Tag Archives: cooking

Discovering “new worlds” of gluten-free

Embarrassing story time. You know the rhyme, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue”? Well, I used to think it went, “In 141892…” Yup. That halcyon year 141892.

I have no idea what first put this wildly inaccurate detail into my head, but I suppose I felt the line scanned better that way. Even though I learned and relearned about Columbus every year through at least seventh grade, I managed to persist in the error until I was…well…too old. I just never gave it much thought.

Christopher Columbus statue

Boldly going where tons of people have gone before

Though it was dumb of me, it’s sort of appropriate, given that blithely perpetuated errors are the stuff of the education American kids receive about Christopher Columbus.

We learn he discovered America, but people already lived there and other sailors before him had stumbled on its shores. Plus, Columbus himself never admitted to discovering a “new” continent. He just called it India. Many of us also learned that Columbus was the first to suggest the world was round, when in fact educated folks of his time already knew it was. And he stands accused of many other things left out of the standard elementary school curriculum. When you really examine the Columbus story, there’s much that isn’t right.

Still, anyone who gives you a day off is a little bit of a hero. So in honor of Columbus Day—and rethinking things we’ve never thought through—here’s a list of a few discoveries I made while in search of something else entirely.

Went looking for onion rings and instead I found…bhaji

Bhaji are onion or vegetable fritters coated in my favorite ingredient ever—chickpea flour. You can fry or bake them, then dip in cucumber-mint-yogurt raita. You’ll forget you were ever looking for onion rings.

Went looking for cornbread and instead I found…arepas and pupusas

Folks who only ever order tacos are missing out on a whole world of corn patties. Some of the biggest producers of corn masa—such as Maseca—are now certified gluten-free, so you can enjoy safely (except perhaps where your arteries are concerned).

Went looking for “barley” and instead I found…buckwheat

You can buy whole buckwheat groats in bulk and make them into stir-fries, burgers, breakfast cereal, risotto, and deep-fried risotto balls (which I can attest are amazing). Buckwheat is so not just for crepes. Speaking of which…

Went looking for crepes and instead I found…dosas

Though you’ll have to hunt a bit to find the right ingredients to make these at home, dosas should usually be gluten-free (with the exception of cross-contamination). If you like crepes, Indian food, potatoes, and enormous portion sizes (and who doesn’t?), you’ll love these.

Went looking for pizza and instead I found…socca

You know about my love of socca already, but I had to include it, since it’s my greatest discovery of all time.

Have you tried any of these? Which do you like best?

I was not the first to discover these foods; people across the country and around the world kindly posted the recipes online, and others have eaten them for many years before I was around to Google them. I “discovered” these naturally gluten-free, not-meant-to-imitate-anything meals while intending to find something else.

The foods on this list aren’t what I originally went looking for—maybe just on the same latitude—but I’m glad I found them, and I look forward to charting ever-new terrain on my gluten-free journey.

Desserts, for example. When it comes to gluten-free flour blends, thar be dragons. When I quit skirting the shores (and clutching my King Arthur Flour mixes), I’m sure I’ll find all kinds of things I never intended to look for. Doing so may never get a holiday named for me, or a rhyme for kids to mess up when they recite it in 141892, but it’ll sure be fun.

Did you ever have silly misconceptions like my futuristic-Columbus invention? What naturally gluten-free foods have you discovered when you went searching for recipes for something else?

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300 Sandwiches: The Gluten-Free Edition

Here’s a story for you. It’s the best kind: a love story.

[Note: This post won’t make any sense unless you’re already familiar with this article about the blog 300 Sandwiches—so check it out if you’re not.]

Once upon a time, I managed to secure a gluten-free boyfriend. This boyfriend—let’s call him D—missed sandwiches more than anything. To D, a sandwich was like a kiss or a hug (whatever that means).

One day, after months of cajoling, I made him a sandwich. D bolted it down and exclaimed, “Babesicle, this is delicious! You’re 300 gluten-free sandwiches away from an engagement ring!”

I paused.

How likely was I to find another man who fulfilled all of my criteria? D was gluten-free, male, and even vegetarian. Wouldn’t it be prudent to hold onto him? Three hundred sandwiches…that’s not so much to pay for lifelong companionship.

I accepted the challenge.

Gluten-Free Sandwich #1

The Beginner’s Luck

I tied on my apron and started off strong, with fried tofu and home-pickled cucumbers on “rye” bread. D smacked his lips. I smiled. 299 sandwiches more and this domestic bliss could be mine forever.

Gluten-Free Sandwich #2

The Sophomore Slump

On half of an Everybody Eats baguette, this Vietnamese tofu bánh mì was a thing of beauty.

“But,” said D, polishing off the last morsel, “I’m getting a bit sick of tofu.”

Hearing this, I was disappointed, but also relieved. Pressing, freezing, thawing, re-pressing, marinating, searing, baking, and basting tofu to get that meaty taste and texture was thrilling and all, but doing it every day could get tiring. And I wouldn’t want to lose steam so early in the race.

Gluten-Free Sandwich #3

The Just-Okaynini

Low on inspiration, after a late day at work, I kept it simple: grilled cheese on Rudi’s multigrain. I threw in some spinach and a handful of potato chips in an attempt to add interest, but I knew the result was flat.

“It’s…okay,” D concurred.

I vowed to prioritize my work and social life less in the future.

Gluten-Free Sandwich #4

The Breakfast in Bed

Having calculated how long it would take me to meet my 300-sandwich goal and feeling my biological clock ticking, I decided to kick it into overdrive. If there’s one thing a man loves more than a sandwich for dinner, it’s a sandwich for dinner and a sandwich for brunch.

Although a single gluten-free bagel costs roughly the same amount as a whole pack of regular, and doesn’t even taste like a bagel without the barley malt, I took a stab at a breakfast sammie anyway.

“Not bad,” D said appreciatively. “Try an English muffin next time.”

Gluten-Free Sandwich #5

The Structurally Unsoundwich

This elaborate roasted-veggie sandwich looked great on the plate, but as gluten-free sandwiches are wont to do, it fell apart under the weight of its toppings.

“What kind of sandwich is this?” he grumbled.

“We don’t have to count this one,” I replied. After all, it wasn’t D’s fault celiac disease causes grumpiness.

Gluten-Free Sandwich #6 (or #5a)

The One You Eat with a Fork

Not to be defeated by a floppy piece of bread, I tried a compromise: the open-faced ‘wich. Someday, I reasoned, when we had a country house where we’d entertain guests, I’d be glad to have a few open-faced sandwich recipes in my back pocket (or should I say pocketbook—no lady wears clothing with pockets).

Gluten-Free Sandwich #7

The Poor Man’swich

I did some more calculations and realized how expensive it would be to make 300 sandwiches on store-bought gluten-free bread. And it would be nearly as costly to buy the seven different flours plus xanthan gum needed to bake bread myself—to say nothing of my somewhat valuable time. Going for home-economical, I made a tempeh lettuce wrap instead. Though I served it triumphantly, D was not convinced this counted, either.

Gluten-Free Sandwich #8

The Sandwich That Wasn’t

First thing after rolling out of bed at 1 pm, my faithful D made his usual polite request: “Make me a sandwich.”

But while getting out the cutting board and knife, I realized something: I was tired of sandwiches.

Reaching for the mustard, I realized something else: I don’t even like sandwiches.

And when my brand-new loaf of Udi’s turned out to contain an air hole nearly equal to the volume of the loaf, I realized one more thing: It was the twenty-first century. I didn’t have to make that sandwich.

I turned to D. “Would you marry me even if I didn’t make you 300 sandwiches?”

“What?” he returned, puzzled. “Are you talking? Shouldn’t you be slicing something?”

And that’s when I came to my final realization: no man is worth 300 sandwiches, gluten-free or otherwise, if you’re making them because he demands it. A relationship in which either party feels compelled to jump through hoops to win the other’s affections is as empty as the inside of a quality-non-assured loaf of bread. And life’s too short to spend it making someone else’s sandwiches.

“You know what, D?” I said—and by now I hope you know what that stands for—”Make your own damn sandwich.”

After all, I had more important things to do…like look for a new boyfriend.


The 300 Sandwiches blogger now claims that the whole thing was a joke—though her blog itself makes no such claim. What do you think? Is it funny? Sad? Infuriating? Should we be past caring about stuff like this? And which sandwich idea sounds best to you?

I must admit, she’s posted some stellar-looking sandwiches that I’d love to make GF, including these blondie ice cream sandwiches, featured in—from a feminist perspective—one of her most cringe-worthy posts, and—from a hungry perspective—one of my favorites.

Note, Oct. 4, 2013: A reader helpfully noted that none of the photos are of truly gluten-free sandwiches. I have strict policies for photo sourcing and mostly use Flickr’s Creative Commons to find shareable photos. As with anywhere, I found few GF options there. If you’re a food blogger who wants to grant me rights to post a photo of your fabulous GF bánh mì here, get at me.

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Socca tartlets, four ways: Yes, that’s right, it’s a recipe.

I love food blogs. I started reading them when I started cooking for myself, and I read them more now than ever, because it’s a good way to stay connected with other gluten-free people, because it’s practically a requirement for my job (I work on cookbooks, among others), and because there’s nothing quite like some good food porn.

Though I talk about cooking surprisingly little on this blog, I do it pretty much every day. And not only because, being gluten-free, I sorta have to: I love it, too. But I’ve never really considered this a food blog. My focus has always been on stories about gluten-free life, so even though I’m constantly using and making recipes, I’ve steered clear of posting them.

I’ve decided to make an exception, though, because 1) the recipe is worth it, and 2) recipes are kinda like stories, if you think about it. I certainly read food blogs for pleasure, not just utility. A recent New Yorker piece backs me up with the perceptive claim that “cookbooks are like novels…This is what recipes are: stories of pretend meals.”

This recipe—my first ever on this blog—tells a story of the housewarming party my sister and I threw back in August, a story that I have until now neglected to tell. It’s a story of careful planning and intense preparation to serve a spread of food that wasn’t imitating anything gluten-y but didn’t leave anyone thinking, “good for gluten-free.” It’s a story of summer produce and steamy kitchens, told when it’s become just chilly enough to think of those things nostalgically. It’s a story of hard work and great payoff: everyone praised the food and, more importantly, had fun.

It’s also a story of why I don’t usually post recipes. You’ll see what I mean.

The proud hosts with the full spread (minus desserts; I'll tell you about those soon)

The proud hosts, the full spread (minus desserts; I’ll tell you about those soon). The DJ is back there in the corner, too. Kindly ignore.

Socca is an amazing food. I first discovered it through David Lebovitz’s blog, then saw it again on The Kitchn, and then found out it’s apparently Mark Bittman’s favorite food—all of which puts me (and you, should you choose to join) in good company.

It’s a chickpea flour flatbread that can be thin and broiler-blistered, or thick and soft, plain or topped with garlic and onions or pizza toppings, or with the toppings mixed right into the batter. It’s good with every kind of sauce, spread, vegetable, cheese, and seed I’ve ever tried throwing at it. You can make it taste like a pizza or a tart or a frittata. You can even make it into crackers and dip it into hummus, for an incestuous snack. It’s good hot, warm, room temp, and cold. Depending on toppings, it’s vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, low-carb, even grain-free—though not low-FODMAP, and probably not paleo. (But if you’re going to cheat, you couldn’t choose much better.)

In short, if you’ve never before bought a bag of chickpea flour and think of it as nothing more than the odd aftertaste to some gluten-free cookies, then boy, are you missing out. Try this recipe next time you’re entertaining or just feel like serving yourself an elegant starter.

We worked from a recipe on The Kitchn, tripling it and making four different toppings. We also had two different sizes of muffin tin, so we had regular mini tarts and extra-mini tarts. Socca itself is incredibly simple and forgiving, but my MO in the kitchen (and in life…?) is to take simple things and make them complicated. You can re-simplify as desired.

Here we go!

gluten-free socca recipe

Get ready for more stunning food photography such as this “process shot” of the plain crusts.

How many does the recipe make? Good question.

As a cookbook editor, I’m well aware that recipes require yields. However, I must inform you we did not count our tartlets. As you can see in the pictures, there were approximately a billion.

The original non-tripled recipe makes two thin 10-inch-diameter soccas, so the total area will be about 2 x π52 = 50π, which you can then divide by the area of your muffin pan cups (about .93752π for a mini or 1.3752π for a regular), which means that if you made the single batch you should get about 57 extra-tiny tartlets or 26 regular-tiny tartlets.

If you make the triple batch as listed below, you’ll have about 171 extra-tinies or 78 regular-tinies (or somewhere in between, if you used a mix of both sizes, as we did, and no, I am not going to attempt any further calculations). This is the most math I’ve done in a long time and if it’s wrong I take no responsibility.

The bare bones you need for socca crust—toppings below (note: you can make a more reasonable batch by dividing each of these amounts by 3)

3 cups chickpea flour
3 cups water
4-1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan
1-1/2 teaspoons salt

muffin tin socca

Cute silicone muffin liners, right? Just please, please, don’t be an idiot like us and spray them with cooking spray. IT NEVER COMES OFF.

What to do!

  1. If it’s summer, turn on the air conditioner. Do this several hours before beginning. Forget about the bill.
  2. Preheat the oven to 450°F.
  3. Mix the socca ingredients together and let sit. The minimum recommendation I’ve seen is 10 minutes, but I believe I’ve read that the texture gets better the longer the ingredients sit. Then again, maybe it doesn’t matter.
  4. Make all the toppings. HAHAHA, just kidding, you’d better have done that part in advance. (See below.)
  5. Grease mini muffin or muffin pans with cooking spray. Or, if you’re using silicone, please don’t grease. We did, and it ain’t pretty.
  6. Pour very small amounts of socca batter into each muffin hole. You’re going for just barely covering the bottom of the cup, but half the time you will accidentally pour for too long and get thicker tartlets no matter how hard you try to make them uniform. Ours were all slightly different thicknesses, and they were all good, so don’t worry.
  7. Bake for about 10 minutes. We were opening our oven a lot and no doubt cooling it down, so you may actually want to bake for less than 10 if you aren’t. I think we left them in for longer than 10, actually, but you’ll want to start checking by 10. When they’re brown around the edges, you should be good. If they brown too much, they’re still great. Again, don’t worry too much.
  8. Let cool, probably in the muffin pans for a bit and then on a wire rack if you have one. We don’t yet, so they went directly onto serving platters. They were still awesome.
  9. Painstakingly spread toppings onto each of the billion tartlet crusts you’ve created.
  10. If you have guests arriving within hours who will not take kindly to the oven still being on, you may wish to broil the topped tartlets for a minute or so before serving. If you have a kitchen torch, you may wish to go nuts with that instead. You may, however, wish instead to find time to shower before your party, in which case you may
    decide to skip this step.
  11. Take pictures. Collect compliments. EAT.

Zucchini Butter Topping

Use this recipe, also on The Kitchn. We used olive oil and garlic, and only made a half batch because one of our “farm-fresh” zucchinis turned out to be half-rotten. We also added fresh parsley and topped the tartlets with thinly sliced cherry tomatoes. VEGAN! If you want them to be not vegan, you know what to do.

Zucchini butter & sweet potato tartlets, with adorable little placards made by Althea

Zucchini butter & sweet potato tartlets, with adorable placards made by Althea

Sweet Potato Topping

Microwave two large sweet potatoes. Let cool, then remove peel. Save in Tupperware in your fridge to “use in another meal.” Add to compost three weeks later. Meanwhile, mash the peeled sweet potatoes and add all those Italian herbs (oregano, thyme, basil) and salt and pepper. Garnish the tartlets with little bitsles of fresh rosemary. VEGAN! No, you don’t need to add butter to the mash.

The apple, onion & goat cheese is the ugliest, but so good. Prettifying suggestions welcome for next time.

The fig & goat cheese is the ugliest, but so good. Prettifying suggestions welcome for next time.

Fig & Goat Cheese Topping

Make incredible orange-zingy fig jam by simmering a pack of chopped dried figs with water, sugar, orange zest, a cinnamon stick, and a dash of cloves until jammy. Blend until even jammier using an immersion blender or a standalone. Althea masterminded this and thinks other ingredients went in there, too, but she can’t remember. (Brain fog.) So, throw in whatever sounds good to you. Spread tartlets with cooled fig spread, then goat cheese, then a dab of honey for show. NOT VEGAN. But make yourself some nut cheese and sub in agave for honey and you’re golden (provided your sugar wasn’t filtered through bone char…erlack!).

Fig goat cheese rosemary socca recipe

Apple, onion, goat cheese & copious rosemary

Apple, Blue Cheese & Caramelized Onion Topping

Slice yellow onions thinly. Don’t cut off any digits with the mandoline. Caramelize. No, but really. Do yourself a favor and really caramelize, for longer than 20 minutes. Do it for an hour. Or more. Go crazy. I hear this even works in a slow cooker. Slice granny smith apples thinly and sauté with rosemary and a bit of cinnamon. Layer strands of onions, slices of apples, and blue cheese onto the tartlets. NOT VEGAN. But still probably awesome without the cheese, or with a vegan kind. I really don’t know because I was busy putting blue cheese on everything.

And we all ate happily ever after (or, at least, it felt like we were eating forever). The end.

Have you tried socca before? If not, what’s your favorite gluten-free dish? If so, isn’t it GREAT? How do you like to make it?

Gluten-Free-Wednesdays-Thumbnail

Because I’ve always kinda wanted to have something suited to the purpose, I’ve linked up this post in the Gluten-Free Homemaker‘s Gluten-Free Wednesdays carnival….

…and Vegetarian Mamma‘s Gluten-Free Fridays.

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My new gluten-free NYC apartment: a paean

My new apartment’s wonderful,
though not without its quirks.
We’ve everything we’ll ever need—
assuming that it works.

A fourth-floor walkup—healthy, right?—
ignore the crumbling stairs.
My bedroom is (still) windowless,
but meh—fresh air—who cares?

We’re not in Brooklyn, near our friends,
or even close to work—
and if we don’t get AC soon,
I think I’ll go beserk.

The stovetop and the water tap
don’t get—precisely—hot;
the dishwasher does not get things
as shining as it ought.

The toilet leaks, the ceiling squeaks,
the countertops are few—
but GF ears are thrilled to hear
“appliances are new.”

The neighbors keep the volume pumped
throughout the day and night—
but dinner’s safe, my roomie’s great,
and so I feel all right.

The walls may quake, the tiles break,
the fruit flies come to breed—
but everything is gluten-free,
and that’s all that I need.

*

Since a picture’s worth a thousand words, here are a few. Yes, I was exaggerating for poetic effect (it wouldn’t be a New York apartment without a quirk or several). But I wasn’t kidding about the walkup. Every step of that is real, and my aching GF glutes are proof.

A messy workspace, just for us—with wooden spoons that it's okay to have because all the meals are gluten-free! And yes, that's a dishwasher, beloved of the neurotic and the gluten-phoboic, and a washer-dryer, which has nothing to do with gluten but is awesome.

A messy workspace, just for us—with wooden spoons that it’s okay to have because all the food in the house is gluten-free! And yes, that’s a dishwasher, beloved of the neurotic and the gluten-phoboic, and a washer-dryer, which has nothing to do with gluten but is awesome.

This is the pantry of someone who buys Chex by the carton. Not to mention bulk coffee (yes, I'm hooked again).

This is the pantry of someone who buys Chex by the carton. Not to mention bulk coffee (yes, I’m hooked again).

This is the beautiful, comfortable, more-expensive-than-anything-I'll-ever-be-able-to-afford-on-a-book-publishing-salary designer couch that I inherited when my office reorganized—and that my poor dad and coworker wrestled all the way up four flights of stairs only to find it was too large to fit through the hallway. It went home to Brooklyn in exchange for my old roommate's Ikea couch. Luckily tears are gluten-free, though I'm not sure crow is safe to eat.

This is the beautiful, comfortable, more-expensive-than-anything-I’ll-ever-be-able-to-afford-on-a-book-publishing-salary designer couch that I inherited when my office got reorganized—and that my poor dad and a helpful acquaintance wrestled all the way up four flights of stairs only to find it was in fact too large to fit through the hallway and into the door. It went home to Brooklyn in exchange for my former roommate’s Ikea couch. Luckily tears are gluten-free, though I’m not sure about all the crow I ate.

*

To those who sympathized when I bemoaned my loss of mess or worried that I’d be homeless right about now, thanks for the support. Maybe there’s a gluten-free dinner party in our future.

To those in New York:

a) You feel me on the quirks, right?
b) I’ve still got a whole bunch of tickets to give away to the Celebrate Celiac event this Saturday, so leave me a comment on my last post if you’d like to go, and I’ll get your name on the list. Until then, hope you’re holed up somewhere with an AC unit on high.

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