The Christmas decorations have appeared in the shops, my small boys are insisting on Christmas carols for their bedtime song, flyers are coming through my mailbox to say that there are Christmas sales, and try as I may to put it off, it has hit me that Christmas is less than a month away. Time to start planning… and Christmas cooking!
The first year I was gluten-free, I was in a huge panic about Christmas. Luckily it was at our house, so I was able to control the menu, and it was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be. Here’s what we had on the menu, and not only was it surprisingly low-fuss, I could eat most of it!
- Hummus and crackers – some gluten-free and some not
- Indian spiced nuts
- Carrots and celery to dip in the hummus
- Ham (glazed and cooked by my brother in his rotisserie barbecue thing) – just check that the ham is gluten-free, and that there are no issues with cross-contamination of the barbecue
- Turkey with gluten-free stuffing
- Gluten-free gravy
- Minted new potatoes OR potato salad
- Green salad
- Roasted vegetable salad
- Meringues (or pavlova) with berries and cream
- Fruit salad
- Christmas pudding (that year it wasn’t gluten-free, but I’m having a go at making it gluten-free this year!)
- Gluten-free Christmas cake
- Gluten-free mince pies
- Normal Christmas mince pies
A quick note here about Christmas cakes and puddings. The percentage of fruit to flour is very high. This basically means that you don’t use much flour at all to make these. This is excellent for two reasons: the pudding/cake holds together very well using gluten-free flour and the fruit and spices camouflage any taste that might linger in the gluten-free flour mix.
I have a few fool-proof recipes for some of these things which I’ll share below. I’m aware that these are not always hugely healthy (meringues for instance have a LOT of sugar) but they’re not something we eat every day or even every week. Of course, a lot of the items I’ve listed are gluten-free already (fruit salad and meringues for instance) and others you ASSUME would be gluten-free, like the ham. Don’t assume when it comes to meat because mysteriously, some pig-related meats apparently contain gluten. If organic meat is in your budget, it shouldn’t contain any additives, otherwise just check the label carefully.
If you’re going to someone else’s house for Christmas, I’d recommend offering to take some staple items like chicken or potato salad to ensure there is something you can safely eat. My extended family were fortunately very accommodating, and just needed some guidance to make my life much easier.
So here are recipes for some of those things which are not normally gluten-free, in the hope that they will make your Christmas more enjoyable.
Herb and cranberry stuffing
- good handful of fresh herbs, finely chopped – tarragon, sage, oregano, thyme and rosemary are a nice combination. If using dried herbs, use 2-3 tablespoons
- 1 onion or a few shallots, finely chopped
- 6-8 pieces gluten-free bread, lightly toasted and cooled, chopped or ripped into small pieces
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- grated rind and juice of 1 orange OR 1 lemon
- 2-3 good-sized garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons rice bran oil, melted butter or butter substitute
- 2 eggs OR equivalent egg substitute
- 2 rashers gluten-free bacon, chopped small and lightly cooked (optional)
- salt and pepper
Step 1 Combine all ingredients in a bowl and work mixture with hands until soft and mushy in texture.
Step 2 Clean out the cavity of the turkey. Push the stuffing into the turkey cavity as tightly as possible. Tie up the turkey drumsticks with a piece of string or a skewer pushed through to hold them together.
If you have an especially large turkey, add more of everything as you need!
Indian spiced nuts
Okay, so these are naturally gluten-free free, but they’ve become a real Christmas tradition for us and there is an outcry if there aren’t jars of them under the Christmas tree.
- 2 1/2 cups blanched peanuts, almonds or cashews
- 1 egg white
- 1 tablespoon black cumin seeds (also called kolongee)
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin*
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander*
- 2 tablespoons curry powder*
- 2 tablespoons packed soft brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Step 1 Preheat oven to 150°C. Mix all the spices together with the sugar and salt and combine thoroughly.
Step 2 Whisk egg white in a bowl until frothy. Add spices to egg white and mix until you have a gloopy, sticky paste.
Step 3 Add the nuts to the paste and coat well. Cook in the over for 20-25 minutes until nuts are dry and golden. You may want to move them around on the tray a little as they’re cooking.
Step 4 Allow nuts to cool completely then pack into airtight jars.
I normally make a combination of nuts, but I cook them separately based on the type of nut. Peanuts don’t take quite as long, cashews take a little longer and almonds longer again. Note that they will darken up when you take them out of the oven as they cool, so don’t leave them too long. If they are still looking yellow, they probably need a little longer. Also, the heat of the nuts will vary based on the spiciness of the curry powder you are using. I tend to use a mild curry powder as lots of children eat these. If your spices are a little old, heat them in a heavy-based frying pan until you can smell them. Allow to cool before adding to the egg white. The best place to buy spices and nuts in bulk is often an Indian spice warehouse.
*Check ground spices are gluten-free.
Christmas pudding and Christmas mince pies
The December 2012 issue of Healthy Food Guide has a recipe for both of these which I intend to try this year! I’ll need to make a few modifications – I’ll substitute pear for the apple, use an egg substitute and omit the cocoa. I’ll also leave out the nuts, but that’s personal preference! Both of these recipes look very straightforward and the pudding looks like the nice dark, fruity kind I prefer.
Incidentally, one of my chief gripes about gluten-free food is the expense of things like hot cross buns, Christmas cakes, puddings and fruit mince pies. Why should gluten-free fruit mince pies cost on average $12 a half dozen when normal ones are $3-4?
Just a quick note on these! Meringues should be gluten-free, but some commercial ones aren’t. As long as you have a beater, meringues are easy to make and get right. They are very sweet, however, and I have just started to experiment with flavouring. I’ve found that adding lemon or orange rind to the mix works very well – just make sure it’s not too wet or the balance in the meringues will change and the meringues won’t stiffen properly. Add the rind just before you put the meringues on the oven tray and stir through.
Christmas, fortunately, can be an easy day for someone who is gluten-free. I’ll be thinking of you all on December 25th and wondering how you’re going with your Christmas food!
For those wanting more information on coeliac disease, check out the NZ Coeliac Society website www.coeliac.org.nz.
This blog is the opinion and experiences of its author and should not be taken as medical or dietetic advice. Healthy Food Guide has not verified the content and cannot endorse any advice given. Healthy Food Guide recommends seeking professional health advice for specific complaints or symptoms.