May is Gluten-Free Awareness Month. Did you know that? October used to be Celiac Awareness Month, but that was changed because no one wanted to compete with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the folks who don’t have celiac but still can’t eat gluten deserved to be included as well. Except, that’s still not official. Canada switched the awareness month to May. Unofficially, the US has not made the switch, but there is a House Resolution asking for May to be Celiac Awareness Month soon. And every single PR agency that sends me press releases seems to have something about gluten-free right now, so the media world has made the switch.
Whew. Why is this so complicated?
Really, every month should be gluten-free awareness month. Do you know that the number of people in this country who have celiac is probably something like 1 out of 100? And that fewer than 5% of us have been officially diagnosed? If you think there has been a big surge in gluten-free foods on the market in the last five years, imagine what it will be like when every single person with celiac sprue finally knows her (or his) story. When people with gluten intolerance or sensitivity or any of the many reasons why people’s bodies do not tolerate gluten finally know what ails them, there will be no limit to the energy those people have, and the good they can do in the world with that energy.
So yeah. It doesn’t really matter what month it is. It’s always gluten-free awareness month around here.
This weekend is the Go Gluten-Free Challenge, sponsored by the good folks at GIG and Pamela’s Products, two organizations we love. They are challenging everyone — particularly those of you reading who do not have to be gluten-free — to live gluten-free, entirely, for one weekend. Those of you who have friends or family members who have to live gluten-free? Do this for them. It will help you understand the particular challenges of the people you love. There’s a blog for following along and a Facebook page.
(And if you get stuck about what to eat, we have a few recipes here.)
I have said it before, and I continue to be amazed by this — if you’re going to have any kind of disease or autoimmune disorder, be grateful for the one that heals with great food.
In honor of Gluten-Free Awareness Month in May (even if the House of Representatives hasn’t sanctioned it yet), we cooked out of a big pile of gluten-free cookbooks the past couple of weeks. Today, we’d like to share with you the books we liked best.
For those of you who are relatively new to gluten-free cooking and baking, we’d like to recommend Vanessa Maltin’s The Gloriously Gluten-Free Cookbook: Spicing Up Life with Italian, Asian, and Mexican Recipes. Vanessa was once the director of programming and communication at the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, so she knows something about spreading the word about gluten-free living. Now, she is the food and lifestyle editor of Delight magazine, so she’s working hard to help people eat well.
(I should also add that her book was published by Wiley, which will be publishing our cookbook, and was edited by our book editor. However, this really had little to do with why we are recommending this book, other than the fact that Wiley sent us a copy.)
The book has some really strong, dependable recipes for dishes that are naturally gluten-free and dishes that require flours. Maltin was smart — she enlisted the help of chefs who specialize in each of the cuisines she highlights in the book. Chef Keith Brunell of Maggiano’s of Little Italy, Katie Chin of Thai Kitchen, and Edgar Steele of Café Atlantico are given credit for the bulk of the recipes in the book. (My only complaint about this is that the last section of the book is called Mexican dishes when Steele comes from a pan-Latin background. It would be great to emphasize how all of Latin American cuisine has something to offer those of us who have to live gluten-free.) These chefs clearly know how to make food.
Danny and I made the gnocchi recipe one evening and were both impressed. The texture was pliable and bite-able with a light touch that was unexpected from looking at the recipe. Making the gnocchi was no more arduous than traditional gnocchi. (Have you made gnocchi before? If not, you really should. I’m starting to prefer it to pasta these days.) I did find that my batch needed more liquid than the recipe called for, but that was easy to fix. The original recipe called for a vodka sauce, but for the lunch Lu and I shared the next day, I fried up some sage leaves in a little butter. Lu ate them all, talking away the whole time.
We also made the empanadas, which you see on the right. I liked the idea of putting cheese and onion right into the dough, along with using masa flour. The texture of the final empanada dough was a bit coarse for my taste. As Maltin writes, “Most restaurants use a pie crust or pastry dough to make their empanadas.” Since we make pie and puff pastry gluten-free now, I’d probably use one of those next time. But I’ll keep the idea of cheese and onions in the crust.
The spicing on the ground-beef filling for the empanadas was a touch bland for my taste. That’s why this might be a good book for people who are just beginning to cook and starting to feel adventurous. Once you have made all the risotto recipes in the book, you should be feeling ready to branch out on your own and spice it up more.
My only regret is that I didn’t have the time to make the stromboli recipe in the book. That sounded good.
I have to be honest. I did not expect to like The Gluten-Free Good Health Cookbook: The Delicious Way to Strengthen Your Immune System and Neutralize Inflammation.
It is such a plain-looking book, with no photographs or illustrations. And the words “…neutralize inflammation” don’t generally suggest meals worth remembering. It looks like a health book. One of the authors, Claudia Pillow, has a PhD in Health Studies, after all. I flipped through it and almost gave it a miss.
However, the other author of the book is Annalise Roberts, whose wonderful first book, Gluten-Free Baking Classics, is still a bible for many gluten-free bakers. She has great taste and a sense of what works for gluten-free cooks, so I took a second look at the book.
We’re glad we did. The recipes in this book are fantastic.
Up there, on the left, is my favorite new meal of the moment. It’s a a puttanesca sauce — with capers, kalamata olives, good olive oil, and diced tomatoes — with kale simmered in it. The sound of it intrigued me. The taste of it blew my mouth open. It has a tomato intensity of a summer dish, with all those briny tastes I love, plus tender wonderful kale. We had a huge bag of kale in our refrigerator. What to do with it, besides make kale chips again? Make this dish. I made it three times in one week. In fact, when Danny came home from work one night I had this ready for him on top of brown rice. It wasn’t until he was done eating, delighted, that he realized we’d had a meatless Monday. You don’t miss it.
The chicken and white bean chili up there was pretty great too. The recipe was simple to follow and came together in about 15 minutes. (Believe me, now that I have an active toddler, I know how important that can be sometimes.) What I like about the recipes in this book is that they are filled with good ingredients like garlic and jalapeno peppers, and some unexpected ones, like tomatillos. We opened the giant jar of roasted tomatillos we had left over from last summer’s canning party and enjoyed this chili immensely while we watched Top Chef Masters. It was even better for the next day’s lunch.
I’ll be honest. The first 1/4 of the book still didn’t do much for me. It’s full of information that might be useful to some of you, information about how many calories should come from each food group at every meal, and a chart about alkaline and acid-producing foods, and suggestions for drinking warm water and lemon juice at the beginning of every day. I really like my coffee, and I’m a little wary about anyone having “the” way to health. I’m not so fond of this kind of information in my cookbooks, but you might be.
However, I can’t wait to make the roasted poblano-asiago soup soon.
If you are gluten-free, you must have heard about Elana Amsterdam’s book The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook. Elana has done a wonderful job of promoting her book, a book that is clearly a work of love.
I was lucky enough to meet Elana at FoodBlogHer back in September, so I have to say that I consider Elana a blogger friend, a fellow gluten-free compatriot. She’s lovely. Her book has helped so many people that we wanted to showcase it here.
In case you don’t know this yet, Elana uses only almond flour in her book. The good folks who make blanched almond flour should be sending her thank you cards every day, because I’m sure she has driven up the consumption of almond flour singlehandedly in the past year. She talks a great deal about the nutritional value of almond flour versus other flours and why she uses it. Almond flour is very low in carbohydrates, which makes it good for those trying to avoid too many carbs. People on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet love Elana’s book, for example.
I had never really used almond flour before I encountered Elana’s blog. I’m grateful to her for bringing it to me. I love the protein and fat almond flour can add to baked goods. Sometimes I use it in pie crusts, in rhubarb streusel muffins, in chocolate chip cookies, and for making meatballs and meatloaf. And these days, I don’t ever make bread without using almond flour. It’s magic for bread.
Here’s the thing: I don’t really love almond flour as a stand-alone flour. I know why Elana has created an entire cookbook using only almond flour. As she wrote, “The recipes in this book are simple and easy — some contain six ingredients or less, and can be prepared in well under an hour.” I know that is immensely appealing to many of us. I know that sometimes, when you read this site, you might feel overwhelmed with the superfine brown rice flour and four others, the xanthan gum, the different techniques. It makes sense to me that Elana would create baked goods with so few ingredients.
However, I have to say that I prefer baked goods with a combination of flours and some gums. I’ve made some of the baked goods in this book, and while they are good, the ones we make taste better in our kitchen. They feel lighter, with more of the mouthfeel of familiar gluten goods. It’s a personal judgment. All cookbooks are personal, in the end. There isn’t a single cookbook I have ever held in my hands that pleased in every single recipe. You might like Elana’s chocolate chip cookies better than ours. That’s cool.
I will tell you, however, that many of the recipes in this book pleased us enormously. Danny and I made Elana’s turkey burgers, a play on the Mar-a-Lago burger popularized by Oprah, made with Granny Smith apples, scallions, lemon zest, Dijon mustard, and almond flour as the binder. They were wonderful. Danny doesn’t like turkey burgers. Give him beef or pork every time. This one, however, he ate happily. And did so again the next day.
However, nothing we made these past two weeks made him as happy as the eggplant parmesan from Elana’s book. I never would have thought to dredge the eggplant slices in almond flour, but I will from now on. The almond flour gave the eggplant a crisp crust and savory taste. We ate this for days, licking our fingers, and it only improved with each night in the refrigerator.
This book is worth the price for these two recipes alone.
The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook: Whole Foods Recipes for Personal and Planetary Health is another title that might not inspire visions of delectable meals. Healthy? Yes. Well-meaning and earnest? Certainly. But gustatory pleasure? Well.…
yes. Pleasure and spiced bites and surprises with every mouthful. The recipes in this book are wonderful.
Now again, I have to tell you that Danny and I know Ali Segersten and Tom Matlerre, a bit. We met them both at a gluten-free conference in Bellingham before Lu was born, and we admired them both. Tom is a talented nutritionist, with a Master’s from Bastyr here in Seattle, and he knows his stuff. I love his passion and intensity, his desire to help everyone eat well. Ali, the soft-spoken of the two, was once a personal chef before their children arrived. She has a wonderful food sensibility, emphasizing healthy and delicious both.
These two are so healthy that they glow. I’m serious. You know how some people seem to exude health through their pink cheeks? That’s Ali and Tom. Compassionate and genuine, these two are wonderful people. If they lived on the island, we’d be having them over for dinner all the time.
However, wonderful people don’t necessarily create great cookbooks. In this case, these two have. They have recipes for lentil and brown rice casserole, sunflower burgers, and tempeh fajitas, so the book has a definite vegetarian bent. But we were intrigued by the fall stew with Moroccan spices, the smashed yam and black bean quesadillas, and the coconut lime chicken with almond dipping sauce. It’s clear that Ali and Tom love food.
Danny and I have been talking about this a lot lately. We both feel that healthy food comes from celebrating. A celebration of the fact that asparagus from nearby is in season so we eat it every day this month, and sometimes every meal. A celebration of the fact that we can afford fresh food from the farmstand and our weekly small farmers’ market. A celebration of tastes and unexpected spices and the joy of sitting down at the table with our daughter. “This is a nice, healthy book,” Danny just said about The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook.
We made the zucchini and potato hash for breakfast and loved it. Danny’s happy with any dish that involves potatoes, after all. It was simple and tasty, with the addition of kale, which we would not have thought to add. When we have zucchini in our garden this summer, we’ll probably be making this again and again.
Danny was particularly taken by the Rice Noodles and Red Cabbage with a Spicy Cashew Sauce. Honestly, I think he expected this to be crunchy-hippy-tofu cookbook, so he cooked it reluctantly. His face softened when he took his first bite. The flavors were bright and spiced well, the cabbage was crisp against the plush texture of the noodles, and the whole dish tasted like a clear afternoon with nothing to do. We’ve been using the sauce on millet and rice and other dishes all week as well.
Ali and Tom worked hard in this book to create dairy-free and egg-free options for the recipes as well, which many of you will be happy to know. They have a 28-day elimination diet plan, a schedule for introducing solid foods to babies, and suggestions for how to stock your pantry well. There’s a lot of advice and information here, and it’s offered gently, without a didactic tone.
Seriously, if you want to glow like these folks, you’d do well to buy this book.
Finally the book I probably love the best is the one I bought first.
Karen Robertson’s book, Cooking Gluten-Free, is a marvelous cookbook. It’s filled with sophisticated recipes like Mustard-Crusted Black Cod with White Asparagus, Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Leek-Potato Puree, and a Seville Orange Vinaigrette.
It sounds like Danny food.
In fact, I bought this cookbook about 5 years ago to the day, within a month of first being diagnosed. Flipping through this book made me feel hopeful. With the judicious inclusion of chef-created recipes, this book made me feel like I could perhaps eat in a restaurant again, after all. (Of course, I married a chef.) I dreamed of Roasted Asparagus Quesadillas with Cactus Salsa, and Tomato Bread Salad, and Cranberry Soufflé. I made her Jerk Chicken with Cilantro Mango Salsa and posted it on this site back in 2005. (That was back when I still copied down recipes from other people and published them. I stopped doing that shortly after, thank goodness.) Someone wrote to me just last week, saying she had found that post and made the chicken and loved what I created.
I didn’t create that. That was Karen Robertson.
Karen self-published Cooking Gluten-Free back in 2002, long before this current spate of gluten-free cookbooks flooded the market. She was a pioneer. And now, five years later, going back to her book, I realize she always had it right.
Her all-purpose flour mix, adapted from one by Wendy Wark, is close to the one Danny and I have been working up in our kitchen. It has taken me five years of working and thinking and understanding the flours before I could come up with an AP mix. (We’ll be sharing it with you soon.) But Karen had a great one in her book all along. See that photo on the left? Know what it is? Flour tortillas. I had forgotten the recipe was in this book. I mixed up a batch of all-purpose mix, added oil and water, let the dough rest for 10 minutes, and turned on the cast-iron skillet. Flour tortillas. When Danny came home, I gave him one. “Shut up!” he said, mock slapping my arm. “Honey, these are great. They’re flour tortillas.”
They’re not mine. They’re Karen Robertson’s.
For lunch yesterday we had chile rellenos with mango salsa. That was a good lunch.
Cooking Gluten-Free is filled with interesting, sophisticated recipes, both ones donated by dozens of chefs like Tom Douglas, Charlie Trotter, and Suzanne Goin and Karen’s original recipes. Like Danny and me, she believes that there is much more to gluten-free life than baked goods, so the bulk of her book is savory recipes. However, her baked goods are flawless. I’m making her carrot bread tomorrow.
Self publishing a lavish hardback book, like the one I bought in 2005, has become expensive. For quite awhile, Karen’s book was out of print, which is why many of you have not heard of it before. It’s back, however. Karen is publishing the third edition as a CD. You can pop it into the computer and read it on your screen, but you can also print out individual recipes easily. Here is where you can order Karen’s digital book online.
And if you’re gluten-free, or just love food, you should definitely order Karen’s book.
* * *
So you see? If you are just becoming aware of your need to live gluten-free (or your friend or husband or daughter or mother), there are a wide array of options for you here.
And, in September, there will be another gluten-free cookbook on the market. We think you might like it too.
We’re giving away a copy of every one of these books. If you’d like to own one, just tell us why you want a good gluten-free cookbook in your hands.