Vegetarian Journal 2006 Issue 4

Gluten-Free Cuisine

by Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, CCE

Gluten is a protein found in many grains, such as wheat, rye, barley, spelt, kamut, and triticale. It is present in many common foods, including breads, cereals, pastas, baked goods, convenience items, condiments, and beverages. When some people eat foods that contain gluten, their immune system damages their small intestine. Individuals who are ‘sensitive’ to gluten may be diagnosed with ‘celiac disease,’ which is also called gluten sensitivity, gluten-sensitive enteropathy, celiac sprue, celiac sprue disease, or non-tropical sprue. The terms ‘celiac disease’ and ‘gluten intolerant’ will be used in this article.

When someone who has celiac disease consumes any gluten, his or her immune system tries to ‘protect’ the body as it might if the person had consumed poison. This immune system response damages the small intestines and causes malabsorption of vital nutrients, such as iron, calcium, and folic acid, and of fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, D, E, and K. This reaction can also lead to other medical problems, including continual gastrointestinal distress, such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea; lymphoma of the small intestine; unexplained weight loss; osteoporosis due to calcium malabsorption; constant fatigue or feelings of weakness; depression that does not respond to medications; unexplained anemia; fertility problems; and possibly birth defects. In addition to those symptoms, small children who are unaware that they have celiac disease may develop distended abdomens, unexplained discoloration of teeth, failure to thrive, and possibly related poor behavioral changes.

Having Celiac Disease Is NOT the Same as Having Wheat Allergies

Food allergies are different physiological processes than celiac disease. If someone has a wheat allergy, that person must avoid foods that contain wheat. Someone with a wheat allergy could eat a wheat-free or gluten-free product. However, if someone is sensitive to gluten, that person must avoid all grains that contain gluten, not just wheat. Someone with celiac disease or gluten intolerance could not necessarily eat a wheat-free product because other grains that are used to make these products contain gluten.

How Do People With Celiac Disease Manage Their Condition?

There are more people who have celiac disease than you might think. Recent studies show that as many as one in 144 Americans has this condition. Just search the Internet or cruise the cookbook selections at a bookstore. There are many organizations and support groups for people who are gluten intolerant.

People with celiac disease keep their condition under control by following a strict gluten-free diet. When celiac patients avoid gluten completely, they give their small intestine a chance to heal and more properly absorb nutrients. A gluten-free regime must be followed at all times.

Avoiding gluten is not as easy as it sounds. Many companies process wheat in the same factories as they do gluten-free products. Labels need to be read carefully. Even certain brands of rice may say, “Processed in a plant with wheat-containing products.”

If people with celiac disease are preparing foods from scratch using unprocessed ingredients, then they will be able to prepare items that are gluten- or wheat-free. Arrowroot, cornmeal, soy, rice, tapioca, and potato products should be fine for most gluten-intolerant people. Processed items, such as spice blends, mashed potato mixes, and soup bases, will require celiac patients to read the labels very carefully or even contact manufacturers about their products.

Foods That Likely Contain Gluten

Reading Labels for Gluten Content

When shopping for gluten-free items, you must become an avid label reader, and you will come across many ingredients while on your gluten-free hunt. Here is a short guide to some popular products and ingredients:

Note: The Wild Oats website has a very informative guide for gluten-free shopping. Also, most Trader Joe’s stores stock guides for gluten-free menus.

Foods That Are Likely Gluten-Free

The following foods are usually considered to be safe, as long as you know their origin. This means you processed them yourself, such as squeezing fresh orange juice, or you have read the label thoroughly.

Cooking Gluten-Free

For gluten-free baking, you can use flour made from acceptable ground grains, such as corn or rice. You may be able to find flour made from potatoes, sweet potatoes, tapioca, almonds, and lentils. Xanthan and guar gums are specialty ingredients used as thickeners. They can be used for gluten-free baking.

Many recipes can be made gluten-free. These are some helpful guidelines:

Or simply try some of these gluten-free recipes.

Gluten-Free Menu Ideas




Recipe Index

Potato Biscuits

(Makes ten 2-inch biscuits)

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Use a fork to blend margarine into dry ingredients. Add potatoes and blend. Add soymilk and mix until you have a soft dough.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out the dough on a floured surface to a half-inch thickness. Spray a baking sheet with vegetable oil. Cut out the biscuits and place them on the baking sheet. Place in the oven and bake for 12 minutes or until biscuits are golden.

Note: To make sweet potato biscuits, add 3/4 cup mashed, cooked sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes, 2/3 cup soymilk, and 3 Tablespoons vegan margarine. Bake at 450 degrees.

Total calories per serving: 90 Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 13 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 436 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Strawberry Sauce

(Makes approximately 1-1/4 cups or ten 2-Tablespoon servings)

This sauce is smooth and thick, without flour or wheat products.

Thaw and drain the strawberries, reserving approximately a 1/2 cup of the liquid for later use.

In a small bowl, combine cornstarch, lemon juice, and strawberry liquid. Stir in the strawberries. Microwave on HIGH for 2-5 minutes, stirring at least twice during cooking, until the sauce is thickened and clear. Remove sauce from microwave, stir, and serve warm or cool.

Total calories per serving: 12 Fat: 0 grams
Carbohydrates: 3 grams Protein: <1 gram
Sodium: 1 milligram Fiber: <1 gram

Gluten-Free Snack Mix

(Makes approximately 16 servings)

You can use this snack mix as a tasty cold cereal, or serve it as a topping for fruit or soy yogurt.

In a small pan, heat syrup and margarine; stir and cook until margarine is melted.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium-sized baking dish, combine cereal, coconut, nuts, and seeds and pack down to form a consistent layer. Pour margarine evenly over cereal mixture.

Allow snack mix to bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Store the finished snack mix at room temperature in an airtight container.

Total calories per serving: 103 Fat: 7 grams
Carbohydrates: 9 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 2 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Gluten-Free Pecan Rice Dressing

(Makes approximately twenty 4-ounce servings)

In a large pot, melt margarine. Add onions, celery, and parsley and sauté over low heat until tender. Add seasonings and cooked rice and stir. Add pecans and heat, covered, approximately 10 minutes until warm.

Total calories per serving: 257 Fat: 18 grams
Carbohydrates: 21 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 183 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Gluten-Free Ginger and Date Bread

(Serves approximately 12-14)

This recipe can be used as a cake or a bread when you’re looking to serve a treat that is denser than traditional fruit breads. It freezes well.

Put all of the ingredients into a large mixing bowl and blend to combine.

Invert a saucer in the middle of the microwave or insert a microwave rack. Pour the batter into one 8" x 12" microwaveable baking dish or shallow casserole or two 8" x 4" microwaveable loaf pans. Microwave a 8" x 12" dish on HIGH for 5-8 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Microwave each of the 8" x 4" loaf pans separately on HIGH for 8-10 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Total calories per serving: 154 Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 28 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 115 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Sweet Potato Flan

(Serves 8)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake the sweet potatoes until they are soft enough to mash with a fork, approximately 45 minutes to an hour, depending on thickness of the potatoes. Remove from oven and mash with a fork or with a food processor.

In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the soymilk and plain silken tofu together until just simmering. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the potatoes, the beaten silken tofu, sugar, vanilla, and zest to combine. Slowly add the soymilk mixture, stirring constantly until combined.

Spray a 10" baking pan with vegetable oil and fill the pan with the sweet potatoes mixture. Fill a larger pan with two inches of water to oversteam the flan. Place the 10" pan into the larger pan.

Place the larger pan into the oven and bake for 35 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the pans from the oven, remove the 10" pan from larger pan, and allow the flan to cool before serving.

Total calories per serving: 140 Fat: 2 grams
Carbohydrates: 25 grams Protein: 5 grams
Sodium: 21 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Coconut Date Cookies

(Makes approximately 24 cookies)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Thoroughly combine the sugar, margarine, and tofu. Add dates, walnuts, and coconut and mix well. Drop mixture by the teaspoonful, 2 inches apart, onto a greased baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes until the cookies are golden brown. Do not overbake.

Total calories per cookie: 123 Fat: 8 grams
Carbohydrates: 13 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 3 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

New England Cornmeal Pudding
(Indian Pudding)

(Makes twelve 4-ounce servings)

This is a flavorful, dense dessert, and you can freeze the leftovers for later use.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

In a double boiler, heat the soymilk until just below boiling. Reduce heat and slowly add cornmeal. Cook, stirring constantly to smooth and prevent burning, until thickened, approximately 15 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

Remove from heat. Distribute evenly into three ungreased 8" x 8" cake pans and bake for 2-1/2 hours or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Total calories per serving: 137 Fat: 2 grams
Carbohydrates: 27 grams Protein: 4 grams
Sodium: 21 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Gluten-Free Brownies

(Makes twelve 2-inch brownies)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Thoroughly combine sugar and margarine. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour into an ungreased 8" x 8" pan and bake for 20 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow brownies to cool prior to cutting.

Total calories per brownie: 216 Fat: 8 grams
Carbohydrates: 34 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 63 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, CCE, is VRG’s Food Service Advisor. She is the author of Vegan Menu for People with Diabetes and numerous cookbooks.

Excerpts from the 2006 Issue 4:
Vegan Tamales
Cecilia Peterson makes this popular Latin American party food.
How Many Adults Are Vegetarian?
Charles Stahler considers the results of The VRG’s 2006 national poll.
Gluten-Free Cuisine
Avoiding gluten is easier with tips from Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, CCE.
2006 College Scholarship Winners
Meet the two young women who received this year’s awards.
VJ’s Essay Contest Winner
Rebecca Sams shares a story of conviction and camaraderie.
Review: Attitudes, Practices, and Beliefs
of Individuals Consuming a Raw Foods Diet
Dietetic student Vrinda Walker examines the views and habits of leaders in the American raw foods community.
Nutrition Hotline
Is there any truth to those claims that garlic is good for your health?
Note from the Coordinators
Notes from the VRG Scientific Department
Veggie Bits
Vegan Cooking Tips
One-Pot Wonders, by Chef Nancy Berkoff.
Scientific Update
Book Reviews
Vegetarian Action
Plenty’s Programs Bring Soy Production
to Underdeveloped Countries, by Cecilia Peterson.

Other Resources

The Vegetarian Journal published here is not the complete issue, but these are excerpts from the published magazine. Anyone who wishes to see everything should subscribe to the magazine.

Thanks to volunteer Stephanie Schueler for converting this article to HTML.

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Last Updated
Nov. 21, 2006

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