With Thanksgiving now under our belts, the next hurdles of the seasonal indulg-a-thon are upon us. For those of us who must avoid gluten, the holidays can prove particularly challenging. To make sure 'tis not a season of digestive misery for all ye gluten-free friends and family, let's take a quick tour through some of the December food classics.
While my first instinct was to compile a laundry list of all the off-limits seasonal treats, I reconsidered that Scroogey approach. Instead, I offer the following list of gluten-free foods you CAN enjoy this holiday season ... without any of the requisite, dietitian commentary about fried foods, sugar, or calories. Consider this my holiday gift to you, and note that I reserve the right to resume aforementioned Scroogey commentary next week.
• Gluten-free latkes (potato pancakes): If offered a home-made latke this Chanukah, you'll need to assume it has gluten; virtually all recipes contain flour as a binder. However, there are safe alternatives to ensure you squeeze in your divine mandate to consume fried potatoes at this time of year.
I've been rather successful with swapping out wheat flour for either potato starch or my favorite gluten-free, all-purpose flour blend, though the exact quantities will vary by recipe. A good rule of thumb is about ½ cup of starch or gluten-free flour for every 2 pounds of potatoes in the recipe. The trick for a crispy latke is to squeeze the daylights out of your potatoes to minimize excess liquid in the batter; then, add small amounts of starch or flour as needed to achieve a cohesive batter.
If from-scratch cooking isn't your thing, look for Dr. Praeger's Sweet Potato Pancakes in the frozen foods aisle. These are labeled gluten-free. Note that the brand's regular potato pancakes are not gluten free (they contain oat flour).
As for boxed mixes for potato pancakes, proceed with caution. While no gluten ingredients are used in Manichewitz products, the company cannot guarantee they're gluten-free due to the high risk of cross-contamination from shared production facilities. Similarly, Streit's brand mixes are not gluten-free. Eat at your own risk.
• Gluten-free Christmas cookies: Cookie swaps can be a huge bummer if you're gluten-free ... unless, of course, you can clue in your friends to the oodles of gluten-free recipes that abound in the cookieverse.
Join the Gluten-Free Cookie Swap on Facebook, or pick up a copy of Living Without magazine (you can also visit its website for a sneak preview of some free cookie recipes). Hundreds of gluten-free cookie recipes are available online, though my go-to blog for gluten-free baking is the Gluten Free Goddess, Karina Allrich; her site features a well-edited selection of about two dozen terrific gluten-free cookie recipes that will save you the trouble of sifting through the overwhelming number of hits from a random online search.
If you're a regular cookie baker, it may be worth investing in a reference cookbook for your home library. I'd suggest Roben Ryberg's The Ultimate Gluten-free Cookie Book. Whichever recipes you choose, make sure not to adorn your gluten-free cookies with decorative silver dragées as these usually contain wheat flour.
• Gluten-free Benne cakes: Benne cakes are sesame seed cookies with origins in West Africa that are traditionally eaten to celebrate Kwanzaa. The sesame seeds signify good luck.
My favorite sesame cookie recipe on the planet is from Elana Amsterdam's blog, Elana's Pantry: It's a super-fast, super easy, low-sugar, flourless cookie made with both tahini (sesame seed butter) and sesame seeds. (Double the sesame, double the good luck!) The recipe happens also to be vegan, diabetic-friendly, and healthy enough to share guiltlessly with young children, as I have done with my own kids.
The trick with this cookie is to keep the balls small and flatten them before baking, so that they don't burn on the outside before being fully cooked on the inside. Keep a very close eye on them in the oven, and remember they will continue to brown a bit after coming out—so don't overcook! You can find tahini in the peanut butter section of your grocery store.
There are, of course, plenty of naturally gluten-free holiday foods that a gluten-free reveler can also enjoy without worry: roasted turkey (or for traditionalists, roasted goose); HoneyBaked brand hams and turkeys; apple cider; mulled wine; candy canes, and egg nog.
As for those few holiday foods that are simply off limits, consider that every cloud has a silver lining. The bright side of being gluten-free at this time of year is that you have a legitimate, medical excuse to decline holiday fruitcake without offending its well-meaning giver.
Hungry for more? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, concerns, and feedback.
Tamara Duker Freuman, MS, RD, CDN, is a NYC-based registered dietitian whose clinical practice specializes in digestive disorders, Celiac Disease, and food intolerances. Her personal blog, www.tamaraduker.com, focuses on healthy eating and gluten-free living.