Friday, 6 January 2012

It's Easy to be Vegetarian and Gluten-Free

I've been happily vegetarian for nearly 35 years and cooking for a vegetarian version of the amazing Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) for almost six years. The discovery of grain-free cooking has definitely been life changing. It soon became obvious to all of us how much healthier we felt without gluten in our diet. Do I miss eating food made from wheat and other grains containing gluten? Not at all! I look at the picture very differently! I've discovered a plethora of delicious new foods to eat which I would never have had the opportunity to try otherwise. I feel blessed!

So what do we eat and why is it easy to be vegetarian and gluten-free? The answer is to keep things simple and try to make everything from scratch! The latter is not always easy to achieve if you have a busy lifestyle but it doesn't always take a long time to prepare food. In order to maintain a balance, perhaps it's just a matter of organisation! Think about creating a weekly menu so you know in advance what you are cooking. Maybe you could save time by making use of your left-overs the following day and sometimes cooking double quantities so you can freeze one meal to eat later.

Our shopping basket consists of nuts, beans, seeds, lentils, vegetables, fruit, herbs and spices, extra virgin olive oil, organic milk, butter, eggs, and occasionally cheese as well as honey, sugar free jam, 100 per cent nut butters, coconut and almond flours, cartons of organic tomatoes and organic cooked beans and, though the majority of our meals are grain-free and SCD legal, we also buy brown basmati rice, quinoa, gluten-free oats, flax seeds, buckwheat and gram flours for those of us not needing to adhere to a strict SCD legal diet. We don't eat soy, but that's another story! We've also started to cut down on the dairy too. In the past few years I have further extended my knowledge of vegetarian cooking by learning to combine these basic, natural foods to create tasty meals and snacks! Below are just some of the multitude of choices for healthy gluten-free vegetarian meals, all pretty easy to prepare with some links to recipes on my blog!

Breakfast : There's nothing more refreshing than a fruit salad in the morning especially with chopped nuts, natural yogurt and maybe some toasted gluten-free whole grains! But there's a much wider selection of goodies to choose from for a healthy start to the gluten-free day including fruit smoothies, almond or coconut flour pancakes and waffles, porridge made with quinoa, buckwheat or gluten-free oats, eggs and a particular favourite of mine, grain-free muffins!

Salads : An ideal packed lunch! Prepare healthy salads with any of the following - cooked beans and lentils, roasted seeds, nuts, quinoa, gluten free whole grains, raw vegetables, fruits, roasted veggies and salad vegetables. If you want to make a quick dressing, just mix together some cider vinegar or lemon juice, herbs, spices and extra virgin olive oil. Salads are a great way to make use of the left-overs in your fridge!

Sandwiches : Lettuce leaves are brilliant as wraps or make your own Buckwheat Wraps gluten-free whole grain bread rolls or grain-free bread rolls. Fill your choice of roll or wrap with a selection of the following : 100% nut butters, hummus, lentil or bean dips and pat├ęs, guacamole, salsa, hard boiled eggs, yogurt cheesesalad, raw vegetables, fruits and bean sprouts.

Soup : There's no end to the number of different soups you can prepare using lentils, beans, vegetables, spices and herbs and it's simple to make stock. It's also fun to experiment with the different vegetables you have available and create wonderful flavours! If you can, invest in a hand blender. There's no need to add starchy thickeners to soups if you blend everything together!

Lentils, Beans & Nuts : Lentils and beans have a way of turning up in most of our meals! You wouldn't believe the number ways there are to cook with lentils and beans! Add them on their own to vegetables and stir fries and create burgersrissoles, vegetable pies, chilli, spicy meals, stews and hotpots. Use chopped or ground nuts in burgers, nut roasts, salads and desserts and sprinkle on top of meals for extra goodness!

Stuffed vegetables : Stuff a tomato, squash, leek, pepper, courgette or cabbage leaves with chopped vegetables, herbs, nuts and seeds and, if you like, add quinoa (my favourite protein packed seed) or buckwheat or brown rice and serve with a tomato, sweet pepper or grain-free cheese sauce

Other Vegetables ideas : This pizza base is made from quinoa, a recipe I found on City Life Eats, I also make one with beans and almond flour. Yes! you can still enjoy pizza even if you are gluten-free! Other meals I sometimes make include onion bhajisflans and brown rice dishes.

Desserts :  Preparing frozen yogurt cream is surprisingly quick and easy! Gluten-free flours and nut flours work wonderfully in fruit pies and crumbles and the combination of ground nuts and dates creates fantastic no-need-to-cook pie crusts. 

Cakes and cookies: Who doesn't like to treat themselves? We rarely eat cakes with sugar (except on special occasions), preferring to substitute natural sweeteners such as honey and dried fruits. The cakes I make now tend to use almond flour, my preferred gluten-free flour, and include Apricot SliceCarrot CakeCoffee BrownieGinger CakeRaisin CookiesPineapple Muffins. Occasionally I do bake with a xanthan gum free gluten-free flour mix using ground flax seeds in place of the gum.

I'm often asked ... do we ever get bored of vegetarian meals and isn't it difficult to be vegetarian and gluten-free? The answer is always "No, never!" Although we often make our all time favourites, we're constantly experimenting with new flavour combinations and creating new dishes.