As promised last week, here are nine essential tips for gluten-free cooks of all skill levels. These are timeless in the sense that they always apply, regardless of where you are in your gluten-free story.
Do you have any other amazing tips to share? Let me know in the comments what makes your gluten-free life better.
1. Be willing to give up your old eating and cooking habits, and be open to change and learning.
It is undeniably hard to imagine that you will not be able to make grandma's rugelach anymore, but you have to move past old recipes if you are going to learn new techniques. The carrot at the end of the gluten-free stick is that you can eventually convert these traditional recipes, and create your own traditions.
2. If you were not a cook when you ate gluten, you are going to be one now.
If you have the opportunity, take a basic cooking course to learn knife skills, how to read a recipe, and basic techniques. Even if it is not a gluten-free course, you will learn some helpful things that will be directly applicable in your kitchen.
3. There are a ton of foods that are naturally gluten-free: fruits and vegetables, nuts, beans, dairy products, meat, chocolate, potatoes, rice, corn, etc.
Focus on the things you can eat, and cuisines that highlight these foods, rather than the wheat-centric American diet. Mexican food and Asian cuisines will be your culinary savior when you don't know what to cook, as will soups and salads. Many low-carb items also happen to be gluten-free (i.e. a burger wrapped in lettuce rather than a bun), so keep those on your radar as well.
4. When explaining your dietary restrictions to others, emphasize the above list of foods that are okay rather than what you must avoid.
For instance, I always tell friends to make tacos when we come over, or that we should meet at an ice cream shop rather than a bakery for a girls' outing. They're always surprised at the breadth of things I do eat.
5. Be patient and open to trying new things.
Every gluten-free cook out there fails a lot in the beginning, and a new recipe will always take a few tries. However, you will discover all sorts of foods that you never would have tried in your gluten-eating days, and they will become your new staples. (For me? Feta cheese, quinoa, eggs, and corn tortillas.) Your food life will change for the better, and you will eventually settle into a rhythm of gluten-free cooking and eating that feels natural.
6. Gluten-free baking is inherently different than using all-purpose wheat flour, and if you embrace and capitalize on its differences, a new dimension of options awaits.
Gluten-free flours offer infinite customization for your personal tastes. For example, if I make a coffee cake with apples, I'll use millet flour, but if I make the cake with strawberries the next time, I'll substitute buckwheat flour for a deliciously different result.
7. Gluten-free flours are expensive--sorry.
That said, you can find tapioca starch, white rice flour, and sticky (sweet) rice flour for cheap at Asian grocery stores. Also, check out the bulk bins at your local hippie mart. Staples like brown rice flour are often relatively affordable there.
8. Get a scale and take notes.
Gluten-free flours vary widely in density and moisture absorption, which is why substitution often yields a flop. When you first try a recipe, follow it exactly. If the ingredients are in cups, measure out the correct amount of flours and weigh them. Jot down the weight, and boldly substitute next time using the same weight of whatever gluten-free flours you want. I've switched to measuring all my flours in grams to make substitutions easy and successful for you.
9. "Gluten-free" is not a disclaimer for your creations.
For you, it's a vital bit of information, but 90% of the population will steer clear of anything that sounds like diet food. Just present your food, let people gobble it down, and casually mention that oh yeah, it's gluten-free, while they're licking the crumbs from their fingers.