Ideas and tips for restaurants, cafes, hotels and BnBs as well as home cooks. How to cater for gluten free vegetarian and other special diets
We are by no means experts but this is what we do and may help save you some legwork. Rather than come just with a problem we try to be part of the solution. Also the way we eat is actually very beneficial to everyone’s health. Generally as a nation in the UK/USA we eat far too much meat, dairy and wheat so it is nice to have options to have a break from it – especially when they are a tasty treat. If you are interested in more thoughts on healthy eating with fish and meat too check out my other site The Glow Cafe.
First a note about the least allergenic healthiest carbs – according to The Perfect Health Diet which is based on scientific research and happens to be gluten free with bells on, these would be:
- Potatoes, yams and sweet potatoes
- White rice
- Rice flour
- Potato starch
- Tapioca starch
- Flour or gluten free substitutes made from all or any of – rice flour, potato starch and tapioca starch (‘Gluten Free Pantry’s all purpose flour is your best bet – link is where I found it the cheapest in Google shopping).
Sadly although we list corn and corn containing foods (Dove’s gluten free plain flour too) below, corn/maize is not tolerated by many people so unless you’re a Mexican restaurant making tortillas my advice would be try to avoid it. Dairy and soy are others to avoid big time.
Shopping list for your pantry
Note that UK supermarket availability is suggested but this does change. Our health food store will also order in products for us especially if we are happy to take a pack of say 5. You can use this best deal comparison shopping tool to see what is on the gluten free shelves of various UK supermarkets. Use the top left ‘Change store’ link to see what each offers and clicking into product page tells you where it is cheapest and what’s in the ingredients too. If you don’t have time for that and need to cater for GF people in a hurry, head for Sainsburys as generally they have the best free from aisle and even in smaller local stores often have some GF products too so we love them most of all.
- Engevita yeast flakes are wonderful for adding flavour to anything savoury – it’s the 5th taste type (after sweet, sour, salty and bitter) of umami. Great for making an alternative to a cheesey topping on a bake too – see end for how to)
- Parmazano fake cheese sprinkle
- Quinoa – red if you want to be fancy pants. Can also use millet but quinoa has a nicer ring to it on the menu
- Almonds – the healthiest of nuts on the alkaline / acid scale
- Corn flour (substitute for ordinary flour in thickening sauces or dusting before frying or for rolling out gluten free pastry)
- Dove’s gluten free flour (which you’d substitute in cooking and baking – roast potatoes taste even better using this to toss them in. Do try it! It is a blend of different GF flours and this often works best. Note that in baking you will need to add raising agents because there is no natural stretchiness and can be tricky getting balance right.)
- Mrs Crimbles GF sage and onion stuffing mix – great for roast dinners (sometimes ends up a flat splat but incredibly tasty and better than others tried as we’d rather have the taste than texture given the choice) and my mum gave me this super tip of mixing it with GF breadcrumbs to coat / bread things, like chicken breasts before cooking on a mix of butter and oil. Butter for taste and oil to stop the butter burning. Nom nom!
- Gluten free pasta (even Asda’s own brand are great and you would not know the difference plus we eat far too much wheat so a change is good)
- Isabel’s pizza base mix for seriously good pizza found at Simply Free website (was Waitrose free from aisle but not anymore so fingers crossed a sensible supermarket like Sainsburys will pick it up who does free from really well – see also ready frozen alternative below but Isabel’s is ideal for those who can’t eat cheese or who want the best possible gluten free pizza in the UK) which you could make up at a quiet time on thoroughly cleaned area when no other flours are being used (in the air) to contaminate it and freeze them ready to use. We keep the polystyrene type pizza bases off ready made gluten free or normal pizzas to place them on, cover in cling film and pop in the freezer. Make them really thin and crispy. Cutting them into smaller pieces before cooking gives more crispy edges to enjoy. Isabel’s pizza mix is by far the best way we have found to enjoy pizza as a wheat free gluten free person. When you bake it first time without the topping it will throw some crazy shapes but settles down with topping on. We like our pizza real thin and crispy so Andrew’s top tip is to prick it after 10 mins, turn it over and cook it for further 10 mins before adding toppings. Then cook for 15 mins with toppings on. I have a cheese free one using a tad more tomato splodge (not too much or pizza goes gooey) and good oil drizzled over my veg OR you could have pancetta draped over the veg if not being vegetarian. For Andrew we add gluten free quorn chunks to boost the protein and pre-toasted pine nuts. The only gluten free pizza that beats it is the one we had in Florence from the kings of pizza Ciro and Sons. We’ve tried recipes from cook books and the internet but still no good. No other restaurant has done one that is as good as the ones we make with Isabel’s mix. It’s not terribly straight forward compared with a ready base that is like cardboard but the results are well worth it, believe me. Even those that can eat gluten love our pizza!
Shopping list for your freezer
- Tescos gluten free vegetarian mushroom (also have bean burger but bit too spicy and not as nice) from normal chilled section (doesn’t shout about gluten free on the packet but means you can feed so many people with these and tasty too – and they are so cheap, often on offer. Genius burger baps are best of the bunch or use toasted Sainsburys bread or Warburton’s club sandwich style. Personally I don’t like the bread/bap bit of a burger and prefer to have it with chips and salad. When I eat out I just ask for them not to bother with the bap.)
- This is the easier quicker alternative to making up a pizza mix: a recent addition to the market of ready made frozen gluten free pizza with tomato sauce and cheese already on is Dietary Specials Bonta D’Italia Margherita pizzawhich Asda stock. Don’t be fooled into thinking the other DS products are as great. They are not and their other pizza bases come out like rocks.
- If you have some ready made gluten free pies in the freezer you can cheat, but then pep them up with your own triple cooked chips on the side and amazing salad or homemade coleslaw – especially wonderful for someone avoiding cheese perhaps for migraine avoidance and vegetarian and gluten free/wheat free but tasty for everyone on the planet is the Butternut Squash and Cannellini Bean Pie from http://www.bakedtotaste.co.uk (the open top ones are best as the pastry top can make it all a bit too on the heavy going pastry front – a good covered one for meat eaters in their chicken pie. P.S. their Christmas cake is superb) and Clive’s Pies also do some nice ones except they all seem to taste the same as each other – Minty Chickpea is probably my favourite and also the one that sells itself well from a menu description. Many of these pies are also gluten free and vegan friendly.
- Swedish Glace vanilla or chocolate (best flavours) ice cream (okay, so mass produced soya is not that great for your health after all unless fermented the traditional way for miso and tofu, but this ice cream ticks boxes for vegan friendly, lacto free, cholesterol free, gluten free, GM free and kosher approved – much nicer than other brands and worth having some in the freezer to make someone’s day who would not otherwise be able to have dessert)
- Sainsbury’s, Warburton’s or Marks and Spencer’s own brand wholegrain gluten free bread but toast all of them (some are really awful but we have found these are the best in falling into too many pieces as well as taste/texture – we have also found you need a good toaster). Gluten free bread is the hardest to do of all GF alternatives (apart from one restaurant in Florence who have mastered it) and even dogs will pick it out and not eat it we have been told ;-). We just don’t eat a lot of bread and have burgers without the bun as it is not really an integral part.
Health note: gluten free foods such as breads are often heavily processed and you ideally should not be consuming loads of it. If you need to be gluten free do not build your eating around flour based products and try to eat more naturally. Your body and especially your digestive system will thank you for it. That said we eat them in moderation and love our gluten free pizza for example which we have every couple of weeks. Life would not be worth living without decent pizza.
Catering for vegetarians
Getting enough protein in a vegetarian diet can be a struggle so ensure when you create a veggie dish you have one or more sources of protein and consider grains like quinoa and millet that have much more protein than rice or potatoes. They are easier to cook in a rice cooker as you can forget about them and when time is up they are perfect. Also think about throwing in pulses and perhaps tofu although soy is to be avoided for health reasons ideally even the non GM stuff. Okay to use Tamari which is great for flavouring stuff and Miso for the brave.
Vegetarians like variety and flavourful vegetables so include lots of types of vegetables in the dish and give them a bit of oomph by roasting, adding mint or tossing in butter etc.
If serving breakfast a veggie really appreciates not just having non meat stuff so a gluten free veggie sausage is much appreciated. Not many make them but Tescos have one and can easily be cooked from frozen.
Catering for gluten free people
Where possible replace wheat flour with corn flour in soups. More and more shop bought food manufacturers are doing this not to exclude those wheat or gluten free.
Make chocolate brownies with teff flour which is gluten free and has fantastic nutritional value. Taste gorgeous, can freeze them for a few days and everyone will like them – not just gluten free vegetarians. Can use other types of gluten free flour too.
General catering for us pain in the ass types with funny dietary requirements
Avoid pre-assembling dishes but have component parts ready so you can easily switch out something that won’t agree with the customer.
Don’t automatically put nuts in because some may have an allergy to certain kinds but they are great to garnish on top and add important protein boost for vegetarians, like pan roasted almonds – the almond is the one nut that is alkaline. We use a host of nuts and seeds that we pan roast like pumpkin seeds on salads and oven roasted blanched hazelnuts are amazing.
Ideas for alternatives
Cheese topping > use Engevita Yeast Flakes, Parmazano fake cheese sprinkle, gluten free breadcrumbs (packet stuff okay but beating up some gluten free bread works best) and a little quality olive oil to keep it from being too dry