Xanthan-Free Zone

Real food, incidentally gluten-free.

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It would be fair to say I have a bit of a cooking obsession. I’d be happy to cook for myself every night, and if I’m home on the weekend, I’m likely to have a cooked lunch as well as dinner. I like discovering new ingredients and new ways of making things. Spending an hour making dinner during the week is often the most relaxing part of my day, and my kitchen on the weekend usually has a basin of beans or chickpeas soaking in water, or boiling on the stove.

When I was diagnosed recently with Coeliac Disease (endoscopy pending), the part of my life taken up by cooking, buying food and reading recipe books increased markedly. With a gluten-free diet, going out to eat is more trouble and less fun. Getting a cheap lunch while at uni or out and about is more difficult, and I’ve had to figure out how to replace a lot of my usual diet with gluten-free foods (especially breakfast).

A lot of gluten-free products are extremely expensive (eg. biscuits), very processed, and not necessarily that good. So far, my opinion of gluten-free bread could be described as low. My mother bought me two loaves after I got my first test results and they remain in my freezer, for “emergencies” (Putting out fires? Protecting the house from flood?) These loaves are made by a fantastic local bakery, and I figure if they can’t make gluten-free bread that I’d want to eat, it must be really, really hard.

My memories of eating corn pasta and rice pasta as a child convinced me it was a not an experience to repeat. I bought a promising-looking gluten-free pasta so my flatmate could make pasta dishes and then just boil my pasta separately. It was okay, but it’s a bit depressing to┬ábe cooking and eating a facsimile of something which is never quite as good.

This seems to be even more the case with cakes, breads and other baked things for which wheat flour would seem to be a quintessential ingredient. I bought a few gluten-free cookbooks but looking through cake recipes which list rice flour, soy flour, potato flour and xanthan gum just depresses me. How do I know these are going to be any better than my emergency gluten-free bread? Maybe I will get used to the different flavours given by these flours but the idea of subjecting my flatmates, friends and family to a series of possibly-not-very-tasty scones, muffins, cakes and biscuits doesn’t really excite me.

What does excite me is the idea of finding or inventing tasty recipes in which different grains are native ingredients, not just substituting for a gluten-containing grain. Also, finding new recipes from cuisines which are usually based on rice, corn and other grains such as Asian and Latin-American food. And sharing recipes for the kind of food I like, ie. food which has a lot of fresh vegetables, is mostly vegetarian (but with some fish dishes), mostly made from scratch, sometimes takes time to prepare but is rarely fiddly or especially complex, and is based on enjoying good ingredients and not trying to get exactly the same result as someone else.

My promises to you, my future loyal readers, is that recipes on this blog will never contain:

– Xanthan gum (aka food additive 415)

– Guar gum (aka food additive 412)

– “Gluten-free Gluten”

– Gluten-free flour mixes, or

– Gluten-free pasta

I might throw around a bit of rice flour from time to time but the principle of substitution will be used rarely if at all.

Recipes may contain weird ingredients, because that’s one of the things that I find fun and challenging.

I hope you find the recipes easy to follow, fun to make and tasty to eat.