This post could have the alternate titles "Why Cooking From Scratch Really Comes In Handy Sometimes" or "Why People Who Blog GAPS Recipes Are Amazing." And if you're looking for a recipe, and not a huge discourse on the difficulties of eating gluten-free, feel free to scroll to the bottom now.
My family is not gluten-free. We are pretty lucky and/or blessed to not have any major health issues that require a special diet. But it's becoming increasingly common, and as a result, I am having my first encounter with careful gluten-free cooking today. A family at our church is going through a rough spot, and several of us are cooperating to make them dinners a few times a week until they can get back on their feet. The wife was recently diagnosed with MS, so they're eating gluten-free so as not to exacerbate her symptoms.
This is the part where cooking from scratch comes in handy. Gluten? Wheat. Barley. Rye. Cross-contamination. Okay, we can handle this.
Not to write off the gluten-free diet as something that's easy to follow, easy to cook for, or easy to live with, but knowing I can make a from-scratch meal that is similar to everything else I cook for dinner sure makes it easier. I always get a kick out of the grocery store ads when I notice something like apples or carrots in the "gluten free" section. Wow...they must have run out of pictures and needed to fill some space. But those grocery store ad designers know what they're doing: so many Americans are so uneducated about food ingredients and additives that "gluten-free" sounds intimidating, foreign, and nearly impossible. If your diet is based on frozen pizzas, crackers, and ready-made soups or seasonings, gluten-free may sound like a death-sentence. It might sound like your best alternative is to switch to the gluten-free substitutes for those foods.
But, as I'm realizing today, if you're already blessed to have the time to make your meals from scratch, gluten-free just means avoiding a few specific grains and cross-contamination. Most of the dinners I make are meats and veggies anyway, with the occasional addition of pasta (my favorite compromise food), barley (my hubby's new favorite), or some type of bread crumb. It's (relatively) easy to weed out those offending ingredients to have a dish I can share without worry.
Of course, I may be over-simplifying here. Wheat, barley, and rye are easy to isolate. But how about oats, and then the whole world of shared utensils? I recently attended a seminar addressing gluten-free issues in commercial kitchens, and how to help keep foods from cross-contaminating each other in a busy kitchen. Among other fascinating tidbits, I learned that metal pots can be a major source of gluten contamination - as the metal heats, it expands and can allow gluten to adhere to it. Then, when the pan cools, that gluten becomes trapped and sticks around as the pan is washed. When the pan is reheated (presumably to cook a gluten-free item), all that trapped gluten is released into the food. Instant cross-contamination. I also never thought before about glutenous flours floating in the air and settling on food-prep surfaces. What's a cook to do?
Since I only have to cook the one gluten-free meal, I only have to worry for a little while. I am so lucky to not have to deal with these head-ache inducing issues on a daily basis. For one day, it's easy to make sure I'm using utensils that have been through the high-heat wash in the dishwasher (that takes care of the gluten metal-expansion problem), and that my seasonings are not the ready-made type with wheat flour as a thickener. I am grateful that this from-scratch cooking thing is second nature, and it wouldn't be terribly hard to adjust to a gluten-free lifestyle if we needed to. But mostly, I am thankful that after tonight, I can relax and put it from my mind.
If you've hung with me all this way, you are truly amazing. Here is the recipe I used, adapted from one by Grain-Free Foodies. The original recipe is GAPs-friendly, but I didn't have any GAPS friendly beans on hand, so mine is not quite.
2 T cooking fat (I used rendered bacon fat)
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic
1 tsp salt
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ginger powder or grated fresh ginger
1 cup tomato sauce or puree
1/4 cup honey
4 cups kidney beans (That's what I had on hand from yesterday's bean cooking-session, but the original calls for GAPs friendly beans. Also, it only calls for 2 cups, but I was stretching it a little to get two dinners out of one cooking session.)
2 cups cooked pork, shredded or chopped into pieces
1/2- 1 cup broth (I assume, since it's a GAPS recipe, that they want you to use homemade.)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
In a large (really large...mine was overflowing) skillet, melt the cooking fat and add the onions. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the onions begin to soften. Then add the garlic and spices and stir.
Add the tomato puree or sauce and the honey. Stir thoroughly and cook for several minutes.
Add the beans and pork and stir to coat, then add enough broth to reach desired consistency. Pour the mixture into a greased casserole dish
(I used an oval dish that measured 9" x 13").
Bake for about 30 minutes.
Side Note: The pictures at Grain-Free Foodies are light years ahead of mine, but they still don't do the food justice...this looks (and is) delicious! Blogs like this are amazing. These ladies have families to feed on a restrictive diet, and yet they manage to cook fantabulous delicious meals like this and even remember to take pictures of them before devouring? Amazing.
Posted at Monday Mania at The Healthy Home Economist (one of those amazing GAPS bloggers, by the way), and Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop