My Gluten-Free Life

By Rebecca Saltsman
Photography by Jenna Noel

I love cooking, eating and talking about food, and I’m constantly thinking about my next meal even while enjoying the current one. Finding and preparing new foods and serving other people dishes they’ve never tried before are my passions. I also enjoy disproving preconceived notions about certain foods and what it means to eat well, healthfully…and with dietary restrictions. It’s true—I’m one of more than 20 million people in America living with gluten sensitivity, but it doesn’t define me or how I eat. Sometimes it’s challenging, but most of the time it’s very easy.

 

Is it possible to have a rich, gluten-free food life without much sacrifice? Yes. The key to my diet is simple: unprocessed foods, whole grains, whole foods and fresh-from-the-farmers-market fruits and vegetables. For example, some favorite dishes include hearty polenta with sweet spring onions and mushrooms, creamy risotto studded with leeks and fresh peas, and decadent flourless chocolate cake—mainstream foods that also happen to be naturally gluten-free and incredibly delicious with no hidden ingredients and no sacrifice!

While the number of individuals diagnosed with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity has steadily risen over the last few years, the market for gluten-free products has completely exploded. Fortunately, this surge has also brought new attention to ancient grains and certain lesser-known flours, because when it comes to baked goods, the gluten-free route can be a bit more challenging. Some of these flours have familiar names like rice flour, tapioca starch and corn flour; some might be new acquaintances like sorghum flour, millet flour, teff and buckwheat. Luckily, many of them can be found locally produced, organic and fresh-ground at our farmers markets. When combined together in clever ways, these secret weapons create dishes so wonderful that no one would ever guess they were gluten-free.

Of course, there are still days when I really want a bagel—a real New York bagel. Then I remember the spiced Bundt cake with fresh strawberry compote I have waiting for me at home and the pride I feel while introducing new foods to my friends and gently dismissing any preconceived notions about gluten-free foods at the same time, and all is well.

Gluten-Free---torte

PERFECT FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE TORTE

 

My quest for the perfect flourless chocolate cake is an unwavering one. There are several versions I love, but this one is rich, packed with wonderful grains and a snap to make. It’s a simple recipe that looks quite elegant.

8 oz. bittersweet chocolate
   (70–75% cacao content)
6 T. butter
3 eggs
1 c. sugar
Pinch salt
1 t. vanilla
¼ c. almond flour
2 T. sorghum flour
¼ t. freshly grated nutmeg
1 t. powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9-inch pie pan with foil. Place the chocolate and butter in a saucepan over low heat to melt. Stir frequently—do not allow to burn. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla with a whisk or handheld mixer until frothy. Gently whisk in the warm chocolate and butter. Fold in the almond and sorghum flours. Pour the batter into the pie pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool for about 10 minutes and then invert the torte onto a serving dish. Remove the foil gently. Sprinkle the nutmeg and powdered sugar over the top. Serve warm or at room temperature.

BAKED POLENTA SQUARES WITH
MELTED SPRING ONIONS AND FRESH MUSHROOMS

Serves 10 as an appetizer, 4 as dinner

This is an easy-to-get-on-the-table meal, yet it is elegant and full of spring flavors. I like to use coarse-ground cornmeal for this dish (local Richardson Farms cornmeal is a favorite). You can find locally grown mushrooms (Kitchen Pride) and sweet spring onions at many of the farmers markets around town. And, if you’re feeling adventurous, grab some semi-hard raw cheese from Dos Lunas Artisan Cheese to grate over this dish as well.


4½ c. water
1½ c. coarse- or medium-
   ground cornmeal
¼ c. olive oil, divided
3 bunches spring onions
1½ lb. quartered fresh
   mushrooms (about 5 c.)
Pinch salt and pepper


Preheat the oven to 375° and grease a 9- by 11-inch baking dish. To make the polenta, bring the water and a pinch of salt to a boil in a large pot. Whisking constantly, add the cornmeal in a slow and steady stream. Reduce the heat to a simmer, add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and cook the polenta, stirring constantly, until thick—about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, remove the root ends of the spring onions and slice both the white and green parts. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and stir until soft and translucent—about 12 to 14 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the mushrooms. Sauté until the mushrooms are a bit golden, about 5 to 8 minutes—stirring occasionally. Spread the polenta in the baking dish and top with the onion and mushroom mixture. Sprinkle salt and fresh pepper over the top and bake for about 20 minutes. Cut the polenta into squares and serve hot, topped with some of the cheese or chopped parsley, if desired.

 

 

SPICED BUNDT CAKE WITH
CHUNKY STRAWBERRY COMPOTE

Be forgiving while making this Bundt cake, or working with gluten-free flours for the first time. The batter might look different from  anything you’re used to. Sweet rice flour and glutinous rice flour are the same but make sure not to get regular white rice flour.


For the cake:
2¼ c. sorghum flour
¼ c. plus 2 T. sweet rice flour
½ c. extra-fine (stone-ground)
   brown rice flour
¼ c. extra-fine millet flour
¼ c. tapioca flour
3 t. baking powder
3 t. guar gum
½ t. salt
½ t. fresh-ground nutmeg
½ t. finely minced fresh ginger
½ t. ground cardamom
½ t. cinnamon
5 eggs
½ c. sugar
½ c. unsweetened applesauce
½ c. sour cream or Greek yogurt
1 c. extra-virgin olive oil

For the compote:
2 c. hulled and quartered
   strawberries, divided
1–2 T. sugar
Juice of ½ a lemon
1 T. kirsch (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350° and liberally butter a Bundt pan. In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, guar gum, salt and spices. In another large bowl, beat the eggs until frothy. Add the sugar and applesauce to the eggs and beat with a whisk or a fork. Add the sour cream and olive oil and beat well. Slowly pour the dry ingredients into the egg mixture while whisking until just incorporated. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 45 minutes. The cake is done when it is slightly browned on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes then turn it out onto a rack.

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine 1½ cups of the strawberries and 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Stir until the juices are released. Cover and lower the heat to a simmer until the strawberry quarters begin to collapse. Add the remaining strawberries and kirsch, if using, and cook until just heated through. Taste for sugar and add the lemon juice (a few drops at a time) to taste.

Serve the cake warm or at room temperature with the chunky strawberry compote.