Cooking Gluten-Free

Black text reads "Cooking Gluten Free" with yellow background

A good number of people I know on campus have to eat gluten free. Whether that’s because they have celiac disease (an allergy to gluten) or if they just prefer to go without it, it’s always a good idea to know how to cook for friends who have that dietary restriction - and this is one that I’ve struggled with personally. So: A brief introduction to gluten. Gluten is in wheat flour, which means it’s in most cakes, cookies (yes, Oreos included), crackers, pastas, and breads. Lots of sauces contain wheat (and therefore gluten) as well, which surprised me. Flour is often used as a thickening agent, so it’s in a lot of random, unexpected foods. Gluten is NOT in all carb foods though. Potatoes, rice, and corn are big staples that don’t contain gluten. 

So how do you cook gluten free? It’s pretty easy, actually. If you have a recipe in mind, it’s important that you check the ingredients of processed and packaged foods to check if they have wheat in them. If so, that means they contain gluten and you have to find a substitute. For example, I found that the easiest thing for me to cook for friends with gluten allergies was stir fry. I like to make stir fry with rice, onions, bell peppers, meatballs (weird, I know, but they reheat well), and different sauces. I’ll share a recipe below with the changes I made to accommodate my friends. 

For one, my favorite sauce to use to season stir fry with is a sweet soy glaze. It’s sweet and salty and it goes well with sweet chili sauce you can buy at the grocery store (Trader Joe’s sweet chili sauce is the best). You usually make it with soy sauce, brown sugar, white sugar, white wine vinegar, rice vinegar, and ginger, and then you use flour to thicken it. Instead of flour, I would just use a tiny bit of corn starch (corn starch thickens things a lot more than flour though so be careful) and add water if it gets too thick. The other thing in stir fry that has gluten is meatballs. Most people (myself included) use breadcrumbs in their meatballs. Fortunately, you can find gluten free breadcrumbs at most stores next to the boxes of regular breadcrumbs. I wouldn’t even think about these things if I were cooking only for myself; it’s hard to think of every possible thing that includes gluten. 

Ok, now for the recipe. This is kind of a mish-mash of things that are relatively healthy, tasty, and stay good for a long time. The recipe below will feed two people but it’s cheap to make for a group if needed. 

  • 1 bell pepper
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 bunch of scallions/green onions
  • 1 thumb of ginger
  • 1 lime
  • 1 bunch of cilantro
  • 10 oz ground pork or beef
  • 1 cup jasmine rice
  • 1/8 cup peanuts (optional, if you want to add a bit of crunch)
  • 1 oz sweet chili sauce
  • 4 tbsp sweet soy glaze (store bought often contains flour, homemade recipe is below)
  • 1/4 cup breadcrumbs (make sure to get the gluten free ones in the store)
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/8 cup white sugar
  • 2 tbsp butter
  1. Adjust rack to top position and preheat oven to 425 degrees. Wash and dry all produce. Halve, core, and thinly slice bell pepper into strips. Halve, peel, and thinly slice onion. Zest and quarter lime. Mince cilantro. Peel and mince or grate ginger. Trim and thinly slice scallions, separating whites from greens; mince whites. 
  2. Make your soy glaze. In a medium pan, combine rice vinegar, white wine vinegar, 1/8 cup of water, soy sauce, 1/2 of the ginger, brown sugar, and white sugar. Bring to a boil and then lower to medium-low heat. Simmer until reduced by half, then set aside (this will take quite a while, probably about 10 minutes)
  3. In a small pot, combine rice, 1¼ cups water, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a low simmer. Cook until rice is tender, 15-18 minutes. Keep covered off heat until ready to serve.
  4. In a large bowl, combine pork/beef, panko, remaining ginger, scallion whites, half the soy glaze, salt (like 3/4 tbsp), and pepper. Form into 10-12 1½-inch meatballs. Place on a baking sheet and cook in the oven for 15 minutes. TIP: If you don’t want your meatballs to stick, lightly oil your baking sheet before placing the meatballs. 
  5. OPTIONAL (if you bought peanuts): While rice cooks, heat the pan you used for the soy glaze over medium-high heat. Add peanuts, 1 tsp sugar, and 2 TBSP water. Cook, stirring often, until water has evaporated and peanuts are coated and lightly toasted, 3-5 minutes. If any of your friends are allergic to peanuts, set the toasted peanuts aside and wipe out the pan before going to the next step. 
  6. Heat a large drizzle of oil in that same pan over medium-high heat (without removing your peanuts). Add bell pepper and onion; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until tender and lightly browned, 6-9 minutes. 
  7. When your meatballs are done, add them to the pan with the veggies and then add the remaining soy glaze, chili sauce, half the cilantro, and 1 tbsp butter. Cook, stirring, until mixture is thoroughly coated, 1-2 minutes more.
  8. Fluff rice with a fork; stir in 1 tbsp butter, remaining cilantro, and lime zest to taste. Season with salt. I like to serve this in bowls with rice on the bottom and my meatballs and veggies on top. Serve with lime wedges on the side.
Sydnee Kay
Outreach Housing Ambassador