Make Gluten-Free Food That Tastes Great (Even To Gluten-Eaters)

They Think Gluten-Free = Gross. Here's How To Outsmart Them

Gluten-Free-Food-Monica-Donovan.jpg
Gluten-free food is delicious!. Monica Donovan/Getty Images

There's no doubt about it: Some people think they don't like gluten-free food. In fact, there are people who have the mistaken impression that all gluten-free food — even naturally gluten-free food — tastes horrible.

So if you're cooking for them, what do you do? You make delicious gluten-free food, of course.

Wait a second: You're probably thinking that most of what you make already is delicious. And I believe you.

But to convince the gluten-free naysayers — those people who believe all gluten-free food is gross just because it's gluten-free, not for any rational reason — you may need to do a bit of a sales job.

Okay, what's involved?

Here are the four steps I recommend for you to make gluten-free meals your friends and family will love, regardless of their possible deep-seated fears of the gluten-free diet. Use just one or two of these tips or, better yet, all of them at once, and watch your family members and guests ooh and ahh over your food (conveniently forgetting, of course, that it's gluten-free).

1. Focus on what you can have, not what you can't have.

Yes, it's sad you can't serve delicious gluten-filled sourdough bread (despite what you may have heard, real sourdough bread is not gluten-free) or particularly flavorful pasta (although gluten-free pasta has come a long way, let's face it, it's still not as good as the original), or even gluten-free pizza (no, it just can't compete).

The way to make your family and friends sing your praises as a chef (not just as a "gluten-free chef") is not to substitute those gluten-y foods with admittedly inferior gluten-free alternatives, it's to avoid the bread/pasta/pizza food groups entirely, and focus on delicious, naturally gluten-free menu items.

For example: Serve a quinoa pilaf made with naturally gluten-free quinoa in place of a gluten-y carb like couscous (just watch out for the few instances where rice dishes contain gluten). Think corn tortillas instead of whole wheat tortillas for a Mexican feast.

In other words, make a meal that wouldn't normally include a bread or pasta product, and your dining companions will never even miss them.

I'll lay out one exception to this rule that's very specific: beer. Many people (even those of us following the gluten-free diet) don't care that much for gluten-free beer. However, I don't like to have gluten-containing products — including beer — in my kitchen. So I get gluten-removed beer for any guests. I don't drink it myself (learn more about that here: Is Gluten-Removed Beer Safe?), but it doesn't bother me to have it around, and my guests think it's decent, "real" beer. Problem solved.

2. Add colors and variety to whatever you're serving.

Even on throw-it-together-in-10-minutes family dinner nights, I try to include color and variety in my meals (my daughter will tell you that I bugged her to eat "green food" and "red food" starting at a very young age).

Even if it's just hamburgers (which I mostly serve without buns), I'll add a salad with some radishes or diced peppers (chop up a bunch at one time and use them over the course of a few days), or a side of baked sweet potatoes (I bake several and then reheat them as needed — they'll keep for a week in the refrigerator). These are simple to make on evenings when you're pressed for time, and they're not obvious substitutes for gluten-y food, either.

If we're having guests, I generally go all-out to make the meal multi-colored and bountiful as well as delicious. You can do this with every occasion from Thanksgiving (make a traditional Thanksgiving meal completely gluten-free) to the Fourth of July (learn what you need to keep your barbecue gluten-free here).

For these special occasions, I like to wander slowly through the farmers' market or the produce aisle and pick out the brightest, prettiest-looking fruits and vegetables. Then I look around for ways to use them in the meal.

For example, I've found beautiful fresh spinach that I combined with feta cheese and gluten-free spices and used to stuff chicken breasts, which I then served over rice pilaf. When mangoes are in season, I enjoy making Thai mango sticky rice pudding. And for that summer cook-out, corn on the cob is perfect ... and gluten-free.

3. Buy or make amazing gluten-free desserts.

What do you think when you think of dessert? In my pre-gluten-free days, it was cookies for casual family meals, and cakes or pies for celebrations. Yup, gluten all the way.

If your household is anything like mine, you'll need to come up with some substitutes that don't seem like substitutes — nobody likes to be deprived of their favorites at dessert. And while I personally think some gluten-free cookie brands are great, they honestly don't go over very well with my gluten-eating friends and family.

Okay, so some good options are needed. What should you consider?

Well, most ice creams are gluten-free (there are exceptions; check my gluten-free ice cream list for what's safe and what's not). And some of those little refrigerated pudding cups are safe on the gluten-free diet, too — just make sure to check ingredients. Either one of these, maybe combined with some fresh fruit, makes a decent everyday dessert.

For company and special celebrations? Wow them with homemade flourless chocolate cake or gluten-free New York-style cheesecake — they'll never miss the gluten. And if you just need a simple birthday cake, you shouldn't have any trouble finding a gluten-free mix at the store (add tons of frosting and no one will know the difference).

4. Never, ever apologize that the food is gluten-free.

In fact, don't even mention it. I've had friends of friends over for dinner who had no clue that I eat gluten-free, and they really enjoyed the food without ever noticing.

If you point out that something is missing from the meal (er, that evil gluten protein), then people will focus on what's missing, not on what's there. So do yourself (and your family and friends) a favor and ignore the absent wheat stalk — it's not a necessary component for food everyone can enjoy.

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