Depending on who sits at your Thanksgiving table, you may already have figured out how to serve vegetarians or people allergic to nuts. But gluten-free is another matter. Increasing numbers of people are choosing to forgo gluten (or learning they must do without it), and the holiday — with its pie crusts and dinner rolls and stuffings — poses a challenge.
Turkey is generally gluten-free, but as many diners will tell you, the turkey is mostly a delivery device for dishes like gravy and stuffings that often have wheat — the primary source of gluten in our diets.
Problems can occur in just about any food, however. Kyra Bussanich, who owns the gluten-free Kyra's Bake Shop in Lake Oswego, Ore., was at a big Thanksgiving feast last year. "There was a turkey. I jokingly asked, 'This is gluten-free, right?'" Turned out the cook had used beer in the brine — and beer has gluten in it.
"You have to be really vigilant, ask questions. Let the host know," Bussanich adds. A person who has celiac disease can become very sick by ingesting the smallest amount of gluten, even flour dust that spreads during a pie-baking binge
To avoid gluten, cooks should read every label. And seek out alternatives. Rice or almond flours may work in pie crusts, for example. Or make a crust with other ground nuts or with ground gluten-free ginger snaps. For stuffings try wild rice with mushrooms, and for gravy try cornstarch.
Rather than dinner rolls, Bussanich suggests a traditional Brazilian cheese bread called pão de queijo, which is made with tapioca flour and is sold frozen at many stores.
Debbie Adler has a 5-year-old son with several food issues, gluten among them, so she always goes to parties with a dessert that he can eat. "There's no judgment involved. It's hard to understand if you don't live with it," says Adler, who has an L.A.-based mail-order bakery, Sweet Debbie's Organic Cupcakes.
Her book, "Sweet Debbie's Organic Treats," includes several holiday-friendly gluten-free recipes, including pumpkin spice doughnut holes, a pumpkin corn bread and acai berry truffles. And Bussanich, whose new book is called "Sweet Cravings," suggests a gluten-free apple crisp with vanilla ice cream.
The availability of gluten-free food has exploded, and many companies — including Udi's, Pamela's, King Arthur and Bob's Red Mill — have all-purpose flour substitutes or mixes for breads and rolls, as well as packaged baked goods. In her shop, Bussanich makes stuffing mix with gluten-free bread.
For anyone avoiding anything on a holiday table, it might help to remember that the food is not the only point. Bussanich says, "It's about family and traditions and being together and celebrating."
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