In people with celiac disease, gluten (the protein found in wheat, barley, and rye) triggers an autoimmune reaction that causes repeated damage to the villi in the small intestines, resulting in malabsorption of nutrients and painful gastrointestinal side effects. As someone with multiple autoimmune disorders (rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s disease and suspected celiac disease), I have followed a vegetarian (and occasionally vegan) diet for the past four years in an attempt to try and improve my health. As soon as I heard that Donna Klein was writing a vegetarian gluten-free cookbook, I rushed out to buy a copy.
I am the happy owner of three of Donna Klein’s other veg cookbooks, The PDQ (Pretty Darn Quick) Vegetarian Cookbook: 240 Healthy and Easy No-Prep Recipes for Busy Cooks, The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen and Vegan Italiano: Meat-free, Egg-free, Dairy-free Dishes from Sun-Drenched Italy, and have long relied on Ms. Klein’s simple and authentically delicious vegetarian cuisine that’s (mostly) free of soy (I’m allergic to soy as well). She also includes detailed nutritional info, cultural background, tasty variations, and sample menus.
The Gluten-Free Vegetarian Kitchen begins with a thorough introduction on gluten, where it is found, and what products to avoid, including “hidden” sources of gluten such as dressings, baking powder, spices, low-fat dairy, flavored coffees, and more. If you’ve recently been diagnosed, this is a very handy guide to lesser-known gluten traps. Thankfully, my town has several excellent supermarkets such as Whole Foods and Central Market that clearly label their gluten-free products and contain a large variety of gluten-free baking products, mixes, and flours. More and more restaurants also provide special gluten-free menus, as one recent estimate places celiac disease at 1 in 133 Americans.
Another wonderful feature of The Gluten-Free Vegetarian Kitchen is that it clearly labels recipes as Lacto-Ovo, Egg-Free, Dairy-Free, and Vegan. As many with celiac disease are also lactose intolerant, this made planning around wheat-free AND dairy-free a breeze. Klein also offers practical vegan substitutions whenever practical, in most cases by omitting the cheese or sour cream called for in the original recipe.
One of the biggest challenges in gluten-free cuisine is the absence of wheat products in baking. Instead of wheat flours (including bread flour, cake flour, whole wheat, semolina, barley, and spelt), expensive gluten-free alternatives (tapioca, quinoa, soy, potato, chickpea, cornmeal, buckwheat, sorghum, rice flours, nut flours and stabilizer gums such as xanthan) are used. Klein does include a chapter on baked goods including quick breads, muffins, and biscuits, but due to my personal tastes, I’ve steered away from GF breads altogether as they are more labor-intensive, more expensive, and more calorically dense than their wheat counterparts.
Similar to her other vegan cookbooks, The Gluten-Free Vegetarian Kitchen is a breeze to follow; if you can read, you can cook. Ms. Klein’s instructions are logical and walk you through each step of the recipe. The included nutritional analysis is much appreciated as I watch my fat and sodium intake very carefully.
And the recipes themselves? Divided into the standard appetizers, soups, salads, entrees, and desserts, Ms. Klein rounds out her selections with breads, pizzas, tacos and sandwiches, side dishes, brunch and egg dishes. What really makes The Gluten-Free Vegetarian Kitchen shine is the inclusion of numerous world cuisines including Asian (Thai, Japanese, Indian), Mexican, Caribbean, Mediterranean, and Italian. The touches of international flair elevate gluten-free vegetarian cuisine from ordinary to extraordinary, and are a pleasant departure from Ms. Klein’s normally Mediterranean vegan cuisine.
I was instantly torn between several recipes, but ultimately decided on Caribbean-Style Sweet Potatoes and Black Beans over Brown Rice (p. 125), a saucy blend of orange juice, jerk seasoning, cinnamon, cumin, black beans and cubed sweet potatoes, as my first entr’e. Other personal favorites include Kasha Pilaf with Eggplant, Tomatoes, Basil, and Olives (p. 105), Feta and Ricotta Stuffed Bell Peppers (p. 104), Arborio Rice with Tomatoes and Fresh Mozzarella (p. 119), Chili-Brown Rice Casseroles (p. 100), and Mexican Cornmeal Pie (p. 100).
There is something here to appeal to everyone, from Tex-Mex appetizers such as the zesty Mexican Deviled Eggs (p. 15) and Salsa Cheesecake (p. 24) to filling Indian curries. Sweet tooths (teeth?) rejoice: there are numerous satisfying gluten-free desserts including the delightful No-Cook Apple Pie (p. 176), which features a walnut-and-date crust and a fresh combination of raw apples, raisins, and cinnamon and nutmeg, the delightfully exotic (and easy!) Indonesian-Style Warm Bananas in Cinnamon-Coconut Milk (p. 177), Cardamom Sponge Cake with Strawberry Coulis (p. 182), Hawaiian Coconut Cake (p. 188), and Polenta Chocolate-Currant Cake (p. 193) that will have your non-celiac friends oohing and ahhing over the amazing versatility of gluten-free cuisine.
Overall, the Gluten-Free Vegetarian Kitchen is an empowering tool; it showcases the versatility and creativity of gluten-free vegetarian cuisine rather than emphasizing an already restrictive diet. This is a statement of pride and originality – your gluten-eating carnivorous friends will be amazed at these full-flavored, simple international dishes that make the most of beans, legumes, gluten-free grains, and fresh produce. Who knows? You may even convert a few of your friends after cooking them the delightful recipes found within.