Cooking Gluten-Free

Please welcome Simply Recipes guest author Karina Allrich of the gorgeous and ever informative food blog, Karina’s Kitchen: Gluten-free Recipes. Karina is kicking off a series of articles on gluten-free cooking and recipes. ~Elise

Imagine if you were told you had to give up bread. And pasta. And cookies! Here’s a statistic for you. Roughly three million people in the U.S. have to do just that. The reason? Celiac disease. Celiac is an autoimmune disorder that is triggered by eating gluten, the sticky elastic protein in wheat, rye, barley, and spelt that makes pizza dough stretchy and bagels pleasantly chewy. The cure is a gluten-free diet.

Learning to cook gluten-free is a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. Armed with accurate information and a hefty dash of patience, scratch cooks can adapt most recipes to gluten-free. Here are a few beginner’s tips to get you started.

Keep it simple. Focus on whole, naturally gluten-free foods. A good place to start? Fresh plain meat, poultry, and fish (check labels for added broths, seasonings and marinades that may contain gluten). Whole eggs and plain cheeses (again, read labels for added ingredients; whole milk products, plain and block cheeses are generally safer than their low fat or fat free cousins). Dairy based products such as milk, yogurt, sour cream and butter are safe if additive-free. Vegetarians can enjoy legumes, nuts, seeds, and plain tofu for protein. Vegetables and fruit are gluten-free. Potatoes are a lifesaver (many a night I have based a meal around baked or mashed potatoes).

Gluten-free grain choices include rice and risotto, quinoa, corn and polenta, millet and buckwheat. White and yellow corn tortillas make Mexican recipes a family favorite in our gluten-free kitchen. Enchiladas, tacos and fajitas are easily gluten-free. Brown rice tortilla wraps are fabulous for burrito style sandwiches and even BLT’s. Gluten-free pasta made from brown rice is excellent, as are traditional Asian rice noodles. Rice paper wraps (used to make spring rolls) are usually gluten-free; wonton wraps are not.

Starches and thickeners for gluten-free cooking include tapioca and tapioca starch, arrowroot, cornstarch and potato starch. Sweet rice flour makes a smooth gravy.

Other foods to avoid include white flour, wheat berries and bran, rye, barley, spelt, faro, cous cous, pasta, malt and beer. Hidden gluten is a troublemaker. Places gluten may lurk include soy sauce, gravy, broth, marinades and sauces, spice mixtures and blends, roux and thickeners in soup, malt vinegar and flavoring, seitan, mustard, salad dressings, tortillas and wraps, breaded coatings, Japanese panko crumbs, cereal, granola, roasted nuts. Commercial oats and oatmeal products are often contaminated (choose only certified gluten-free oats).

When I first began my gluten-free diet eight years ago I relied on back to basics scratch cooking to get me through. Planning simple home cooked meals and choosing naturally gluten-free whole foods made my transition into the gluten-free lifestyle much easier. Here are some tasty gluten-free recipes here on Simply Recipes to get you cooking:

Mushroom Risotto
Creamy Polenta
Butternut Squash Apple Soup
Chicken Enchiladas Verdes
Mom’s Ground Turkey and Peppers

Additional resources:

The Celiac Disease Foundation
The Gluten Free Girl
Karina’s Kitchen: Gluten-Free Recipes
Celiac Chicks
Simply Recipes Food Blog Spotlight: Gluten-Free

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  • Denise Webb

    I am new to the gluten free world. I see that there is a recipe for Beef Barley Stew. I thought barley had gluten. Please explain.

    • Elise Bauer

      Our beef barley stew is not classified gluten-free. Barley does have gluten in it.

  • Liz

    Having been gluten free for over 7 years, I know first-hand how far its come. When I first was diagnosed, there were very few resources out there. Mainly list-serves with paranoid crazy gluten-free fanatics. It was enough to put the fear of death by gluten in me!

    7 years ago, you had to travel far and wide for decent gluten free bread, and gluten-free beer in the package store? Forget it. Nevermind the looks from friends, family and acquaintances who never heard of such a crazy thing.

    Thank you to everyone out there who has helped mainstream the no-gluten movement. You know you’ve made it when Betty Crocker and Budweiser jump on board.

  • Kristin

    I wish it was this simple for me!! I just found out I’m allergic to gluten AND eggs, dairy, almonds, soy, and much more…it’s a trip but this is a good way to start…if anyone has any tips re: egg replacement let me know please!!!

    Kristin, You are not alone in this! I am also baking without dairy and eggs, almonds and soy. There are several alternatives to eggs. I find Ener-G Egg Replacer very useful. It is better at rising than binding, however, so egg-free recipes need a boost in that department. I often add a tablespoon of honey to a recipe, or some fruit puree, or a touch more xanthan gum to help bind the batter. ~Karina

  • Melissa Jones

    I was dx a year ago, and am trying so hard to follow this diet to a T so that I can begin to heal my body. I have complicating medical conditions, but this is something I can CONTROL! I am running out of ideas, and am finding many off the shelf items are just gross ( still haven’t found a good bread or pizza dough) so this really came at a great time for me.
    There are many of us out there, and thank you… from the bottom of my belly ;)


  • Diana

    Although I don’t have celiac disease, I have lots of friends with it and am always trying to be aware of what has gluten and what doesn’t. I’m pointing this out in my potato quesadilla post tomorrow, but be careful with corn tortillas. A lot of companies have started adding wheat flour to their tortillas, so make sure to read the label, or ask your restaurant server about it.

  • Lauren

    I just had to add my appreciation – how lovely to see two of my favorite blogs come together! I was diagnosed with multiple food sensitivities/intolerances last year and Karina’s blog was a lifesaver. As a foodie, the first few weeks were devestating but after I found Karina I became more excited and adventurous in my cooking than I have ever been before. Not to mention, the way the recipes are written often leave me smiling – one of my favorites is the roasted tomato soup!

  • Kristin

    When I was in college, one of my roommates was a celiac, and this was a revelation to me when we started sharing groceries to save money. My body can luckily handle anything I throw at it food-wise, so I wasn’t in the habit of reading labels on everything I bought, in an effort to buy foods everyone in the house could enjoy. So many foods have gluten in them, one way or another, I had no idea.

    Sharing food with someone I cared about was important, so group meals with the roommates were very often gluten-free. We did lots of Asian stir-fries, Indian food (lentils and rice!), lots of Mexican dishes with corn tortillas (my friend was from Arizona), and lots of polenta. We did less Italian foods with pasta, because then we would do two batches, one with rice/GF pasta, one with wheat pasta. I didn’t ever experiment with any alternative grains, since we made pretty straight-forward recipes that were already gluten-free. I did (still do) regularly turn to Simply Recipes for new recipes to try–thanks for the years of cooking guidance and ideas, Elise!

  • Angela

    I was so excited to see this link on my Google Cooking tab this morning! I am new to a gluten-free diet and I was feeling lost in what to do when it came to cooking. Thanks so much for this terrific page!

  • Judy

    I’m a whole 4weeks old in the gluten free arena. After 56 years, I find ANOTHER gi issue i have to deal with(I have a “mechanical” defect that surgery has only made MORE precarious!) Now this…I’m a baker, proud of my home made bagels and country Italian breads, that I no more can eat. What a trial!I’ve tried the mixes, and scratch recipes, Xanthan gum seems to be something that does not agree with me very well.

    In browsing the ‘net 3 days ago I stumbled on Chebe bread, made of manioc (AKA tapioca), there is no yeast, gums or offending grasses. You add A few tablespoons of milk (or milk substitute) a couple eggs, and Voila!…bread! It rises on it’s own, has a wonderful chewiness, comes in pizza, cinnamon, cheese, foccacia, or plain flavors—dry mix or even frozen. This Western PA girl is in Heaven! After 4 weeks of no italian, chewy crusty bread, I can make my own and it tastes GOOD. Just thought I’d pass this along.

    Thanks Karina for doing so much of the leg work. Read, Read, read Kids…There’s really a lot we can eat…

    Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm for Chebe bread. I am glad you enjoy it. It’s not my cup of tea (or rather, loaf of bread) but I’m glad you found something you like. ~Karina

  • Anna

    So glad to see this post. My family has been officially gluten-free only for 9 months, but I had already reduced a lot of our reliance on grains for several years when my husband and I drastically reduced sugar and starch intake to lose weight and maintain blood sugar in a normal range. So the transition was fairly easy and much less expensive compared to “re-inventing a GF wheel”.

    I have a huge cookbook collection, but I haven’t yet bought any GF cookbooks because they seem to primarily focus on recreating GF versions of wheat-centric foods using other grains. Given my need to also maintain normal blood glucose levels throughout the day, shifting to non-gluten but high starch grains doesn’t really help. I do like to consult Simply Recipes for GF ideas, though.

    We’ve simply shifted away from all grain foods – the biggest change has been we use knives and forks far more often instead of holding food with our hands (with sandwiches, crackers, or grainy “edible platforms”); we fill up on non-starchy veggies instead of starchy grain side dishes (which are less nutritionally dense anyway); and we don’t rely very much on processed convenience foods, GF or not.

    Invariably, when I mention to an acquaintance that we eat GF, I will get a comment on the high cost of eating GF. Not so, in my experience, if not purchasing many $6 loaves of GF bread, specialty GF flours and baking ingredients, GF snacks like chips, crackers, and pretzels, etc. Most of these items are fairly empty nutritionally anyway, so in addition to spending money on then, there is also room in the diet and the budget for delicious non-grain nutrient-dense foods that one usually consumes with these items.

    On occasion I do bake/cook a few GF items that resemble “traditional” foods, usually with coconut flour & lots of eggs (pancakes for kids’ sleepovers, muffins for classroom celebrations, unfrosted cakes for birthdays and celebrations, etc.), but they aren’t a big part of our family’s food culture anymore.

  • Ruthlessma

    Haven’t been here for a while. Glad I stopped by. Good article. First time I’ve seen the term “scratch cook”. That describes me perfectly. I rarely purchase pre-processed foods…..unless I go on strike and refuse to cook, usually due to sheer bone-idle laziness. Take a day off, hang in the hammock and have a store-bought pizza for dinner. Doesn’t happen often.

  • Ellen

    From one gluten free blogger to another, I can say that Karina really knows her stuff. She is a pioneer in our small (but growing) gluten free (Celiac, for some) world. Her reliable and delicious recipes and her personable writing style makes for a blog that is unique and always a joy to read. You go, girl.


  • Dania

    Thank you Karina for the tips. I haven’t tried the pureed fruit route yet, it sounds like a good idea. Honey sounds like a good idea too but then I might need to adjust the oven’s heat since it burns fairly easy. Thanks!

    If you add only a tablespoon of honey or agave to a recipe you don’t need to alter the oven temperature. ~Karina

  • Alecia

    Karina – I have to tell you I’m a big fan of yours! Your pumpkin corn muffins are divine. I make them often and my wheat-eating friends love them and can’t tell they are GF. I originally started cooking GF for my husband, but I am now following an anti-inflammatory diet which has helped improve my overall well-being. I think more info and resources need to get out there about food allergies. Too many people are medicated unnecessarily to treat symptoms that could simply be a food allergy. Thanks for the post, and thanks Elise!

  • Kelly

    Thank you for the mention, Karina! And thank you, Elise for helping people with celiac and related gluten issues.

    Yes, I find that the more you focus on whole foods your diet will be the way everyone should pretty much be eating, rather than packaged pre-made foods with additives.

  • Britt

    This is amazing. Simply Recipes is my favorite food blog/ recipe bank. Two days ago I was diagnosed with Gluten and Dairy Intolerance and after wallowing in self pity for the past two days I decided to actually move and try to llok up a gluten free recipe – lo and behold! There is an entry right here to bolster my spirits and give me hope!
    I refuse – REFUSE – to eat bland, tasteless or sub-par foods, which simply means that I have to look at this diagnosis as the latest and greatest cooking and baking challenge in my life. This was perfect timing!

  • Alta

    Elise, thank you for the spotlight on gluten-free cooking. And Karina, I love your gluten-free recipes! Elise has already shared a lot of naturally gluten-free recipes, but it’s wonderful to see focus on gluten-free cooking. Once you understand things, it’s relatively simple to get the hang of it. But I ALWAYS welcome new recipe ideas! Bring on the gluten-free yumminess!

  • Dania

    Elise, thanks for giving Karina the stage to introduce gluten free recipes and issues, I feel like the gluten free community is a fast growing one but without enough awareness and help from the surroundings.

    I have been on a gluten free diet for over a year and a half now and I would love, if possible, for Karina to address an issue that I have for some time. I hate xanthan gum! I can taste/feel it in even really minimal amounts, do you have any suggestions on ways to bypass or sub it in recipes? I have been experimenting with it for some time with partial success , I know it’s there to play the “gluten role” but it ruins everything for me.

    Hi Dania, Xanthan gum helps impart a stretchy, silky viscosity to gluten-free batters and dough. If you prefer not to use it there is another gum additive called guar gum, derived from legumes. Or you could try adding an extra whipped egg white (or two) to the batter or dough. That might just do the trick. I find that a tablespoon of honey or agave nectar also helps add a bit of stickiness and moisture to gluten-free flours. And lastly, I find that adding a small amount of pureed fruit (banana, applesauce or pumpkin) to a recipe often helps. Try experimenting and see what works for you. ~ Karina

  • Lydia (The Perfect Pantry)

    Wonderful to see Karina here on Simply Recipes. I’m a huge fan of her blog. I don’t need to eat gluten-free, but I want to learn more about hidden sources of gluten in some of the ingredients I use, so I can adapt recipes for my gluten-free guests. I’m looking forward to this series.

  • Karen

    I completely agree about keeping it simple. So many gluten free cookbooks are all about how to bake cookies, brownies, and breads with gluten free flours…when most gluten-free folks are just struggling to put a regular meal together. Like Stephanie, I tested negative for celiac disease, but my body, too, does not like gluten. In the beginning I was just wondering what the heck to eat for lunch instead of a sandwich. And finding out that my favorite canned soups all had gluten in them.

    I use gluten free flour maybe once every two months; it’s expensive and I’d rather not bother with it. I stick to naturally gluten-free foods, and a few snack items that are certified gluten free.

  • Lori

    I was so excited when I saw this was the topic. We just found out 2 weeks ago that our 2 yr old is allergic to gluten (along with dairy and soy and other fun things) I still have so much to learn and this article has been great.I look forward to reading Karina’s Blog too!! Thank you again for this resource.

  • Amy Green @ Simply Sugar & Gluten-Free

    Karina – I completely agree with starting simple. That’s how I did it 6 years ago. In fact, I didn’t even know about gluten-free flours or baking until much later. I’m grateful that it happened that way because it allowed me to develop new eating habits without the struggle of learning how to bake GF – it allowed me to have success first with foods that fed me. The great baked goods and occasional roux are a bonus now.

  • Stephanie

    Also, I’d should point out that Celiac isn’t the only form of gluten intolerance/allergy (not that the terms are interchangeable, but…). For example, I repeatedly tested negative for Celiac, but my entire body just fails when I eat gluten. I develop all sorts of terrible conditions.

    Just want folks out there to know there’s more than one road to a gluten free lifestyle. :)

  • Tabitha (From Single to Married)

    My aunt swears by this – eating and cooking gluten free. I personally spent a year staying away from it and have never felt better!

  • Kalyn

    Even though I can eat gluten, I’m a huge fan of Karina’s blog for her no-nonsense approach to delicious food. Very fun seeing her posting on Simply Recipes, and there’s no doubt that many people who need gluten-free recipes will helped from her posts here.