Gluten Free Grains & Pasta

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Gluten Free Grains & Pasta

IntroductionQuinoaMilletBuckwheatAmaranthBrown RiceBrown Rice FlakesOatsGluten Free PastaPolenta

Introduction

These are some of my favourite gluten free grains and seeds. Brown rice, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, oats and quinoa are brilliant nutritional superfoods that pack a powerful punch; not to mention, being absolutely delicious. These gluten free grains are easy to prepare; and provide a wonderful bank canvas for flavourful inspiration -- spicy, sweet, tangy, fruity or salty. Whatever tickles your fancy.

It is best to purchase organic products wherever possible, and store your grains in sealed glass jars in the fridge, consuming them in good time. Grains have slightly different personalities, so liquid-to-grain ratios and cooking times will vary. Your cooked grain will vary slightly, depending on the method of cooking, the type of liquid being used, and the quality of the grain. I have recommended cooking times, and liquid-to-grain ratios to make it a bit easier to work with. I find a traditional rice cooker works well for all of these grains, and makes cooking them a sinch; particularly, if you stick to the ratios. I like my grains with a little crunch and bite, with no “glug”. You could always add in a little bit more water, if you prefer a softer grain. For savoury dishes, you can cook these grains with plain filtered water or stock. Be bold, and add in some ginger, garlic, turmeric, sea vegetables, herbs and spices in order to intensify the flavours. 

Whole grains are fantastic served with stir-fries, curries, bakes, and steamed vegetables. I use an ice cream scoop and add a “grain ball” to top my soups and stews, as an alternative to the ubiquitous bread roll. But don’t stop at savoury dishes! Grains make fantastic creamy porridge-like cereals; and are wonderful for use in puddings and desserts. I love quinoa, millet or amaranth porridge cooked in coconut milk, and sweetened with stevia, maple syrup or dates! Grains also make fantastic plant based milks. 

Try to purchase organic grains from a health food store with a high turn over to ensure maximum freshness. Store them in sealed glass jars in a cool, dry pantry, or preferably, the refrigerator. Check the use-by date, and consume in good time. 

I recommend soaking all grains to neutralize toxic enzyme inhibitors and activate full nutrient potential. You can read more about this nutritional and culinary benefits of soaking in the resources section

Quinoa

Quinoa (pronounced ‘keen-wah’) is a gluten free superfood. It is one of the most complete and versatile whole foods available and is my number one gluten free grain of choice. Quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids required for health. It also contains vital enzymes; vitamins and minerals; antioxidants and phytonutrients; and fibre.

Quinoa is a wonderful alkaline gluten free ‘grain-like’ food that is not strictly a grain; but rather, a seed, which is related to spinach. The Incas held this crop to be sacred, and so do I! They referred to quinoa as the “Mother of all grains”. It was so revered for keeping the army strong, that the emperor would sow the first seeds of the season with golden implements.

Quinoa is an excellent source of dietary fibre and phosphorus; is high in iron and magnesium; and is associated with combating artherosclerosis, breast cancer and diabetes. Another wonderful quality of quinoa, is that it does not feed yeast, fungus or bacteria in the body; is more alkaline than other grains; and is one of the four gluten free “grains” allowed on The Body Ecology Diet. According to Donna Gates, studies have actually shown that it acts as a ‘prebiotic’ that feeds the beneficial bacteria in the intestines.

There are many varieties and colours of quinoa -- ranging from ivory, pink, red, brown and black. The main types widely available are the white or ivory quinoa, sometimes referred to as royal quinoa; or the red, and black quinoa. The white quinoa is a little sweeter, and is the variety most commonly used. This is the kind I use the most in salads and vegetarian pilafs. The red variety is a little fruitier and adds a beautiful depth of colour to green dishes.

Quinoa is easy to digest, and has a light fluffy texture, with a slight crunch. With a mild, nutty flavour, it is a great substitute for rice and couscous; and is great in pilafs and stuffings, and as an accompaniment for vegetarian stir-fries, vegan curries and stews. It also makes a fantastic gluten free alternative to cracked wheat. I use quinoa in all of my tabouli salads, or to add a crunch to regular salads.

Sprouted quinoa is a nutritious addition to salads and sandwiches. To sprout quinoa: just soak 1/3 cup of seeds in jar of filtered water for about 4 hours, and then rinse twice a day for about 4 days until they sprout to about an inch long. Then put them on a sunny windowsill and allow them to green.

I often use a scoop of quinoa as a grain ball in my vegan soups and stews instead of a gluten free bread roll. Quinoa makes a wonderful high protein porridge alternative, You can quickly and easily cook quinoa in a rice cooker after soaking with a ratio of 1 cups of water to 1 cup of quinoa. If you don't soak, the ratio is 1:2. To cook on the stove top: just cook in a very similar way to rice. Bring two cups of water to the boil, and add in one cup of grain. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes. I often add in sea vegetables, stock and herbs for extra flavour. It is absolutely delicious. Always soak quinoa before cooking in order to remove the oxalic acid, saponins and other anti-nutrients.  Toasting quinoa in your skillet after soaking, enhances the flavour, and makes a nice change.

Quinoa has a relatively high fat content, and should always be stored in a sealed glass container in the fridge or a cool pantry. Quinoa grains should be used within a year. Try using quinoa flour to enrich gluten free muffins and breads.

Millet

Millet (along with quinoa) is my gluten free “grain” of choice.

Millet is not strictly a grain, but rather a “grain-like” seed. But we will refer to it as a grain for our purposes here. Millet is a phenomenal alkaline food that is fantastic for savoury and sweet dishes. Millet is one of the oldest foods known to man, having been the grain of choice in China before rice became dominant. Today, it is an important grain in Africa, China, Japan, India and Egypt; and sustains about 1/3 of the world’s population.

Millet is famous for being the staple grain of the “healthy Hunzas” in the Himalayas, who are renowned for their superior health and longevity. It is loaded with nutrients! It is about 15% protein; and is rich in essential amino acids; fibre and B Vitamins; as well as iron, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus. Millet has been associated with lowering cholesterol and diabetes; as well as protecting against cancer, childhood asthma, and the effects of migraines and heart attacks.

Millet is one of the least allergenic, and easily digestible gluten free grains that is very strengthening for the digestive system. It is alkalizing, and does not feed yeast and fungus. It is ideal for anti-candida diets. According to Donna Gates, millet acts as a prebiotic, and feeds beneficial bacteria in the body; it hydrates the colon, assisting with healthy elimination; and boosts serotonin levels, fat metabolism, tissue repair and energy.

Millet is particularly good in the colder months; as it is very warming and soothing. In the West, millet is primarily cultivated and used for cattle and bird feed. But thankfully, it is gaining momentum as a human staple, thanks to the vegetarian and gourmet health community. These tiny little yellow beads have a delicious slightly sweet, nutty flavour that makes them fantastic for making pilafs and accompanying vegetable side dishes; and for making sweet cereals and puddings.

For human consumption, the indigestible outer hull must be removed, leaving the germ intact, which does not affect the nutritional profile. There are a lot of varieties of millet. But hulled pearl millet is the variety typically available. It is important to soak millet before cooking, in order to remove the goiterogenic thyroid inhibitors. This isn’t cause for alarm, unless you have a serious thyroid condition. In which case, I would avoid consuming large amounts of millet.

Soak for at least 8 hours with a pinch of Celtic sea salt in order to remove the anti-nutrients and enzyme inhibitors, and then rinse thoroughly. The Body Ecology website suggests adding a small amount of fermented liquid to the soaking water, in order to make the millet easier to digest.

To cook millet, just soak and then use a ratio of 1 parts millet to 1 or 1 parts liquid. Bring water to the boil, and then simmer covered for about 20 minutes. Then allow it to steam for a five minutes more. I prefer my millet fluffy, and cook in a rice cooker with a 1:1.5 ratio. This always works well for me. I will cook in vegetable stock with some roots and sea vegetables. You could also roast the seeds in a skillet after soaking to heighten the flavour before cooking.

Millet also makes a really delicious comfort sweet treat in the Winter. I just cook with milk and stir through some natural sweetener and coconut oil. If I want to be really decadent I will use coconut milk and date sugar. Millet can also be popped with coconut oil for a healthy movie snack. I will often use millet as a grain ball to top soups and stews. But it is also a fantastic crunchy, nutritious addition to salads. I will often use millet in my tabouli instead of quinoa.

My favourite millet dish is still a cauliflower millet mash that makes a fantastic creamy vegan alternative to traditional mashed potatoes. Millet has a relatively long shelf life and can be stored for up to two years. Try using millet flour for baking. It is fantastic.

Buckwheat

Despite the confusing name, buckwheat is not related to wheat, and is gluten free. Buckwheat is a “grain-like” food that is not strictly a cereal grain, but rather a fruit seed, related to rhubarb and sorrel.

Buckwheat is high in essential and non essential amino acids, making the protein incredibly available. It is a superior source of protein to rice and millet. Buckwheat is mineral-rich, with significant calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, zinc and copper; and contains powerful antioxidants such as quercitin; and phytonutrients that have been associated with promoting heart health, protecting against cancer, and lowering cholesterol. Buckwheat contains rutin, which strengthens small blood vessels in the body. The soluble fibre in buckwheat is like a sponge, that slows down the absorption of sugars, and aids with healthy digestion and assimilation. Furthermore, buckwheat does not feed yeast and fungus, so is suitable for anti-candida diets. 

Buckwheat must be milled in order to remove the indigestible outer hull, and these groats are sold unroasted or roasted (kasha). Roasted buckwheat has a nutty flavour, whereas the unroasted variety is a lot more subtle. Buckwheat is a tanny pink or brown colour, and has a triangular shape.

To cook buckwheat, soak to remove the anti nutrients. Rinse thoroughly, and then cook with one part buckwheat to one parts liquid. If you don't soak it the ratio is 1:2. I use vegetable broth and sea vegetables in order to attain a richer flavour, and cook my buckwheat in a rice cooker. Alternatively, bring the liquid to the boil on the stove top, and simmer for about 20 minutes. I use buckwheat as a variation from quinoa and millet with my steamed vegetables, stir-fries and vegan curries. But my favourite way to eat buckwheat is to cook it, stir through some herbs and greens, and pour into an oiled baking dish. Allow it to set, and then cut into triangles and fry like polenta. Top with your favourite sauce. 

You can also make sweet treats by frying up buckwheat with coconut oil, and then topping with your favourite natural sweetener. Buckwheat makes a fantastic porridge-like cereal that is really comforting. Just top with some stevia, maple syrup, or other sweetener. Try it with coconut milk. Buckwheat sprouts are a fantastic addition to salads and stir fries; and try buckwheat flour to make delicious nutritious pancakes and baked goods. 

I must admit, I prefer quinoa or millet over buckwheat, as it is highly mucoid and acid forming; whereas quinoa and millet are alkaline forming. In order to make buckwheat less acid forming, use a bit of Celtic sea salt while cooking. Having said that, buckwheat is a fantastic gluten free whole food that is really versatile and delicious.

Amaranth

Amaranth is a wonderful alkaline gluten free “grain-like” seed that is rich in protein (about 16%), as well as iron and fibre. It also contains high amounts of lysine and methionine, two essential amino acids that are lacking in a lot of other grains. Turn over a packet of amaranth, and you will be amazed at the nutritional profile. These tiny seeds pack a powerful nutritional punch!

The ancient Aztecs relied heavily on amaranth, and it has been cultivated for over 8,000 years. Amaranth is not really a mainstream grain yet, and is mainly found at health food stores. You can eat it as a cereal by cooking with a 1:2 ratio and adding in your favourite natural sweetener. It is delicious cooked in coconut milk! Or cook it and eat it with steamed or stir-fried vegetables. After soaking, just add 1 cup of seeds to about 1 cup of water or stock, boil and simmer for about 20 minutes. Be careful not to overcook amaranth. It can become very gluggy, and is quite a bit more sticky than some of the other fluffier gluten free grains. I cook mine (after soaking) in the rice cooker with a 1:1 ratio for a crunchier grain.

Amaranth makes a fantastic substitute for traditional popcorn. Just cook with some coconut oil and you have a quick, healthy, protein-rich movie snack. I will often use a scoop of amaranth to bulk up my soups and stews, and serve instead of bread. Amaranth also makes a wonderful addition to muffins and pancakes. I also add it into some homemade power bars and cereal snacks. Sprouted amaranth seeds are fantastic in sandwiches, wraps and salads; and amaranth flour is a wonderful nutrient-rich flour for baking.

Brown Rice

There are over 8,000 different varieties of rice! Rice sustains over half of the world’s population. No wonder in some Asian languages, “to eat” literally translates “to eat rice”

Brown rice is my rice of choice, simply because it is the most nutritionally dense variety that has undergone the least amount of processing. Brown rice is the whole grain, that has been hulled, removing the inedible outer layer, leaving the nutrient-rich bran and germ available. It is loaded with essential nutrients such as B vitamins, manganese, selenium, magnesium, iron, and phosphorus, as well as dietary fibre and essential fatty acids. The fibre in brown rice can help reduce the risk of colon and breast cancer; assist with weight loss and metabolic disorders; regulate blood sugar levels and assist with diabetes; lower cholesterol and protect against heart disease and strokes; and the list goes on and on. 

Conversely, white rice has been milled; and in the process of refining and polishing, the bran and germ has been removed, along with all of the valuable nutrients. White rice is delicious, but it is just empty starchy calories with no nutritional benefit. In fact, legislation in some countries dictates that white rice be enriched and fortified with some of these nutrients in order to meet the nutritional standards for human consumption. 

I always soak my rice to remove the anti-nutrients and enzyme inhibitors; and I will often toast it in the skillet to enhance the flavour and make it more digestible before cooking. This has another benefit too -- the rice becomes more light and fluffy, making it more appealing to those people who are opposed to the more gritty texture. I happen to love the crunchiness of brown rice. But soaking is a great way to introduce children or reluctant adults to the joys of brown rice.

Always purchase organic brown rice from health food stores with a high turn over to ensure maximum freshness, and take note of the use-by date. Due to the natural oils contained in the germ of brown rice, it is susceptible to rancidity. So always store in a sealed glass container in the fridge, and consume in good time. WH Foods reveals research that suggests that non-organic U.S long grain rice may contain up to 5 times the arsenic than rice produced in India, Bangladesh or Europe. So purchase organic wherever possible.

Brown rice is incredibly versatile and is a glorious blank canvas for spicy, sweet, tangy, fruity or salty. It is hard to pass up a delectable rice pudding, rice pilaf, rice balls or rice salad. But you can make brown rice sushi, wraps or fritattas. Or have your tried making a pizza base by pressing cooked day-old brown rice into a pizza tray.

After soaking, I always cook my brown rice in a rice cooker with one parts rice to one part filtered water or vegetable broth. If you have not soaked the rice, use a 1:2 ratio of rice to liquid. Being susceptible to candida, I generally opt for quinoa and millet over brown rice, due to the high carbohydrate profile that feeds yeast and fungus, particular in people with really compromised immune systems.

Quinoa is also a lot more alkaline than brown rice. But, for those of you with food allergies, brown rice is considered a low allergy food.

Brown Rice Flakes

Toasted rolled rice flakes are a fantastic gluten free substitute for traditional oats if you have a serious gluten sensitivity and don’t want to fork out the serious dosh for safe gluten free oats. Brown rice flakes have a similar texture to conventional oats, but are a little bit firmer.

You can soak them a little in filtered water or milk in order to soften them. They make delicious gluten free porridge and puddings; and are wonderful for use in cereals and baked goods. You can also use them as the base for crumble and cobbler toppings; and to coat and bind veggie burgers and rolls as an alternative to bread crumbs.

You won’t be getting the enormous health benefits of oats; and rice flakes have a higher glycemic index, so perhaps not as desirable for diabetics or those of you watching your blood sugar levels. But I find these flakes fabulous for a bit of diversity, and they cook up in a jiffy!

Oats

Oats are actually gluten free. However, they are most often processed in facilities that also handle wheat. So they are susceptible to contamination. If you have celiac disease, or a serious intolerance to gluten, always purchase gluten free oats, that have been processed on a dedicated facility free from gluten containing products.

Oats come in a variety of forms depending on how they are cut and rolled.

“Whole oat berries” are exactly that; and need to be hulled to remove the hard outer shell in order to be fit for human consumption. Hulled oats or “oat groats” are similar in size and appearance to brown rice. Groats cook up quickly and have the whole outer bran layer of the kernel still in tact. But they are most often consumed as outmeal after a little more processing. “Steel-cut oats” or “pinhead oats”, sometimes referred to as “course oatmeal”, are made when the whole grain is put through steel cutters and cut into three or four smaller pieces. These still contain the whole grain and the oat bran, and are highly nutritious. “Rolled oats” or “old fashioned” oats are steamed groats that have been flattened with a roller. “Quick-cook” oats are old fashioned oats that have been steamed and rolled more thinly. “Instant Oats” have been steamed even longer and are the most finely cut and rolled oats.

I tend to use steel cut oats in most of my recipes and cut them a bit more in my food processor if needed. Oats add a delicious nutty flavour to baked goods and I use them as the base for crumbles as well as lots of cereal and snack bar recipes. Oats are also a wonderful vegan and nut free way to cream and thicken soups and stews. Not to mention a glorious snack all on their own, cooked in some milk, and topped with your favourite natural sweetener and spices.  I am getting hungry just thinking about my coconut chocolate oatmeal. Oh My! Oatmeal would be my comfort food of choice, second only to a hearty bowl of soup.

Oats also have enormous health benefits. They are a wonderful source of fibre, that helps to lower blood cholesterol, blood pressure and combat heart disease; as well as stablize blood sugar levels. The phytochemicals present in oats have been linked to decreasing the risk of breast cancer and other hormone-related cancers such as prostate and ovarian cancer; and according to eat more oats, they are thought to combat carcinogens in the gastrointestinal tract. It would appear that a cup of oats a day keeps the “sub-health blues” away!

Gluten Free Pasta

There are some sensational commercial gluten free pastas on the market now, that have a fantastic texture and flavour; that continues to improve and diversify as the demand for gluten free pasta increases. You can get linguini, tube and spiral varieties, as well as lasagne sheets and cannelloni tubes. Most companies use blends of rice, corn (maize) buckwheat and amaranth.

Organ has a wide variety of rice, corn and buckwheat pastas that are allergy free, being wheat, gluten, yeast, dairy, egg and nut free.

There are a few brands of fantastic 100% buckwheat soba noodles too. Just follow the cooking directions and soak them in cold water after cooking to avoid a huge gluggy mess. Make sure you read the labels on buckwheat noodles, as most of them are only part buckwheat, and the rest regular wheat. The only draw back to these 100% buckwheat noodles, is that they are very expensive. I buy them as a treat when I am making gorgeous Japanese soups. 

There is also the cheap-as-chips rice noodles found widely in supermarkets and Asian grocers. Just read the label carefully, and make sure they are 100% rice. I am bit reluctant to recommend shopping at Asian stores to people with serious food allergies. You can pick up spectacular foods, but the labeling is often not in English, and there is not as much detail provided about processing facilities and ingredients, which can spell trouble for hypersensitive foodies!

I like the Tinkyada or Trader Joe’s brown rice pasta in the United States. I find that they most closely resembles their durum wheat counterparts. I also like the Ancient Harvest quinoa pastas. 

You can make your own homemade gluten free pasta very easily; and you can get creative with the blends of gluten free flours, making noodles with different personalties. It is a lot of fun too. We have pasta making parties and have a blast. But for convenience, you can’t beat these commercially produced pastas.

To cook, bring salted water to the boil and add in some olive oil to prevent sticking. Be sure to follow the cooking instructions on the packet, as it is really easy to overcook gluten free pastas, and they get gluggy very easily, making the texture really unpalatable. Cook until just al dente, and rinse under water. Wheat pasta aficinados will tell you to never rinse pasta. But I find that it removes the intense starchy quality and makes them easier to work with.

Polenta

Polenta or cornmeal (ground maize) is available in course and fine textures. It is incredibly easy to prepare by bringing some vegetable broth or filtered water to the boil and whisking in some cornmeal. It gets rich and creamy, ready to take on the flavour of whatever you add to it.

I love to cook it in vegetable broth with some garlic; and stir through some herbs and greens before setting in a baking dish, and then frying up triangles, sticks, patties and balls with some coconut oil, and topping with a rich velvety sauce, curry or stew.

Polenta is just good old-fashioned peasant comfort food, I don’t care how many fancy high-end restaurants put it on their menu. I generally use a ratio of one parts cornmeal to three parts vegetable broth for course polenta. This is the one grain I don’t cook in the rice cooker. Unlike my other favourite grains, polenta is a slow cooker! It takes some patience and attention. I find polenta has a real propensity to stick to the bottom of the saucepan, and requires constant stirring over the course of about an hour. I use a flame deflector in order to minimize sticking and burning.

You can purchase quick cooking polenta, which only takes a few minutes. But this convenience means your grain is processed more heavily. You can also purchase cooked polenta that has been rolled like sausage meat. Just cut, fry up, and top with your favourite sauce. I still prefer the old fashioned approach. I find it meditative; and the extra effort, yields a product of superior flavour. But I find polenta can be a bit bland if you don’t get creative. If you are serving polenta fingers you will want to jazz them up by cooking them in vegetable broth, and then stirring through some herbs and spices. 

Fine cornmeal is wonderful for use in gluten free baked goods. Polenta is not as nutritionally dense as my other favourite grains. But it remains my grain of pleasure. My guilty little “empty” indulgence that I have thrown in for fun! Polenta contains some a decent amount of protein and iron, and small amounts of some minerals. But it is mainly carbohydrate. For those of us with candida issues, that spells trouble, as it feeds yeast and fungus. But the good news is that it is low in saturated fat and sodium. I tell myself that as I grab for the polenta instead of the quinoa! I reserve polenta for a treat. 

Always purchase organic cornmeal, store in a sealed glass jar in a cook dark place, and consume in good time.

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