Gluten-free Thanksgiving: Be alert … but enjoy!

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Don't assume the turkey is gluten-free. It's best to check with the cook.

Don’t assume the turkey is gluten-free. It’s best to check with the cook.

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.”

Courtesy of Los Angeles Times

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