I spent the first few years of my food career working as a chef and caterer before being diagnosed with a gluten allergy. This in some ways made the learning curve even steeper when it came to ridding my pantry of all the wheat-laden foods I could no longer eat. It was heartbreaking to part with all the grains and condiments I had stock piled over the years for quick and easy cooking — the farro, the hoisin sauce, the 4 loaves of baguette in my freezer, just waiting to be turned into crostini.
But after the initial purge, I found better items to restock my cabinets and cupboards with—ingredients that made living and cooking gluten-free just as convenient as before.
For so long, we gluten-free folks had to resort to the bottom shelf of the health food store to satisfy our everyday cooking needs. But now that the demand for these items has exploded, there's a huge variety available to us at the regular grocery store—so many, that it can get overwhelming if you're just beginning the transition.
You don't need to come home with an arsenal of obscure gluten-free flours in order to start cooking without the wheat. Here are a few of my favorite multi-purpose pantry items that will give you a leg up in your starter gluten-free kitchen.
Many Asian cuisines are loaded with soy sauce, which makes it fairly difficult to eat at those restaurants out on the town if you're gluten-free. I love making healthier versions of classic pan-Asian dishes at home, and one easy way to make them wheat free is by substitute gluten-free tamari for regular soy sauce.
2. Almond Flour
You can make your own almond flour from scratch by grinding the whole nuts in a food processor, but it's also fairly easy to find in the specialty flour section of the grocery store. Either way, it's an amazing nutrient-rich flour to have on hand for better-for-you baking. It makes pancakes especially light and fluffy, and pairs well in batters with slightly denser gluten-free flours like white rice.
3. Quinoa Spaghetti
During those nights when I'm too tired to cook for myself, like many people, I often resort to one of the easiest and most comforting meals around: spaghetti and tomato sauce. I make the marinara from scratch on more energetic cooking days and keep it portioned out in the freezer. And I always have a few gluten-free dried pastas on hand in my pantry to go with it. Quinoa spaghetti has the added benefit of being higher in protein than most gluten-free varieties, which are often made from potato starch, white rice, corn or soy flour.
4. Gluten-Free Oats
Oats are naturally gluten-free if processed in a facility that doesn't contain other wheat products. This is not usually the norm, so make sure to check the packaging and stick with designated gluten-free oats, especially if you have a serious allergy. I love having this super food around for easy breakfasts and baked goods. If you pulse the oats in a processor, similarly to the almonds, you can make your own gluten-free oat flour. It works great as a binder in healthy meatballs and meatloaf.
5. Whole Grain Gluten-Free Toast
Gluten-free bread keeps best in the freezer, but even when at room temperature, it needs to be very well toasted in order to resemble the texture of normal sandwiches. I love whole grain varieties like Udi's Gluten-Free, which I almost always have on hand to make into breadcrumbs or for my favorite breakfast, avocado toast.
6. Arborio Rice
I try to eat as many whole grains as possible, not just ones that are gluten-free. But every so often, you have to put creature comforts first. Especially in the wintertime, I love indulging in rich, hearty dishes. As with any dietary restriction, it's important to make meals that hit all those comfort notes so that you don't feel deprived. For me, these include dishes like paella and risotto, which both use a rice variety that's short and starch-heavy like Arborio.
7. Hemp Seeds
Not only do these tiny seeds pack a big health punch, but their fine texture also makes them great to use as a gluten-free breadcrumb substitute (like the GF oats mentioned above). I love sprinkling them on my salads or adding a teaspoon to smoothies for added fiber and omega-3's.
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