Just before the big Halloween snow in 2011, my wife, Yolanda, told me she was going to eat a gluten-free, grain-free diet for 30 days. When I heard these words, I kept my face placid, but inside, my food-loving heart of hearts was doing an imitation of "The Scream."
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You see, we generally eat as a family, and when two of the kids went vegetarian, we all ate vegetarian, by and large. That was OK — food was still flavorful. And when my youngest child went vegan, we all ate vegan, mostly. Even that was OK — still lots of flavor, to my surprise.
I like foods with flavor, and I had an attitude about gluten-free cooking — that it was the death of flavorful foods. Something like eating cardboard and paste.
Of course, I was wrong.
Flavor without flour? Yes.
The kids are out of the house now, so it's just me and Yolanda eating dinner. And neither of us has an allergy to gluten. But when she read a book about the Paleolithic Diet — a plan based on eating mostly meat, vegetables, fruits and nuts like our ancestors did before they learned to farm — she wanted to try it.
Some foods were prohibited, including wheat, barley, rice, oats — all grains. No barley meant no beer. And no wheat meant no flour, no bread, no pasta, no cookies, no pizza ...
I was a little shell-shocked. Wheat flour is in so many products. How can you eat without grains?
Well, I underestimated things. We cooked more at home from scratch, and we had plenty of foods with lots of variety and flavor. I actually enjoyed the dietary experiment. After the 30 days concluded, we continued to eat mostly without grains. Occasionally we ate rice. Occasionally we ate oats. Occasionally I drank a beer. But we avoided wheat, the grain with the most gluten.
And to my surprise, without even trying, I dropped 15 pounds. So I am a convert. Mostly, I don't miss the wheat.
But sometimes I do. How can I make a pizza without a nice, doughy crust? How can you bake crunchy cookies that have rich flavor? How can you make crackers that go with wine and cheese?
And what can you put under a pie to hold it together?
Pie 'R' shared
Our family had a strict division of labor when it came to pie making. My wife or one of my daughters made the dough and I rolled it out, lined the pie pan and fluted the rim. It was a delightful family tradition.
Well, those days are gone. Yes, we do use some gluten-free flours — coconut flour, almond flour or rice flour, for instance — but I wanted to see what sort of alternative pie crusts I could find.
So I went looking for alternatives to make a pie crust. I found a lot of ideas. For savory pies, I found recipes for crusts made from mashed potatoes; sweet potatoes; shredded onion and raw potato; and shredded spinach, cheese and cauliflower. For sweet pies, I found pie crusts made from nuts; gluten-free cookies; and oats and apple juice.
So I took some recipes home and tweaked them. I swapped out a bag of frozen veggies for produced I sauteed at home. I swapped out wheat flour and used coconut flour or rice flour as a thickener. I swapped one kind of meat for another. I reduced the salt and added more spice.
And I was pretty happy with the results. I will add more spices to the rice crust next time. I will add more coconut or almond flour to the sweet potato crust, so it rolls out more like a crust.