As Sara mentioned yesterday, having celiac disease isn’t the only reason to go gluten-free; for every one person with celiac disease, it’s estimated that at least another five have a gluten sensitivity or allergy (which, for the record, is not the same thing as celiac disease). Which means a whole lot of Americans follow or should be following a gluten-free diet.
Of course, if you’re currently a gluten eater, giving it up sounds beyond daunting–but it doesn’t have to be, says Siobhan O’Connor, co-author of No More Dirty Looks, who (with Alexandra Spunt) also writes the truly excellent No More Dirty Looks blog. Today, Siobhan (pictured above) shares about how giving up gluten made a huge difference in her health; why she skips gluten-free substitutes; and five outstanding and surprisingly easy to make GF recipes that are sure to make even gluten lovers drool.
About four and a half years ago, on a car ride from New York to Montreal, I had a last supper of sorts. I’d already figured out I was allergic to gluten, but I was in the boundary-testing stage, and so like a five year old who is told she can’t, I did. I chowed down on flour-dusted french fries, a bite of my boyfriend’s burger, and some chicken McNuggets—all of which, gluten aside, were far outside of my mostly vegetarian, farmer’s-market-focused diet. But when you’re on the road, you’re on the road, I reasoned. The options will be limited. The options will also, as I learned that night, make you very, very sick.
After that, I made it my mission to a) plan ahead, and b) find a way to make my gluten-free life as nutritious and filling as I could. I tried sad, cold bricks of rice bread and crumbly corn crusts. I ate a lot of tacos. I even experimented with making my own cookies for a while. Now, I like to feel that everything I’m putting in my body is somehow doing me some good, either because it’s healthy, or because its pleasurable (or both!). White rice, processed corn, sorghum flour, sugar—these are the ingredients that make up the bulk of these substitites, and they just don’t have a whole lot to recommend them in either the taste or the nutrition department. So aside from Babycakes’ amazing chocolate cupcakes, I stay away from stand-ins altogether.
So what to do? Gluten-free girls, like vegetarians, are often asked “But what can you even eat?” in a tone that’s both pitying and a little horrified. I totally get it. That’s how I felt at first too! But then it clicked: I can eat a whole lot! Every fruit and vegetable under the sun, for starters—which I load into every meal, and even create challenges to keep myself entertained. I started eating a lot more fish, and the occasional treat of red meat. I’ve also discovered a million things you can do with black beans, chickpeas, and lentils, and I finally taught myself how to cook Indian. (Also? I almost always have a tomato or some other perishable floating around with the wallet and the makeup in my handbag.)
The thing that made eating healthy and fun again was getting in the habit of cooking a lot more at one time. So instead of cooking enough for one or two people, I cook enough for six and save the leftovers. I have some decent tupperware that I actually remember to bring home from work (and wash!), and I’ve found ways to get creative with different dishes so I don’t have to eat the same thing over and over again.
Here are a handful of my favorite, so-easy-even-my-brother-could-make-it recipes—which are also vegetarian:
North African tagine: Sounds fancy, but is almost as easy as fixing a bowl of cereal. In a saucepan I’ll sautee a whole chopped onion with some cinnamon, cloves, turmeric and cumin until the onion is clear. With my oven at 400, I heat up a dutch over, then throw in some olive oil, the onions, two handfuls of spinach, a diced potato and a diced sweet potato, some raisins, dried apricots, two cans of chickpeas, and some water or vegetable stock. Let it cook for an hour covered, and remove. I’ll eat this over basmati, on its own, hot or cold—I’ve even thrown it in an omelet, which surprisingly worked. To wit….
Everything omelets: One of the most annoying things about being gluten-free is the fact that meals take time to prepare—but not this one! I keep farmer’s eggs or eggwhites around, and I always have an onion and several vegetables in my fridge. So in a pinch, I’ll toss everything in a fry pan and make a scramble or an omelet, at any time of day or night. It’s especially filling because of all the protein, and also delicious.
Salt-and-peppered sweet potatoes: For a little treat, dries are a gluten-free girl’s best friend, so as often as I remember, I slice up potatoes nice and thin and soak them for an hour in water to get some of the starch out. Once drained, I salt and pepper them, throw them in a baggie and put them in the fridge for up to a week. I’ll put them on a baking tray with or without olive oil and then by the time my breakfast or dinner is ready, so are my oven fries. Filling and delicious.
Multitasking spiced black beans: Simmer them until soft in a decent amount of salt and a bouillon cube or an herb bundle you like. Allow them to cool and then use them in salads, in black bean tacos with corn tortillas, in hearty soups (add them at the end so they don’t get mushy), or combine with chopped onion, olive oil, cumin and an equal amount of brown rice to form your own veggie burgers. Black beans have to be spiced well to taste like anything, so don’t hold back. They’ll keep about a week.
Smoked paprika lentil salad: Smoked paprika and lentils just work—no idea why. Simmer them on low until they are soft but not mushy, and then strain. I like these on any salad, especially the one I ripped off from Cafe Gitane in New York: Top a bed of arugula with pieces of smoked trout (optional), a pile of your lentils, avocado, cucumber and a little goat cheese. These lentils work on pretty much any salad, though, as well as on their own.