Healthy Gluten Free Eating

For several years I have had repeated requests to write a cookbook with delicious recipes for coeliacs – so at last Healthy Gluten-free Eating is in the shops. My co-author Rosemary Kearney, originally a student and later a teacher at the Ballymaloe Cookery School has been a coeliac all her life. She and I spent over a year collaborating and researching, egged on by the students on the annual coeliacs’ courses at the school. The long-awaited cookbook, published by Kyle Cathie, has been endorsed both by the Coeliac Society of Ireland and the UK.
The number of coeliacs and people with wheat intolerance is growing at an alarming rate. At present 7 per 1,000 of the population have been diagnosed as coeliacs.

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune genetic disease which results in a permanent intolerance to gluten. Gluten is the name given to a number of different proteins (gliadin is the protein found in wheat, hordein is the protein in barley, secalin is the protein in rye and avenin is the protein in oats) which cause the immune reaction in coeliacs. It is gluten that gives bread is elasticity and cakes their spring. Unfortunately, even the tiniest amount of gluten can cause problems for coeliacs, despite the fact that individuals may not always be aware of the symptoms.

The gluten damages an area in the small intestine, causing inflammation and subsequent malabsorption of food and nutrients. The only treatment required though, to enable the person to return to normal and the painful effects of gluten intolerance to cease is to follow a completely gluten-free diet.

However if you suddenly discover that you are a coeliac don’t panic.

First reaction is what am I going to eat? No more bread, pasta, cakes, biscuits – the list seems endless. It doesn’t have to be like this – take a step back and look at the wider picture. You have been diagnosed with a disease whereby you don’t need to take tablets or receive injections because it is treatable – or rather controllable – by the food you eat. If anything, being diagnosed with coeliac disease can be a wake up call - as it can make us realise how much processed food we may have been consuming! Therefore, it is time to go right back to basics. We need to use natural ingredients and be responsible for the food we are eating in order to sustain our bodies.

Healthy eating for coeliacs need not mean tasteless, boring meals – no one has to compromise on flavour just because gluten has to be excluded from the diet and it need not lessen the pleasure in cooking and eating. Rather, see it as a fresh beginning, an opportunity to try new ingredients and a wide and more exciting range of recipes.

TYPICAL SYMPTOMS OF COELIAC DISEASE would include – chronic tiredness, lethargy, headache, nausea, vomiting, bloating and cramps, diarrhoea, anaemia, mouth ulcers, thyroid problems, Type 1 diabetes, osteopenia and osteoporosis, delayed or stunted growth in children, poor weight gain, weight loss, problems with fertility and pregnancy.

WHAT TO BUY – you will need to stock up your store cupboard with coeliac products and become familiar with their use, so you can whip up some yummy meals in minutes. We have put together a list of products to keep in stock. However, in a household where just one person is coeliac, remember, if it’s practical, to reserve a cupboard for their use alone see. 

STORE CUPBOARD INGREDIENTS – rice flour, tapioca flour, potato flour, corn flour, cornmeal, Soya flour, gram flour, buckwheat flour. Xantham gum, bicarbonate of soda, gluten-free baking powder, bextartar. Milk powder, Lecithin (this comes from Soya beans and is available from chemists or health food shops. It is rich in phosphatidl choline, an important nutrient in the control of dietary fat which helps the body to convert fats into energy rather than storing them as body fat. Check that it is GM free). Dried active yeast, Nuts, including ground almonds and pine nuts, Millet flakes, Rice bran, Rice flakes, Dried fruit, Pure vanilla extract, Rice, Rice paper wrappers, Rice noodles – fine and flat. Gluten-free pasta – penne, lasagne, macaroni. Dried pulses – beans/lentils, eg haricot beans/chickpeas. Gluten-free icing sugar, Best quality dark chocolate – minimum 70% cocoa solids, Oils and vinegars, including sesame oil, Dijon mustard. Whole spices including black peppercorns/white peppercorns (ensure that you use pure white pepper as some brands are bulked with flour), Japanese tamari soy sauce, Nam pla (fish sauce), Gluten-free poppadums.


Baking powder, Communion wafers, ‘Corn Tortillas’ may also contain regular flour.

Frozen chips – flour may be present to keep them white. Stock cubes/powder. Vegetable soup may contain pearl barley. White pepper may be ‘bulked’ with flour. Inferior brands of ground almonds may contain breadcrumbs. Seasoning mixes, Mustard Powder.

Packet suet may have flour in it to stop it sticking together. Packets of ready-grated cheese may contain flour. Cheese spreads. Commercial salad dressings and mayonnaise.

Soy Sauce (there are gluten-free brands available, eg. Japanese tamari. Dry-roasted nuts, Pretzels, Bombay mix. Scotch Eggs. Food that has been deep-fried with other gluten-containing food, eg battered fish and chips. 

Processed meats, e.g. ham, may be injected with a cereal ‘filler’ to increase their protein content or thinly sliced meats may also have ‘fillers’.

Flavoured crisps. Some fizzy drinks (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) may contain barley flour to give a cloudy appearance. Always check the source.

Coffee from vending machines. Malted milk drinks. Barley water or flavoured barley water. Beer, lager, stout and ale are all made from grain. Some tablets contain flour as a binder or filler. Children’s ‘pick & mix’ sweets may be coated in flour to stop them sticking together. 

Brightly coloured modelling dough used by children is not a food, but strangely enough it can sometimes get into their little mouths and you should be aware that it is made from wheat flour.

Check all brands and processed foods as they may contain added ingredients that are not gluten-free.

Much of this hidden gluten is contained in processed foods – which is another good reason for coeliacs and non-coeliacs alike to cook with fresh, natural ingredients.

Healthy Gluten-free Eating, by Darina Allen and Rosemary Kearney ,published by Kyle Cathie. €17.99

Darina Allen runs the Ballymaloe Cookery School at Shanagarry, Co Cork Tel 021-4646785 

Tomato, Feta and Pesto Tart

Serves 6-8
1 x recipe for gluten-free savoury pastry (see recipe)

2 red peppers
8 tbsp tomato fondue (see recipe)
175g (6 oz) feta cheese
Approximately 10 basil leaves
4 tsp basil pesto 
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp Olive oil

1 x 7” (18cm) quiche tin / flan ring

Preheat the oven to 2500C / 4750F / regulo 9

First, roast the red peppers. Rub with a little olive oil and put them on a baking tray.
Bake in a hot oven for 20 – 30 minutes, until they are soft and the skin blisters. Put them in a sealed plastic bag to cool. Peel the peppers and remove the stalk and seeds. Don’t wash away the lovely juices. 

Reduce the oven temperature to 1800C / 3500F / regulo 4.

Now, make the gluten free savoury pastry in the usual way. Line the tin with the pastry and bake blind for 20 minutes in a moderate oven. Remove the beans, egg wash the base and return to the oven for a further 2 minutes. This seals the pastry and helps to avoid a soggy bottom!

Using your finger-tips, crumble half of the feta cheese over the base of the pastry. Arrange a layer of roasted red pepper and basil leaves on top. Season with a little salt and freshly ground pepper (take care when seasoning as feta is quite salty). Now cover with a layer of tomato fondue and crumble over the remaining feta cheese. Return the tart to the oven for 10-15 minutes until it is hot and bubbly. Drizzle the tart generously with Pesto and serve immediately with a salad of rocket leaves or a good green salad.

Tomato Fondue

Serves 6 approximately 

115g (4ozs) sliced onions
1 clove of garlic, crushed 
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
900g (2lbs) very ripe tomatoes in Summer, or 2½ tins (x 14oz) of tomatoes in Winter, but peel before using
Salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar to taste
1 tablespoon of any of the following;
freshly chopped mint, thyme, parsley, lemon balm, marjoram or torn basil

Heat the oil in a non reactive saucepan. Add the sliced onions and garlic toss until coated, cover and sweat on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured. It is vital for the success of this dish that the onions are completely soft before the tomatoes are added. Slice the fresh tomatoes or tinned and add with all the juice to the onions. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar (tinned tomatoes need lots of sugar because of their high acidity). Add a generous sprinkling of herbs. Cook uncovered for just 10-20 minutes more, or until the tomato softens. Cook fresh tomatoes for a shorter time to preserve the lively fresh flavour. Tinned tomatoes need to be cooked for longer depending on whether one wants to use the fondue as a vegetable, sauce or filling. Note: A few drops of Balsamic vinegar at the end of cooking greatly enhances the flavour.

Coconut and Raspberry Slice

125g (4 ½ oz) butter, softened
60g (2 ½ oz) castor sugar
1 egg, preferably free – range, beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
100g (3 ½ oz) rice flour
75g (3oz) tapioca flour
1 teaspoon gluten – free baking powder
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
50 ml (2 floz) milk

175g (6oz) homemade raspberry jam
250g (9oz) raspberries

100g (3 ½ oz) butter, softened
150g (5oz) castor sugar
2 eggs, preferably free-range , beaten
225g (8oz) dessicated coconut
60g (2 ½ oz) rice flour

Preheat the oven to 180oC / 350oF/regulo 4
1 swiss roll tin 30cm x 20cm (12 inch x 8 inch) – lined with bakewell paper

Cream the butter and gradually add the castor sugar. Beat until it is soft and light and quite pale in colour. Add the beaten egg and the vanilla extract gradually and beat well after each addition.

Sieve together the dry ingredients – the rice flour, tapioca flour, gluten – free baking powder and xanthan gum and stir in gradually. Mix all together lightly and add the milk to moisten. Pour the mixture into the prepared swiss roll tin, smoothing it out to the edges. Spread the home – made raspberry jam gently over the cake mixture and sprinkle with the raspberries. It may be necessary to press them down gently into the cake mixture.

Make the topping: Cream the butter and the sugar together as before so that it is pale, soft and light. Add the beaten eggs gradually, beating well after each addition. Mix together the dessicated coconut and the rice flour and fold into the mixture. Spread gently but evenly over the raspberries and bake in the preheated oven for approximately 35-40 minutes or until a skewer comes out cleanly. 

Allow to cool and cut into 24 biscuits.

Chocolate Brownies

Makes 18 chocolate brownie fingers

7 oz (200g) whole almonds with skins left on
10½ oz (300g) Lesme, Callebaut or Valrhona chocolate
7 oz (200g) unsalted butter
12 oz (340g) castor sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 eggs, free-range preferably

Preheat the oven 180°C/350°F/ regulo 4

Line a swiss roll tin 9" x 12" (22½ cm x 30 cm) with bakewell paper leaving a rim around the circumference at least 2" high. Staple the sides so that they don’t fall over!

Place the whole almonds on a baking sheet and roast in a moderate oven for approximately 10 minutes. Allow to cool and coarsely chop or whizz in a food processor for a few seconds. Melt the chocolate and the unsalted butter in a pyrex bowl over a pan of simmering water. Separate the eggs and mix the egg yolks with the castor sugar until pale, thick and creamy. Add the vanilla extract. Gently stir in the melted chocolate and butter. Now, fold in the roasted chopped almonds.

In a large pyrex or stainless steel bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form, being careful not to overwhip. Fold the stiffly beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture using a large spatula and pour into the prepared swiss roll tin.

Bake in a moderate oven for 25 minutes until firm to touch on the outside but still slightly soft in the middle. Allow to cool in the tin before cutting into 18 fingers.

Foolproof Food

Gluten-free Savoury Pastry

3 oz (85g) rice flour
3 oz (85g) fine ground cornmeal
3 oz (85g) potato flour
1 heaped teaspoon xanthan gum* see Hot Tips
pinch salt
5 oz (140g) butter
1 egg (free range preferably) mixed with 2 tablespoons cold water

To make the pastry
Sieve the rice flour, fine ground cornmeal, potato flour, salt and xanthan gum into a pyrex bowl and mix well. Cut the butter into cubes and gently rub into the flour mixture. Make a well in the centre on the pyrex bowl and carefully add in some of the egg/water mixture, using a fork to bring the pastry together. It is tempting to add more liquid at this stage but try not to, as it is very easy to make the pastry too wet! On a very lightly rice floured board, gently knead the dough with the heel of your hand for a few minutes to form a silky smooth ball of dough. Flatten slightly, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for a least 1 hour. When it has chilled enough, roll out the pastry, (I find putting it between 2 sheets of bakewell paper stops it sticking) and line the tart tin.

Hot Tips

Xanthan gum
This is a relatively new product which is an invaluable aid for gluten free baking, as gluten-free flours are less elastic in texture. Adding a small amount of xanthan gum will to some extent replace these elastic qualities. It is now available in the special dietary section of some of the major supermarkets, and health food shops that stock a good range of gluten-free products. 

The Coeliac Society of Ireland (CSI) may be contacted for help and advice – The Coeliac Society of Ireland, Carmichael Centre, 4 North Brunswick St. Dublin 7. Tel 01-872 
For over 30 years CSI has provided aid to its members. Through its network of branches the CSI organises public meetings and cookery demonstrations. The Head Office in Dublin circulates information leaflets, provides a Telephone Help Line and twice yearly, a Newsletter.

The Manufacturers List (gluten-free food list), is the mainstay of the Society’s support for its members. This booklet, produced annually, contains details of all brands of food and drink available in retail outlets that do not contain gluten. In order to produce this list the CSI has to contact Food Technologists in all the manufacturing companies and supermarket chains to obtain documentation regarding the constituents of all products. The Society’s dietitian checks the material before products are accepted into the Manufacturers List. In the case of foods which can contain hidden gluten, the manufacturer/retailer has to provide laboratory test results confirming that the products comply with the appropriate International Standards.

Cork Free Choice Consumer Group

Next Meeting on Thursday 27th May at 7.30pm in the Crawford Art Gallery Café, Emmet Place – ‘Seaweed- our own free, healthy, versatile and plentiful food’-

Speakers Christine Thery from Heir Island and Olivier Beaujouan from Castlegregory. Launch of new revised edition of ‘Good Food in Cork’. Admission €5 including tea, coffee and tasting.

New Season’s Irish Asparagus is now available, treat yourself to a little bundle and taste what asparagus should really taste like.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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