Gluten free life: curse or opportunity

Gluten free life: curse or opportunity

Checking for gluten free ingredients

There is no greater misunderstanding in the food industry than the one bestowed upon feeding the food intolerant or allergic, especially when the allergen is gluten, wheat or lactose. Just check a typical list of ingredients in ready-made meals, in fast food, in snacks. The less money you have, the worse it gets, it seems, as the amounts of ingredients unrelated to the finished product pile up to help lower the overall cost and create a familiar or addictive taste. People fighting to reduce the sugar intake in their lives will go through something similar.

Indeed with gluten, it is more likely that in the preparation kitchens, the factories, even in the cultivation, there has been some contamination. This is what food regulations work to uncover when they require ingredients and likely allergens to be specified. Food components suddenly reveal “traces” of otherwise unlikely ingredients, naturally gluten-free foods such as oats must clarify whether they are actually gluten-free, i.e. farmed in areas not contaminated by gluten,  and so on.

Save here, pay elsewhere

The eyes open to a more transparent food industry and a better understanding of our bodies’ reactions. They are not being whimsical, they are reacting to the abnormalities in food industry: the lack of biodiversity, the corruption of meals for the sake of profit-making disguised as keeping costs low. Increasingly, the mind realises that the cost saved financially is paid with our health.

In that regard, it becomes apparent that allergies are just symptoms of deeper alimentation issues. The quality of food which used to be defined by its variety, its biodiversity, its unadulteration, its untempering, the absence of filler, the ability to give the body great nutrients for its strength and health has now been confused with the ability to give the tongue a standard comforting “taste”, the ingredients a competitive costs, our purses à seemingly lower burden, whatever the health costs. It seems that the adage “it (in this case health) is someone else’s problem” applies and while the regulations do not catch-up with the broken system, why fix it? But I’m getting off topic.

Gluten substitutes

Just like the lactose and/or dairy intolerant, the vegetarian then the vegan more or less before, one of the first reflexes of the gluten intolerant or allergic is to recreate all their favourite gluten full foods. And how else can one react to being suddenly deprived of the main ingredient of the world’s staple food? This mainly means using gluten free flour, for the daily bread, the sustaining pasta, the otherwise faster food favourite pizza, the luxuriously golden crispy of breadcrumbs,the festive pancake, the more festive cake…

I always wondered why we could not find any organic gluten free flour mix. I also wondered if what happened to soya would occur with this substitute flour: in a bid to respond to a demand long recognised but not deemed important until it was profitable, production started cutting corners. The rhetorical question arose: Who pays when regulations enforce the need to add health related specifications, in this case, only allergens? Does it really take major actual negative consequences for us to consider the possible consequences of our otherwise financially profitable actions? Is there a point where regulations compliance and profit-making are smartly embedded in product and service design alongside ethics with the deep understanding of long-term costs cut to business and individual health? Are our businesses so survival oriented that even their long term is a short vision? But I digress.

Naturally gluten free

It is an anchored belief within me that all is a matter of perspective. There is no denying the pain endured when one is weaned or altogether deprived from the à whole set of gustatory adventures. However, in trying to recreate the wheat and gluten experiences, in sucombing to the reflex engendered by withdrawal, we can easily miss out on the opportunity to rediscover the world of alimentation out there that is naturally gluten free.

From reexploring the other crops to finding out about meals originally made from other flours, the mind, tongue, stomach and heart are taken into new domains or even just given a new vision of things already known.

Suddenly, the knowledge of gram flour and the Indian culinary science reintroduces the likes of popodums, the best shortbreads find their way back to rice flour, buckwheat aka sarrasin flour reminds us of pancakes, almond flour redefines cakes and its ingredients, corn flour gives us back that…

Conclusion

We live in a world saturated with data and information to such a point of survival that we require a major physical alarm to address. The signs are there, our minds knows but prioritisation in survival mode demand near death situations to respond. This is what happens with allergies, and with a number of such symptoms. It is a shame that society can become so busy as to confuse such symptoms with distracting exceptions rather than to recognise the alarm bells being rung for an alimentary industry that needs to feed its individual beyond survival and appearance taste and stomach-filling check boxes. We recognise that importance when we feed babies, why do we stop caring the older the individual gets?

Vegan gluten-free quiche

Vegan gluten-free quiche

Ah, a vegan and gluten-free quiche. That sounds boringly bland, blandly healthy and healthily boring. It sounds like the national dish of one of those religions that want to feed you death until you accept that it is part of your life: death for your taste glands, death of your comfy and luxurious appetite, death of her sister the epicurean senses that demanded colour, texture, variety, extravagance; and slowly but surely, death of your sense of bite, of your sense of taste, of your senses.

I always liked the challenge of creating something relatively traditional without necessarily having the expected ingredients for creating it. I have had to face this many times when my hunger demanded what my purse could not afford. Pancakes without milk or eggs were quite prized at the table of my struggling childhood. I am not quite at the point of creating creamy effect in cake out of avocado and I am not persuaded that you would not taste the avocado anyway, but there are definitely ways of recreating what we like with minimal sacrifice to the taste.

One does not always opt for a vegan meal because they are vegan, allergen-free because they react badly to some ingredients. There are always a plethora of alternative reasons, especially for someone like me who just likes rethinking tradition to understand its inner clue, boundaries, choices or preferences. Indeed, some choices are made by the limitations of the environment, some considerations are not made because we know not yet what we do not yet know, and one lucky advantage of this generation is that we can pop down the local supermarket and find culinary products from Asia, Africa, America and Europe.

The first thing is to understand the alternative ingredients. They do not work or react the same for sure and so might require more or less compensating ingredients to reconstitute a texture, a taste, a feel. Better yet, at times, it is about seeing what those new ingredients might bring to the recipe that the traditional one might not have had and even more than adapting to this, discovering something better or just positively different.

What I did not have for my quiche was wheat flour, cheese, or milk. What I had was the knowledge of how I wanted it to taste, look and feel, ingredients that together helped with this purpose and the will to make it work: rice flour, water, margarine (Pure), almond milk, fermented rice (Rizella), spinach, egg replacer.

I am flexible with the quantity because the science has its variables. about 1 cup of rice flour, a third of a cup of tapioca flour, a third of a cup of corn flour, a third of a cup of potato starch, half a spoon of xanthan gum, half a cup of margarine (I did end up putting more on mine) and some more for buttering the pie plate, salt and/or dry stock to flavour (for extra and interesting flavour), some water (up to a third of a cup but you might want a little more in your versions), two teaspoons of apple cider vingar, half a teaspoon of xantham gum, up to a cup of coconut vream or greek yoghurt, , up to a third of a cup of almond milk, up to 3 teaspoons of egg replacer. Ingredients inside the quiche vary with my fridge contents and my moods but I have been known to love putting spinach or asparagus, freshly roasted peppers or roasted peppers in apple cider vinegar brine, crispy seaweed, even corn. if you eat fish, raw salmon or smoke salmon work really well there.

1/2 cup millet flour (2 1/4 ounces; 64 grams)
1/2 cup finely ground white rice flour (2 ounces; 54 grams)
1/3 cup sweet rice flour (1 1/3 ounces; 38 grams)
1/3 cup tapioca starch (1 1/3 ounces; 38 grams)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or white vinegar (1/2 ounce; 14 grams)

I combined rice, corn, potato and tapioca flours/starch, margarine, salt or dry stock, apple cider vinegar, xanthan gum and little water and knead the dough. I have it rest, covered for a minimum of 30 minutes but not in the fridge because I hate how  hate how the margarine hardens and the dough flakes. I roll it and put it in a ‘buttered’ pie plate. All the ingredients I want in my quiche are then added at the bottom, like spinach, crusty roasted cuts of pepper. I then cover this with a mix of . I spread a batter mix made of coconut cream or greek yoghurt, dry stock, spinach and/or crispy seaweed, egg replacer, a little almond milk. I cover with slices of Rizella and bake in a 180-degree preheated oven for about 20 minutes. I like to grill it a little at the end so it is properly golden. although sometimes, like in the image, the smell is far too enticing for me to give it more time.

I get a crispy, yummy, healthy, vegan quiche!

Recipe: Not-so flatbread pizza

Recipe: Not-so flatbread pizza

Flat Bread PizzaIn an era when we tend to want everything immediately, it is surprising that people still cook at all, especially with supermarkets at all corners of our homes and so close to each other, offering as many choices of ready-made foods than the restaurants and take aways nearby that also propose, well, home delivery within 30 minutes. Of all those easy-to-acquire ready-made foods, pizza is no doubt at the top of the pile, with almost every single self-respecting home-delivery fast food shop around residency areas, especially student-resident areas, presenting this option for people too cozy or lazy to pop down at the corner shop for a frozen base or even a frozen pizza for baking in the oven in less than 30 minutes.

I, for one, have tried them all. The frozen bases with wheat, the gluten free ones, the cupboard-version bases (I had so many doubts on this one), the complete pizza option, frozen, delivered or bought at various fast foods from Domino’s to Pizza Hut, I have tasted them all. I admit this is surprising for a lactose intolerant, but I had to determine my threshold, of course 😉  I even tried at home, especially now with a gluten intolerance to top. Strong of being taught by an Italian nonna in my friend’s home in France, having spent a month tasting varieties in Roma itself and with mind and palate flexibility, I tried with more or less water, more or less of various ingredients, blanca (without tomato) and with thick and thin base, with and without crust…

It was therefore just a tiny step to a pizza without yeast. When you think about it, it is the yeast that causes the most wait, well that and the tomato sauce. Of course there are quite many ways of replacing the yeast if you can’t have it, but it is not about replacing ingredients by ingredients to recreate a familiar taste, it is about trying things out to discover new tastes to savour. So, while for some it is about finding other ways of getting the pizza dough to rise as the yeast would allow it, for me, it became much more about whether we need the bread to rise thereby the yeast or equivalent in the first place.

Yes, what exactly is wrong with a flat-bread style pizza? It is a bread, just unleavened. I mean, I have done garlic bread pizza, putting some baked bean’s tomato sauce over a garlic toastie and some cheese on top, to grill long enough. Although leavened, it is still a slightly different base to that of a pizza. I love it all the same. Sincerely, with an open mind, the possibilities are endless. So, no yeast but want a quick pizza? No problem. This pizza was made with a flat bread mix (flour, water and salt work as well with a self-raising wheat as it does with self-raising gluten-free  flour) which takes literally a couple of minutes to put together and 10 to rest before frying it in a couple of spoons of olive oil as a thicker pancake (according to your preferred pizza thickness) on one side, with a cover to ensure the inside gets cooked. Then layer cooked tomato sauce, your favourite toppings and cheese (nothing quite does a yummy pizza like Buffalo Mozzarella) and stick at 200 degree in a pre-heated oven for 10 or so minutes. You can even grill it at the last minute for colour on your cheese.

I never understood the need for the yeast at times, when it was probably only prompted when flour and water were left together as one for longer than was at first intended. Also, since what it does is swell up the dough and many people like the thinner pizza, I still don’t get the necessity for getting it to rise. But for those still after that effect, then yeast can be substituted: the standard combination of baking soda and lemon juice creates the rising effect that the yeast would have given. Simply add a mixture of 1 tablespoon of lemon juice for every 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda to your usual pizza dough just before you put it in the oven as it does not need any leavening time. As you can see, this method is also time-saving, yet, I struggle to see the reason for adding ingredients to create an effect that I am still frankly questioning for a pizza that is going to end up, no matter how fluffy, nowhere near the rise justified by leavening; anyway, that is probably the reason why the original mix does not need to rise for long, everything, of course, being relative :).

No matter, I am too enamoured with my flat bread pizza to bother with the complications of the original. That is what Rome and quality restaurants are for as well as the very occasional fast food. On top of it, it works as well for gluten-free flour (it MUST be self-raising gluten-free flour though) as it does for wheat flour, without adding anything to make it wheat-able! If I am going to do something yummy and quick, it will be this gorgeous version (or rather the many versions that it allows beyond toppings variety) that you can either do with a dough-like mix (less water) for a thin Italian pizza or like me make a batter-like mix (somewhere thicker than a pancake mix) that allows you to slowly bite into what feels like an eternity of buccal comfort…

Feeding life beyond survival

Feeding life beyond survival

What is feeding life beyond survival? So many times, we have been pressured by time, necessity and other such factors and sacrificed our will to live for our need to survive. When that becomes a routine, there is a little bit more of us that dies everyday and we find ourselves doing things for the sake of survival i.e. not dying rather than living (yes, the two things are different!). A life that is lived in relationship with death, even to avoid it, is not a life. It is a non-death.

Our fears anticipate so many pains to avoid them coming to life. We imagine the pain to be so bad that our minds do all the work and what is an idea never happens and therefore we never have a chance in life to experience whether or not our heads have exaggerated the possibilities and over-scared our hearts. I remember how little I could imagine working part-time because of the impossibility then to pay my debts and the certainty that the bailiff would come to my house. The potential shame was enough to cripple creativity. And here I am today part-time and after 3 months of painful adaptation, I am on the other end of it and kicking.

So I work at stopping myself from over-thinking things in theory which holds my breath and stops me from living. I try to put that time into feeding my will to live starting with literally feeding myself goodness: feeding life beyond survival. Life has so much to offer that if I concentrate on what I cannot do, I will do nothing that I can. and I can feed myself goodness, slowly building it into a routine, slowly but surely. I can feed myself life. I cannot afford the restaurant with these ridiculous means but then nothing stops me from bringing the restaurant to me!

Today I cooked my first hollandaise sauce, my first roasted cherry tomatoes and my first oeuf mollet (mollet egg). I decided that fine cuisine and varied meal were absolutely up my street and if I could not go to the restaurant, I would bring the restaurant to me. Tipped by my masterchef (bbc iplayer), aided by Julia Child and the Internet, I whipped up a Sunday breakfast worth its name: Oeufs mollets** and roasted cherry tomatoes on a bed of mango-curried spinach and pea puree served with hollandaise sauce and ciabatta** (gluten-free in my case). Happy Sunday and welcome to rekindling taste buds to the textures and colours of life!

Recipe: English Breakfast with a twist

Recipe: English Breakfast with a twist

Breakfast Anglo-Franco-CameroonianThinking about food as usual… this one is an English breakfast with a twist, more specifically a ‘Franco-Cameroonian’ accent. Baked beans, roasted tomato cherries, roasted champignons de France (although it works equally beautifully with Portbello mushrooms and chestnut mushrooms, Cameroonian (slash Benin) banana and corn dumplings, honey-roasted ethical salmon, baked potato galette, perfect fried egg.

Maybe I should write a song about it… In the meantime, this is how the whole thing is put together.

The longest-to-produce is the Cameroonian (slash Benin) banana and corn dumplings. I followed the recipe at http://www.african-counter.com/food/corn-and-banana-dumplings-benin-cameroon/). This is a gluten-free comfortably-textured, deliciously savoury yet sweet little addition to the rest of the meal. The baked beans are the easiest part of it all but it is important for us that when we bother having such a traditional (or not completely so as in here) meal, every ingredient is carefully selected. For this recipe, we got ourselves one of the best baked beans in the world, Suma organic baked beans.

The mushrooms are quite simply roasted or grilled as simple as sprinkling salt and mixed herbs and drizzling olive oil on washed and dried mushrooms and leaving them for 15 minutes in a low pre-heated grill or bake them in a pre-heated 180 degrees celsius oven. The same is done with the cherry tomatoes but as I don’t like them overburst (I like them to burst in my mouth), I tend to leave them in the oven for less time. An alternative option that reduces the amount of oil required and the time under the grill (no oven baking this time) is to pre-steam them: there are various ways of doing this one but my favourite and shortest one remains to steam the seasoned vegetable for much less than 60 seconds in the microwave in an hermetically-closed microwave-safe container. Then grill for up to 5 minutes and in 6-7 minutes, it is all done and that required less fat, electricity and time!

I have quite a variety of recipes for the potatoes depending of what is left in the house and what it is that I feel like on the day. In this case, I had some jacket potatoes and I guess we did not really want any in the morning. I mashed the flesh, seasoned the mix with salt, paprika and mixed herbs and fried it on a low fire in a grill pan. Interestingly, I have done a similar version but first dipped the mix created in a whisked egg before frying it in a little oil. I still prefer the former version. You can also create balls or noisettes from the fix and quickly deep-fry them in hot oil, or create a more cylindrical shape  with a small depth (no more than 5 millimetres) and shallow fry that and baste it slightly. The possibilities are limitless if you know what taste you want to end up with and try things out until you get it. The seasoning also plays its part evidently so this is up to personal choice.

A number of supermarkets now sell dill-roasted salmon or the equivalent, and that will very much do in the recipe. Other options are to cover a salmon’s flesh with a mix of salt (much less than you would normally put), honey or maple syrup, juice (now here is your choice: for Asian flavouring add soy sauce, ginger and garlic; for a change try orange juice; for basics, add fish or chicken stock; I have also put lemon as well as a curry and almond powder mixture for an Indian aroma), herbs (dill is really nice in this) and let it marinate for at least 15 minutes. I tend to think of these things at the last minute so I am generally quite hungry already and I find that 30 minutes is the most I can wait but the couple of times I have waited longer I was even more pleased with the delicious flaky results. Of course there is no such result unless you bake the sufficiently marinated salmon for around 15 minutes in a pre-heated 180 degrees oven, basting from time to time. The same can be done with pork (loin or gammon will do the job) for those who prefer meat. It is a simple but beautifully satisfying recipe.

You can probably see that my fried egg is indeed fried, that is because I fry it à la Française, a very shallow fry that colours the white. I also tend to cover it for a few seconds to start covering the yolk with a white film and start cooking it but not too long because I intend for it to bleed. Food is better eaten when it continues to surprise you both on the plate after you have been served and in the mouth when you have already started eating it.

 

Feeding life beyond survival

Sunday breakfast: Roasted cherry tomatoes, oeufs mollets, pea &spinach puree, hollandaise sauce

I had a little feast for my Sunday breakfast. It consisted of roasted cherry tomatoes and oeufs mollets on a pea and spinach puree with hollandaise sauce. It is quick to make and great to taste!

Oeufs mollets are soft-boiled egg (boiled for half-the time it takes a normal boiled egg), just a way around poached eggs which are much trickier to achieve and I like my life to be simple. Boiling them half the normal time keeps the yolk runny and barely sets the white. I think that is how I like my whites the best… or maybe fried, just not hard.

Young spinach leaves are quickly ‘stir-fried’ in warm butter/margarine for about 45 seconds then garden peas are added and stirred for another 20 seconds then blended to create the puree. I add salt to taste but more often I am preferring dry stock to salt.

My roasted veg/fruits consist of the vegetables/fruits being sprinkled with olive oil and preferred herbs and placed for 15 minutes in an oven pre-heated at 180 degrees.

Ah, my first time hollandaise… I just beat an egg in a glass bowl sitting on a pan of boiling water. I then add butter, well margarine, till I am happy with the consistency. Again, I add a little salt (not stock this time) and white pepper to taste.

For the 3-colour presentation, follow the photo or for fun and fuss, create your own!