During the holidays, food traditions move front and center. But if you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, your favorite family dishes might be off-limits. However, with a little know-how from Jennifer A. Welper, executive chef for the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program, you can convert grandma's special casserole or dad's secret sauce into a just-as-delicious, gluten-free version. Stock up on Jen's recommended pantry alternatives for easy recipe substitutions.
In recipes that call for all-purpose wheat flour (like that scrumptious topping on apple crumble or breading on chicken), use a gluten-free flour instead. Some common options are:
- Oat flour is made from oats and is available at many grocery stores. Or save yourself a trip and make it yourself. Just grind oats in a blender or food processor until you achieve a texture like flour. Be sure to use certified gluten-free oats. Regular oats are often processed in facilities that also process wheat, which can contaminate the oats with gluten.
- Almond flour is made by grinding almonds together. You can purchase it at the store or make it yourself. To make your own, grind raw or blanched almonds in a blender or food processor. Don't grind them for too long. Otherwise you'll end up with something more like almond butter than almond flour.
- Rice flour is made from white or brown rice. Rice flour is difficult to make at home. So it's probably best to purchase it at the grocery store.
Some recipes use wheat flour as a thickening agent (think gravy or white sauce). Try a gluten-free thickener instead:
- Cornstarch, tapioca flour or arrowroot powder. You only need one of these options to make a thickening agent. Tapioca flour and arrowroot powder are sometimes used in gluten-free baked goods and nice to have on hand, although they are a little harder to find than cornstarch.
Gluten-free bread crumbs
If your recipe calls for bread crumbs (like meatballs), panko (panko-crusted fish) or wheat crackers (casserole topped with crumbled crackers), try:
- Gluten-free cereals. You can find many gluten-free cereals at the grocery store. They're often made of oats, rice, corn or a mix of gluten-free grains. Just be sure to choose one that doesn't include sugar or other sweeteners. Add the desired amount to your blender or food processor and grind the cereal into a coarse bread-crumb texture.
In recipes that call for soy sauce in a meat glaze, marinade or other recipe, use:
- Tamari is a wheat-free version of soy sauce. You can find it at your grocery store on the same shelves as the soy sauce.
How to make a substitution
For most basic recipes, you can make a 1:1 substitution. For example, if the recipe calls for 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour, use 1/2 cup of gluten-free flour. All other ingredients in the recipe — given that they are gluten-free — stay the same.
Substituting gluten in baked goods
Substituting flours in baked goods is more complex. The 1:1 substitution ratio for cookies, cakes and breads — which need to rise in the oven — doesn't hold up. To achieve the correct texture in baked goods, you typically need to mix several gluten-free flours together. And it can take a lot of trial and error to find the right mixture. So instead of adapting your favorite baked recipe yourself, seek out a new-to-you gluten-free recipe to try. The hard work of figuring out the baking ratios will already be done for you.
If you don't use gluten-free flours very often, store them in the freezer. Many flours, wheat flour included, go bad when they sit on the shelf for a long time.