By Naini Setalvad
With the rise in gluten intolerance across the world, Naini Setalvad offers some healthy and tasty alternatives to wheat.
Gluten-free diets are gaining a lot of popularity today and more and more people are wanting to follow it. Gluten allergy, which was earlier confined to the far East-Asian people, is now spreading around the world. Though a growing number of people dodging gluten don’t have celiac disease, they seem to be unable to digest gluten properly.
Do you have a gluten problem?
The classic and most immediately noticeable symptoms are gastrointestinal like bloating, flatulence, and diarrhea, sometimes with smelly stools. This can impair the absorption of nutrients, the consequences of which include anemia (because iron isn’t being absorbed), and weaker bones (because calcium and Vitamin D aren’t getting into the body).
One major difference between gluten disease and grain-related digestion problems is that when it’s just a digestion problem it typically doesn’t lead to malabsorption and nutritional deficiencies.
Grains for the gluten-challenged
In North and West India, we largely depend on wheat as a source of our grain intake. A lot of our snacks are made from wheat and semolina which are high on gluten. When asked to go on a gluten-free diet we are often at a loss. Thankfully, India has a wide variety of grains that are gluten-free. Some of the common ones are rice, amaranth (rajgirha), buckwheat (kuttu) (no relation to wheat), pearl millet (nachni) sorghum(jowar), sago (sabudana), and water chestnut flour (singhada). While eating out is an issue, rice and potatoes are easy substitutes readily available in all restaurants.
Here are some wheat alternatives:
Rotis: Eat rotis made from jowar, bajra, nachni, rajgiraha, rice, or singhada flour.
Method: Most people make a dough, pat it into shape with the hand, and cook it over the tawa. However, this requires a certain amount of dexterity. An optional method is to boil a cup of water in a vessel, add a pinch of salt and stir in a two ladelfuls of flour to the boiling water on a high flame, or as much is required for the mixture to thicken, but still remain soft. Keep it until it cools a bit, add some oil and then knead it into a dough which you can then roll out like regular rotis. Works well with rice, nachni and jowar.
Pasta: Pasta made from rice, rice noodles and rice seviah (vermicelli) are available at grocery stores in Southern India, and in select stores in the rest of India.
Biscuits: A selection of maize, and millet biscuits are available.
Cereals and snacks: Poha, kurmura, and sabudana are some common easily available ones.
Rice: It is fairly bland, which makes it good for all-purpose use. Rice flour is a good thickener for soups and baked dishes. White or brown rice give pretty much equal results.
Sorghum or Jowar: Sorghum tends to have a gritty texture. It works best when blended with other flours.
Amaranth: The seed from this broad-leafed plant is used in its whole grain form, milled into flour, or puffed into kernels.
Tapioca starch or sabudana: Great for making rotis.
Soya flour: Used in small amounts, it adds moisture. However in large amounts, the flavour is very pronounced and can be overpowering. If you are allergic to everything else, you can mix 1/3 part soy flour with 2/3 rice flour and it will work reasonably well.
Buckwheat: This is not a form of wheat, rather, it is a herb, and is suitable for most people with wheat intolerance.
Once you have adjusted your taste buds, you’ll find that avoiding wheat isn’t nearly as daunting as it may seem now. In fact, I am sure you’ll find many healthy and tastier replacements.
Gram flour chillas (glutenfree)
100 grams chickpea flour
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp chopped spinach
2 tbsps grated tofu/cottage cheese
1 tsp crushed ginger
350 ml iced water
1 tsp of oil
Mix flour, salt, vegetables and spices together. Gradually add iced water until you get a smooth batter. Heat a tsp of oil on a non-stick pan, add a quarter of batter, spread it evenly and cook until the edges are crispy and brown, and the top has dried out. Serve with filling of your choice, or garnish it with grated tofu.
Sesame and soya cookies (glutenfree)
1 1/4 cup soy flour
3 tbsps sesame seeds
2 tbsps rice bran oil
5 tbsps water
1/4 tsp sea salt
• Mix together soy flour and sesame seeds.
• Add oil and gradually add enough water to form a soft dough. Add sea salt.
• Knead, and roll out on a floured surface to 1/8 inch thickness.
• Cut into desired shapes. Prick shapes with fork.
• Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until brown.
Rice flour and sabudana pancake (glutenfree)
2/3 cup brown rice flour
1/3 cup tapioca (sabudana) starch
1 tbsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 large egg
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup plain low-fat yoghurt
1/2 cup low fat milk
• Sift rice flour, cornstarch, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl.
• Mix egg with oil and yogurt, stir in milk.
• Pour liquid ingredients over dry ingredients and mix until just blended.
• Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Pour batter by tablespoonfuls into the dry pan.
• Cook pancakes until golden brown on sides, two minutes or less. Stack on warm plates.
• Serve with butter and preserves, syrup or honey.
• Recipe makes seven to eight pancakes, four to five inches
About the author
Naini Setalvad is a nutritionist, specialising in lifestyle and immunity disorders. Her foundation, Health For You, throws light on healthy food habits.
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