How to Prepare a Gluten-Free Dinner for a Friend with Coeliac Disease
Has it happened to you? You invite a few friends round for dinner, then the phone call comes: “I just wanted to remind you that I have coeliac disease so can’t eat gluten. Don’t go to any trouble for me, though.” What do you do next? Follow the advice from The Best of Health below and you should be able to produce a gluten-free meal to satisfy every guest at your table, coeliac or not.
What is Coeliac Disease?
At this point it is probably best to explain what coeliac disease actually is. Gluten is a protein that occurs in grains, especially wheat, but also barley and rye – oats contain a similar protein which can also cause problems. According to charity Coeliac UK, one in 100 people in Britain develop an autoimmune response in reaction to gluten, which results in coeliac disease. Symptoms can include severe stomach cramps, diarrhoea and vomiting, as well as long-term complications such as anaemia. As it isn’t simply an intolerance or allergy, these symptoms can persist long after consuming gluten, since this sparks an autoimmune response – certainly not what you want to inflict on a friend who has coeliac disease by giving them the wrong foods.
How Tricky is Gluten-Free Cooking?
Preparing a gluten-free meal isn’t actually all that difficult, as long as you read food labels carefully. You can also prepare a meal that’s suitable for everyone, which means there is no need to single out your coeliac friend with a different meal. Making a meal with no gluten is just as easy – or hard, depending on your cooking skills – as a regular meal. And, apart from a couple of small purchases, doesn’t necessarily require anything you wouldn’t normally use. Spending a few pennies extra on gluten-free products and reading a few labels more carefully will allow you to produce a gluten-free meal that makes your coeliac guest feel extra special, and the other guests needn’t even know.
What CAN You Cook With?
The best place to start is by looking at what coeliac sufferers CAN eat, and base your meal around that. All the items below are naturally gluten-free and should give you a wide scope for putting together your menu.
- Herbs and spices
- Quinoa – pronounced keenwah. Note, couscous is not the same – quinoa is a naturally gluten-free grain, whereas couscous is manufactured from wheat, and so contains gluten. People often confuse the two.
- Unprocessed meat. Note, sausages often contain gluten, but gluten free versions are available.
Things to Check When Avoiding Gluten
Using natural ingredients like those given above means you can be sure there is no gluten in them. But in cooking most meals you’ll be adding small amounts of other ingredients. This is where you have to be more careful and check the labels. The following products may contain gluten. But all of them can be bought in a gluten-free version.
- Stock cubes/pots
- Gravy thickeners
- Jars/packets of sauces
- Low fat products – some yogurts, for instance, may use wheat-based thickeners to make up for the fat that has been removed
- Cans/cartons of soup
- Ice cream.
The above ingredients give wide scope for an appetising menu. But if you’re a cook, and the sort who doesn’t feel that a dinner party is complete unless you’ve baked something delicious, you’ll be pleased to know that there are many gluten-free flours available. Some of these are non-wheat based, such as coconut flour or rice flour. However these can be tricky to work with until you’re used to them.
A better bet for a novice is to use a “gluten-free flour” product that’s been specially formulated for baking and can be substituted into your everyday recipes (along with gluten-free baking powder, if needed). Obviously, these don’t contain gluten, and since that’s the part of the flour that gives elasticity and “bounce” to your baking, you’ll need to add that back in. The way to do this is with xanthan gum, a starch that enables your bread or cake crumb to hold together. You might find that cake batters need slightly more liquid than usual, too.
Keeping Your Kitchen Gluten-Free
When preparing your gluten-free meal you should make sure your kitchen is not at risk of causing cross-contamination. If your kitchen is large, it is easy to designate one particular area to the preparation of your gluten-free dish, but, even in a tiny kitchen, there are steps you can take to avoid accidents.
Things to remember include keeping your chopping board and knives separate from others in the kitchen. Perhaps buy a couple of large boards; one for meat and one for veg, which will just be used for your gluten-free cooking. Rather than use wooden spoons, it is a good idea to buy a set of plastic spoons in the same colours as your chopping boards. Also, make sure no one uses any of the food you are using to prepare your meal beforehand.
It may feel like a lot to take in, but follow these guidelines and you really can’t go wrong. Your guests will not just be safe, sitting at your dinner table, but satisfied too.