Cooking up tasty meals when you are going gluten-free doesn’t need to be a terribly complicated affair. Just like cooking in a “wheaty” kitchen, having a well stocked pantry makes it much easier to whip up a quick meal rather than reaching for the takeout menu.
Of course, what you put in your pantry depends on personal preference – if you don’t like tomato based dishes, you probably won’t be stashing great quantities of canned tomatoes – but here are some basics that I rely regularly.
Before we launch into the pantry list, there are a couple of “must” haves in my opinion that will help elevate your cooking and bring out maximum flavour:
Salt: Salting your food at various stages in the cooking process goes a long way to drawing out the maximum flavour. A little bit goes a long way, but applied at various stages, really helps build complex flavours. I also like to have smoked sea salt on hand for finishing dishes.
Lemons: Keep lots of lemons on hand. What you don’t use for cooking, you can always use for cocktails! There is nothing like fresh lemon zest added to dishes, or baking, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to a soup or stew brightens the flavours like nothing else
Starches / Sides
Rice – we eat a lot of rice in our household, and have several kinds in the pantry. It is nice to have a short-grain rice (I buy a good quality sushi rice and often use it for risotto), and a long-grain rice (we use basmati simply because we eat a lot of curry-based dishes, but a jasmine rice is also nice)
Quinoa and other whole grains such as Amaranth or Millet – Quinoa is a great rice or potato alternative and cooks up as easily as rice. Millet and Amaranth are fabulous toasted and “popped” either on their own, or before adding water and cooking.
Gluten-free pasta – look for the brown rice pastas which are a little more nutritious, or corn pastas which have a texture similar to wheat pastas. The brown rice spirals are the shape with the best texture, while all the corn shapes cook equally well. The best corn pastas are Italian.
Rice noodles – these keep indefinitely, and are easy to rehydrate in hot water for a quick pad-thai
Gluten-free rice crisp cereal (check the label to make sure there is no barley malt syrup). Even if you don’t eat cereal, this is great to have on hand to make gluten-free breadcrumbs whenever you need them. They have a much nicer texture than most of the breadcrumbs you will buy.
Gluten-free rolled oats (or Quinoa flakes for those who can’t tolerate the oats) – a quick breakfast option, but also makes a good alternative filler for gluten-free meatloaf.
Sauces and soup “helpers”
Chicken stock – useful for so many things including soups and sauces. Brands such as Pacific Foods are gluten-free, or if you make you own, you can freeze in smaller portions.
Gluten-free soy sauce — there are wheat free soy sauces, or Bragg’s Seasoning is a certified gluten-free, vegan alternative.
Thai fish sauce – this is the stinky sauce made from fermented, salted fish. It has a particular odour, which all but disappears in the dishes it is added to – providing a fabulous umami dimension. Try adding a couple of tablespoons to your next batch of meatloaf or burgers!
Curry paste – for a great weeknight shortcut, curry pastes are a great way to make “curry in a hurry” The spices are already blended and toasted. You can also add a tablespoon or so to burgers, chicken salad etc where you just want a hint of curry flavour. There are several curry pastes available in most supermarkets — Pataks was the first readily available brand, and I think one of the better ones.
Tamarind paste OR pomegranate molasses –makes a great base for a gluten-free hoisin sauce substitute. Tamarind blocks are now being stocked in most supermarkets (you will have to soak in water and strain to make your own paste). Pomegranate molasses can be found in markets that carry middle-eastern food products. Both add a great sweet/tart dimension to your cooking. Pomegranate molasses can also be simply brushed on meat or fish before broiling or grilling.
Oils and vinegars
Olive oil (extra virgin)
Grapeseed oil or neutral vegetable oil (grapeseed oil has a higher smoke point)
For a vinegar with a bit of a different flavour profile, look for ume plum vinegar or unseasoned rice vinegar
Canned and dried goods
Canned tomatoes – the better quality tomatoes will be whole, not pre-diced, but if you are looking for convenience, look for the brand with the lowest sodium.
Canned (or dried) beans garbanzo beans (chick peas) – great for adding to vegetarian curries, stews, soups AND for whipping up a quick batch of hummus
Canned (or dried) black beans – great for adding to chili, soups and stewsGreen or
Yellow split peas – these are great for those days you might be craving split pea soup. Personal preference prevails here (some people like green split peas!) I like the yellow ones because they double as a dahl base to go with Indian dishes.
Lentils – Again, personal preference prevails here, but I like to have both lentils and split peas because the flavours are different. Plain green lentils are readily available in most supermarkets, but beware buying out of the bulk food bins if you have severe celiac reactions. I prefer the French Lentils (they are smaller, a bit darker and speckled) which have great flavour and retain their shape when cooked.
Dairy and Dairy Alternatives
Butter or solid shortening (need I say more?!). Butter is great to have on hand for baking with (cookies, pie crusts all taste amazing with butter!) but it is also great for adding to sauces at the last minute to richen and thicken slightly, sautéing mushrooms and onions in … If you can’t tolerate dairy, there are some good-tasting alternatives on the market such as Earth Balance buttery sticks.
Milk (dairy or non-dairy). Non dairy milks are packaged in tetra packs and provide a great backup option for making cream sauces, adding liquids to baking etc.
Cheese – I almost always have Parmesan Cheese on hand, and a semi-soft cheese for eating and grilled cheese sandwiches. If you can’t tolerate dairy, and are looking for a good tasting alternative, I highly recommend Daiya cheese shreds (some places also carry 5 lb blocks). The shreds have a great melting quality, tasted good and are completely vegan AND soy-free.
Eggs – truly a wonder food! In addition to being very helpful in adding structure to gluten-free baking, eggs make it possible to make so many last minute gluten-free meal options, such as omelettes, pasta carbonara, scrambled eggs with a hint of truffle oil.
Dried fruit (blueberries, cherries, raisins)
Gluten-free Flour mixes — If you don’t do a lot of baking from scratch, it is worth having a couple of mixes on hand:
- Bob’s Red Mill makes a good chocolate cake mix
- Pamelas Pancake mix
- Pamelas Pie Crust mix — this is the easiest way to whip up a gluten-free pie crust, especially if you are intimidated by pie crusts. It is not too hard to make a good gluten-free pie crust from scratch, but a good mix does take some of the stress out of the process.
- Gluten-free flour blend – try a few and see which one you prefer
This really is a matter of personal taste, but a few flours do double duty as thickeners or starch “extenders” when you are making gluten-free flour blends for baking. A few I recommend having on hand are:
- Tapioca starch
- Corn starch or potato starch
- Sweet rice flour (also called glutinous rice flour) — very good for rolling out pastry and providing a bit of “stickiness” to white sauces
- Potato flour– good for thickening gravies (buy in small quantities as it spoils more quickly than potato starch)
- Brown rice flour (if you do not go through large quanities, keep this in the freezer
- At least one “high protein” flour will help in your baking. I recommend picking from quinoa flour, teff flour, garfava flour or amaranth flour. This is really a matter of personal preference, so buy small amounts and experiment first
- Xantham gum or guar gum are an important addition to your pantry if you plan to start baking-beyond-the-mix. They have slightly different properties, but can be used interchangeably in recipes if you are sensitive to one or the other.
- Chia seeds or flax meal makes a good alternative if you are trying to eliminate eggs or gums from your baking. From experience, you can use chia gel to replace either eggs or gums, but it is hard to do both. Chia seeds (yes, they are the same as ch-ch-ch-chia pets!!!) are the seeds of a species of salvia, which absorb enormous amounts of water and are chock-a-block full of soluble fibre. You can make the gel with both whole seeds and ground seeds
Now that you’re getting started on your pantry, we can start moving onto the exciting part — the cooking!!! Next blog post, we’ll start with that most-important-meal of the day, Breakfast!