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Against the Grain

June 17, 1993|JIM BURNS | Burns is acting food editor of FoodStyles of the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. and

You never completely consider how delicious that bowl of fresh fettuccine is or how incredible that still-warm bagel tastes. Never, that is, until you have to say, "Never again."

What if, by some cruel twist of time and genetics, wheat were suddenly out of your diet forever? Wheat, as in flour, pastry flour, cake flour and dough; wheat, as in homemade muffins, freshly baked pies, towering cakes and pizzas to go.

I know the answer from personal experience. It is a disaster.

Five years ago, pursuing a diagnosis to an increasingly debilitating--and mysterious--health problem, I went to my internist only to hear those most disheartening words: "I don't have a clue what's wrong with you."

My chiropractor had told me earlier that I was allergic to flour. ("How can I be allergic to wheat--something I've eaten all of my life?") So, out of desperation and remembering what my chiropractor had said, I cold-turkeyed pasta, pizza and apple pan dowdy. Within three days of abstinence from the golden shaft, my energy returned, and my flu-like symptoms and headaches left me, never to return--until I unwittingly ingested more of the stuff.

Those with a wheat sensitivity or a food allergy in general seem to be growing in numbers, but it just may be that the recognition of this condition is what is on the rise. The top four allergies in the United States are milk, eggs, wheat and corn.

In his book, "Coping With Food Allergy," allergist Claude A. Frazier MD asserts that wheat allergy problems account for 30% to 50% of the clients that allergists see.

Given how much wheat is eaten in this country, it is easy to see why: The more you eat of a particular food, the more likely your propensity to become allergic to it some day.

Be aware that there is a wide range of sensitivity between the true celiac and the person who feels a little foggy the day after eating a pizza.

Here are five recipes that anyone off wheat will truly crave, and anyone looking for a change will surely enjoy.

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This recipe--adapted from "The Gluten-Free Gourmet: Living Well Without Wheat" by Bette Hagman (Henry Holt)--is the only wheat-less recipe I have ever found that makes delicious yeast bread. It works equally well made in the traditional way or in a bread maker. Two things you really need, GF flour mix and xanthan gum, are available from Ener-G-Foods Inc., P.O. Box 24723, Seattle, Wash. 98124-0723; (800) 331-5222.

Or you can make your own flour by combining 2 cups white rice flour, 2/3 cup potato starch flour and 1/3 cup tapioca flour. (Do not, as I have, try to make your own tapioca flour from tapioca. The little balls just never go away.) Xanthan gum replaces gluten in the flour. Be forewarned that it gives some people (me included) a bit of gas, but the taste and texture of the bread are worth it. Also, you can substitute equal amounts of honey for the 1/4 cup sugar in the recipe (not for activating the yeast), if you want.

TRUE YEAST BREAD

3 cups GF flour mix

1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar

3 1/2 teaspoons xanthan gum

2/3 cup dry milk powder

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 cup lukewarm water

1 1/2 yeast cakes or 1 1/2 tablespoons dried yeast

1/4 cup shortening

1 1/4 cups water

1 teaspoon vinegar

3 eggs

Combine flour, 1/4 cup sugar, xanthan gum, milk powder and salt in bowl of heavy-duty mixer fitted with bread hook.

Dissolve remaining 2 teaspoons sugar in 1/2 cup lukewarm water and mix in yeast. Set aside about 5 minutes.

Combine shortening and 1 1/4 cups water in saucepan and set over medium heat until shortening melts.

Turn mixer on low to combine dry ingredients. Slowly add shortening-water mixture and vinegar, mixing until blended. Beat in eggs. Mixture should feel slightly warm to touch. Pour yeast mixture into ingredients in bowl and beat at highest speed 2 minutes.

Cover mixing bowl with plastic wrap and kitchen towel and place in warm place to let dough rise until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Spoon dough into 3 small (5x2 1/2-inch) greased loaf pans or 1 large 9x5x3-inch pan. (Use greased muffin tins to bake any remaining dough as small rolls.) Dough texture will seem more like cookie dough than bread dough.

Place pans in warm place and let rise until dough is slightly above top of pan. Bake at 400 degrees 10 minutes. Place foil over bread and bake large loaf 50 minutes longer, small loaves 30 to 40 minutes, and rolls, if any, about 25 minutes. Remove from pans and place on rack to cool. Makes 3 small (5x2 1/2-inch) loaves or 1 large loaf plus several small rolls, 9 servings.

Each serving contains about:

297 calories; 461 mg sodium; 83 mg cholesterol; 10 grams fat; 47 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams protein; 1.56 grams fiber.

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