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Gluten-Free and Happy

There was a time when my whole food world revolved around a particular black pepper Asiago sourdough bread. I ate it at every meal, packed it into my purse for snacks, and became a familiar face at the bakery. Then I was diagnosed with Celiac disease, and that world came crashing down.

'Gluten-Free Makeovers' Cookbook

People with gluten sensitivity go through all the stages of grief following their diagnosis. First there is the denial, “No! I can’t give up my favorite bread forever.” Next, anger, “If you eat that bread in front of me, I’ll punch you in the face.” The depression phase can be pretty long, “I’ll never get to eat anything delicious the rest of my life.” Then the acceptance phase dawns, “Wow, there is still a whole world of tasty food out there to enjoy!”

While thumbing through four new cookbooks, “125 Gluten-Free Vegetarian Recipes,” “Cooking Light Gluten-Free Cookbook,” “Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef” and “Gluten-Free Makeovers,” it occurred to me that the gluten-sensitive also go through an evolution in how they approach cooking post-diagnosis. During the early stages, people desire to retrofit their kitchen standards to be gluten-free, from their favorite bread, to mom’s meatloaf.

Later, they learn to appreciate a whole new world of foods and flavors, with recipes that are built from the ground up with ingredients that are naturally free of gluten-containing ingredients. Once gluten-free eaters have cycled through all the stages of grief, they possess a well-rounded kitchen repertoire, filled both with time-honored standards, and innovative new gluten-free foods.

A couple’s gluten-free journey

Gluten-Free Girl

Both as someone who has experienced the stages of gluten grief, and as a food nerd, I found “Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef” to be especially appealing. Written by Shauna Ahern, and her chef husband, Daniel Ahern, this cookbook not only illuminates tantalizing gluten-free dishes, but also chronicles their love story. This isn’t just a collection of recipes, it’s a good read.

Out of love for Shauna, who is a celiac disease sufferer, chef Danny Ahern saw to it that his entire restaurant menu was retooled to be gluten-free. The recipes within the Aherns’ cookbook reflect a chef’s sensibilities, featuring glorious seasonal and fresh foods. Dishes such as black cod in black rice flour, sage polenta fries with parsley pesto, and crisp pork belly with wild rice, cabbage, sour cherries and honey-sage gastrique will certainly appeal to gastronomes, but might be daunting to inexperienced home cooks. That said, the instructions read as if given by a cooking coach, and might persuade the trepidatious to plunge into this book’s gorgeous recipes.

For the baker

“Gluten-Free Makeovers” by Beth Hillson transforms classic and comfort foods into gluten-free fare, with a strong emphasis on baked goods. However, that could also be the book’s weakness, as its recipes are based upon five different multi-flour blends.

Many gluten-free eaters shy away from these flour blends because of cost and the potential for unused flours. Those undaunted by flour blends will surely be eager to try recipes such as mock matzo, cinnamon plum cake, or bagel sticks.

Gluten-free and vegetarian

125 recipes Cooking Light's Gluten-Free Cookbook

Many gluten-intolerant households also have to deal with dairy and egg allergies. Carol Fenster’s “125 Gluten-Free Vegetarian Recipes” could potentially accommodate a broader audience than gluten-free vegetarians because it contains so many vegan options. Recipes such as peperonata on soft polenta, stuffed bell peppers with picadillo rice, and Thai corn chowder contain neither dairy nor eggs.

It was surprising to see a section at the end of the book with tips for using animal protein in recipes, which included suggestions to use Jimmy Dean sausage, and Thumann’s Cocktail Franks. While these products may be gluten-free, people who are vegetarian for moral reasons might object to using meat originating from factory farms, rather than more sustainable and humane small farms.

Among this set of books, “The Cooking Light Gluten-Free Cookbook” has the broadest appeal. The user-friendly layout and recipes such as Vietnamese beef noodle soup with Asian greens, and tabbouleh-style amaranth salad will have a familiar feeling to readers of the popular magazine.

This cookbook has one particularly nice feature for those who need to navigate the minefield of gluten-free eating. Ingredients that need to be double-checked for gluten, such as canned broth, and Worcestershire sauce, are highlighted in red.

A well-rounded repertoire

Gluten-free eaters, like most, enjoy having a few go-to recipes like basic muffins and bread, as well as an arsenal of easy weeknight meals. They also like to occasionally reach for convenience foods like dry pasta and pre-made pizza crusts. Additionally, gluten-sensitive people are coming to embrace the wide world of naturally gluten-free foods, from fresh vegetables to gluten-free grains.

It’s pleasing to see cookbooks acknowledge these trends, so that the gluten-intolerant don’t have to feel they are settling for inferior meals.

Even within this niche, there is a cookbook to suit every family’s needs, from comfort foods, to vegetarian, to accessible restaurant-worthy cuisine. These four cookbooks illustrate the fact that gluten-free eaters needn’t grieve the loss of gluten. Rather, they can celebrate delicious cuisine.

Zester Daily contributor Wendy Petty lives in the Rocky Mountains, where she is a forager, photographer and wild foods consultant. She writes about her adventures with mountain food on her blog, Hunger and Thirst.


Photos, from top:

“Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef.” Credit: Courtesy of John Wiley & Sons

“Gluten-free makeovers.” Credit: Courtesy of Da Capo Lifelong Books

“125 Gluten-Free Vegetarian Recipes.” Credit: Courtesy of Avery Trade

“The Cooking Light Gluten-Free Cookbook.” Credit: Courtesy of Oxmoor House


Zester Daily contributor Wendy Petty is a wild foods enthusiast dedicated to showing people how to transform abundant, "weedy" plants into free and nutritious kitchen staples. She is the foraging instructor at the Laughing Coyote Project, and shares her favorite wild foods from the Rocky Mountain region at Hunger and Thirst.

  • Wendy 9·17·12

    I’m like you, and don’t often bake. Which was your favorite recipe?