Easy Gluten Free Meals - Tips and Tricks for Home or Travel

We sometimes think of old fashioned cooking as seasonal. That's true, the type of soup, stew and casserole suggested, even in modern food magazines, changes with the seasons.  There are a lot of books out there discussing canning to preserve harvested organic food.  But it takes a real foodie to discover the kid brother to canning, that is, dehydrating.  Since I've dedicated myself to being 100% organic in my food choices,or as close as possible, my choices are quite limited.  Luckily, many staples are already available organic.  Just, not always.  To some degree, I'm back to seasonal eating.

That's OK with me.  I accept foods that are either certified organic or biodynamic and of course, they must be either gluten free labeled, or naturally gluten free.  I'm lucky I adore soups, and I have already experienced ketogenic dieting (among many others), so I don't feel like my diet is unbalanced due to too many restrictions.  My belief is that since my body has been struggling to absorb foods properly, I should stick to the healthiest and most nutritious foods.  Study after study showed that organic is simply more nutritious and beneficial, and that our modern farming practices have lowered the nutritive value of many foods.

To make matters worse, agribusiness is now dependent on oil which is a non renewable resource and the demands of agribusiness compete with the demands of the military in a direct way.  In short, we most certainly did go to war over oil in Iraq, and we most certainly will go to war over oil again and again in the future until we disengage from oil. Buying locally grown organic food is a vote for world peace. I do try to keep politics out of my blog, so let me just stick to the nutrition argument,. Buying local or  as close to local as you can is an act of good citizenship and good nutrition. 

So here are a few tips for using organic ingredients more easily and keeping it thrifty.  My tips reduce the risk of foods going bad and wasting money on expensive items.  They also reduce the burden of cooking and shopping frequently. That's a benefit to those who have limited mobility and their health prevents them from spending large amounts of time standing or walking around a store to find  ingredients (like me). Combining organic with homemade convenience foods gives me the best of both worlds and I hope this helps you out too.

Credit Freepik by @bearfoto

1.  If you find a harvest of organic veggies that you know are seasonal (kholrabi perhaps), thinly slice, and dehydrate it.  You don't need to buy a special dehydrator.  Your oven on the lowest setting and a little experimentation should be enough.

I bought a dehydrator years ago and gave it away because, although it will give you more options for lower heat dehydrating, it will also increase your costs and need special cleaning that I just can't manage.   In this case, there isn't a reasonable shortcut.  Dehydrating takes time and effort to chop vegetables thinly (I do it sitting down at the kitchen table).  Just try to build up a pantry that works for you. This is the only part that takes any real work. Shortcuts follow.

Note that another method of thrifty dehydrating exists, use whichever you like best: http://frugalvagabond.com/the-box-fan-dehydrator-experiment/ 

2.  You can use jerky, Wild Zora, Krave, or any of a number of gluten free or paleo 'meat bars' as a base for instant soups and stews. Yup, you can make this yourself, oven jerky will work great, or meat based food bars homemade can also work.  But this is an article about shortcuts.

Using jerky type ingredients, plus dehydrated veggies, is an old camper's trick to make a hearty stew anywhere you go. It also works fine when you're home and extends the season for some organic veggies, without the fuss and worry of canning.

3. You can find pure bone broth protein powders now, they work great in soups and stews, and even casseroles (for those who don't like liquidy food). Here's one I like.  Yup, you can make it yourself, but... shortcuts. A more thrifty option might be organic gelatin powder, but it's not quite the same thing, especially as far as mineral content. 

4.  Use your crock pot or instant pot and remember the rules for good flavor:  * add citric acid and vitamin c (for instance cut up half a lemon, or add organic lime juice from a bottle)  and * add herbs either fresh or frozen, toward the end of cooking.

5. If you add salt and pepper in the beginning of cooking, it somehow always tastes better.  Try it both ways and see for yourself.  My tip is, always add at least a bit of salt and some pepper to each cooked food at the beginning.

6.  There's no harm in adding something fresh, or in mixing up fruit and vegetable ingredients. Raisins are excellent in many soups, stews and casseroles.  Other dried fruits can add depth of flavor. Dried mango is a favorite of mine in soups. Well... OK, I admit I like it in anything!

7.  You can rehydrate dried ingredients (and I recommend you do) before cooking by soaking in hot water or briefly boiling. Don't throw out the water.

8.  You can also use sausage, even a chopped stick of pepperoni to the soup/stew/casserole dish. Since it has concentrated flavor, you can consider it a spice or add more for protein. If there is a local Latinx butcher near you, fresh chorizo is both a spice and a fat/protein boost.  I haven't found a local organic source for chorizo, but there's always hope. In this case I wish I lived in the UK.

9.  If soy is ok with you, there are gluten free organic miso pastes available in the refrigerated section of Whole Foods or similar stores, but be careful in Asian markets because Asian soy may not be organic.At one point I had hope that China would reject GMO's but I'm saddened to see that hope dying.
I use GMO as a stalking horse for organic practices since GMO can't be organic.  But to me the point of organic and biodynamic agriculture is supporting the soil so that the soil can support the growth of nutritious food.  I'm looking for quality of food, not quantity. In theory, a GMO plant could be grown on a farm that uses every organic and/or biodynamic practice available to nourish the soil and it might be ok with me, someday.  But right now, that's not the case and the polarization between the two methods of farming (agribusiness vs small scale organic) is only growing worse. 
10.  Okra is a wonderful addition to soups and stews for adding 'body' and a silky mouthfeel.Okra is an ancient and much beloved plant, not just in the South of the USA, but in central Asia, the Middle East and Africa.  File powder can also be used for a thicker mouthfeel, and that's a proudly American addition to the foodie's pantry. Of course, you can also use gums, seaweed, agar agar or gluten free purified starches to thicken soups, stews or casseroles.

11.  Don't forget that seaweed has minerals like iodine, and is often sold already dehydrated, a perfect additive for a nutrition stew.  Take care that you get seaweed that has a high iodine content.  Some of it is farmed in tanks and doesn't get the benefit of the minerals in the ocean.

12.  Bonito flakes are a cheap instant soup additive (found in the Japanese part of the International section of many grocery stores).  Bonito is dried flakes of fish.  They add less of a fishy flavor than you might expect, but if you're putting them in a crock pot, you might want to boil them first and add them and the water to the crock pot, the fishy flavor is 'cooked out' more efficiently that way I think. However, be careful, if you have a need for low histamine food, you might want to skip bonito.

13.  If you're using lean meat, then add a bit of fat otherwise the flavor will be flat.  You can add it at the end of cooking or just before serving to control calories more precisely. Reserved roasted poultry fat is amazing as a flavoring agent, even in small doses.Virgin pressed coconut butter is the paleo choice, and butter is an all around favorite. Depending on the flavor you're going for, you might choose different fats.  For instance a stew with raisins might be tastier with unrefined coconut oil that still has that flavor.

14.  Ways to serve:  *with crusty buttered bread, fried bread or homemade bruschetta  *with hard boiled eggs  *with apple chips or tortilla chips  *with croutons  *with cheese melted over bread (if you eat dairy)  *with french toast rubbed with a garlic clove *over rice, quinoa, kasha or other gluten free grains.

15. To go from stew to casserole, cook pasta or gluten free grains (or beans if you can handle them) separately, but for a shorter time than usual.  Combine the pasta and/or grains, the cooked stew, and reserve some of the liquid so it's not too wet, in a casserole dish.  Cover and bake for 30 minutes until it 'gels." I don't eat dairy, but using butter and cheese, and/or beating an egg into the stew before adding to the casserole can help it to form a sliceable mass. In this case, you might want to consider a Lentil based pasta or those with  a bit of soy, because rice/corn pastas tend to turn to mush. 

I've purposely not written a recipe this time.  This is a blueprint that you can fill in with your own design.  You'll be surprised how wonderful your creations are, especially if you choose ingredients you love.  Certainly a person could use their freezer to find organic foods and keep them, but how much space do people really have there?  Dried foods kept in Tupperware have a shorter pantry life (don't keep homemade dried foods longer than three months), but you can have more variety too.

A final note:  I recommend that if you buy dried fruit, you buy the sulfured variety, not the sulfite free.  Why?  Because the preservation of the color is not the point.  The preservation of flavors and vitamins is the point.  

Try this:  buy two bags of dried apricots, one sulfured, one not sulfured.  Soak two of each in separate small bowls in a small amount of water, on the counter for at least one hour (up to 6 hours). Taste each one.  What do your taste buds tell you about which of them registers more as "food"?  

This advice, to use sulfured dried fruits if you buy it in a store, is counter to the usual advice given in health magazines.  People enjoy thinking they're getting something "more natural" by avoiding preservatives.  But preservatives (as long as you're not allergic to the substance) are preserving more than just a pretty color.  

If you're home-drying, you can introduce sulfites naturally to foods about to be dried by soaking them in any wine that you like first.  The alcohol will reduce surface molds and bacteria, and the sulfites naturally present in wine, will help preserve the food. 

Some more ideas for how to use jerky as a base in recipes:





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