. Leslie had to say:
I make everything from scratch these days as processed foods usually contain one or more ingredients that I cannot tolerate. A high percentage of celiacs are also intolerant of one or more of the eight major food allergens, and I am not able to eat yeast and soy. Obviously this means that I cannot eat bread, although I have been toying with the idea of trying a salt-rising bread.
I am able to purchase sorghum flour in bulk from Twin Valley Mills in Nebraska, where a family farm only grows and processes this grain. Though it is not organic, they say they use only the minimum of herbicides or pesticides. I therefore don't use it regularly. I am trying my hand at growing my own millet, amaranth, and dent corn but I have limited acreage. Rice flour is a staple, and I find that I prefer to grind Lundberg's Sweet Brown Rice flour as it is glutinous (not the same as being full of "gluten") and holds together better than the other rice flours. Lundberg has a farm that does not grow any other grains, so it is safe also.
I have not been happy with any of the gluten-free cookbooks so far. Betty Hagman wrote "The Gluten Free Gourmet," which is hopelessly steeped in high-fat, processed food mentality. I did find a few good recipes and tips in it, however. Carol Fenster has written several cookbooks: I have her first, and I hear that her latest is good (you could do a search on Amazon for the titles). She writes recipes taking into account each person's specific allergies, so she includes many ideas for substitutes. For example, if you can't have dairy she will tell you what options could be substituted. Her first cookbook has some excellent basic cookie recipes. We make many batches and freeze them. Cookie crumbs can be used to make cheesecakes or other desserts.
Since I can have dairy (although I stay away from anything with high lactose and stick to butter, cream, cheese, yogurts and kefir) I use dairy products in my recipes. I stick to the organic dairies because they do not add extra ingredients to their sour creams or yogurts (such as mono- and di-glycerides, and other fillers and stabilizers that might contain wheat or soy).
I use a lot of olive oil. Most oil companies also process wheat germ oil and soy oil, so I have to worry about cross contamination issues. With a great deal of sleuthing one can find the original sources on the internet and sometimes purchase direct.
I find that I can use gluten-free cornflake crumbs, crushed, in many recipes that call for a filler, such as meatloaf or meat balls. I use it as a dipping or topping, such as eggplant parmesan or baked/fried chicken. With a few seasonings added, it is wonderful!
Working With Gluten-free Flours:
I studied some gluten-free cookbooks and came up with a standard formula for making a gluten-free flour mix. It seems for every 1 cup of rice flour that the authors use about 1/3 cup tapioca starch flour and 1/3 cup potato starch flour.
I sometimes fill out that second cup with 1/3 cup of almond meal. When using almond meal, you don't have to use as much fat in a recipe and it keeps the gluten-free product moist. As you may have noticed, the rice flour pastries dry out pretty badly the second day. The almond meal seems to help that problem significantly. For almond meal, click here. This site also has pecan meal. The nut meal adds some fat, flavor, nutrition and texture to many baked goods.
TIP: I have learned this the hard way. Always mix the dry ingredients together very well before adding any wet ingredients. Otherwise the "gums" can tend to lump together and they make for some horrible crunchiness when you eat them!
Basically, once you get the main idea about how to combine flours, you can easily transform a family quick bread recipe into a gluten-free recipe with no trouble. I find that I prefer re-making my old recipes rather than trying new ones. Simply study an old recipe and think of what could be substituted for the gluten-containing ingredients. It is worth a try. My kids even eat my failures!
One final, cost-saving tip. I search websites such as the Gluten-Free Mall for shopping ideas, but I seldom, if ever, purchase from these expensive places. I also go to big health food stores and check out their gluten-free items, especially to read ingredients. But I actually purchase my gluten-free things directly from the companies whenever possible, or through the use of a food coop where we can combine some buying power and get a cheaper price by breaking down cases of items. It helps the family budget. Beecause of the Amish population, there are many low cost "bulk food" pantries in rural Ohio where we live. I've found one owner who is willing to stock gluten-free items for her customers, which is handy.
Some of Mrs. Leslie's original gluten-free recipes: