How to Cook for a Celiac

What is Celiac disease? And what’s the difference between “Celiac” and “gluten free”?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease for which the only effective treatment is a strict gluten free diet. 1% percent of Americans have Celiac disease, and awareness and diagnosis of the disease are on the rise, so you’re increasingly likely to encounter people with Celiac disease in your social circles.

It has also become common for people without Celiac disease to follow a gluten free diet, for a variety of reasons. Non-Celiac gluten-avoiders generally do not worry about cross-contamination or rogue breadcrumbs here and there. Some will even “cheat” and enjoy a slice of pizza from time to time. However, for those with Celiac, the diet must be completely gluten free: no cheating, no cross-contamination, and no mistakes. It is a lifelong commitment and the strict gluten-free diet is the only effective treatment for Celiac disease!

If someone with Celiac disease accidentally ingests gluten, what are the consequences?

Ingesting even a very small amount of gluten will cause an autoimmune response. This can result in a host of different agonizing symptoms that can last a week or more. It’s not uncommon to be sidelined from  work, school, and social events because of being ‘glutened’. However, these unpleasant short term consequences aren’t even the full story: people with Celiac disease who repeatedly ingest gluten risk long term irreversible damage to internal organs, increased the risk of some cancers and other autoimmune disorders, and many other possible complications. This combination of short term unpleasant episodes and serious long term health risks makes people with Celiac disease very cautious about what they eat.

Can I cook for a friend with Celiac disease?

Absolutely! Cooking for people with Celiac isn’t as daunting as you might think but you’ll need to be communicative, thoughtful, collaborative, and very careful. Your friend will appreciate you for it!

Crash course: What is gluten and what foods is it in?

Gluten is a composite protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. It is made up of the proteins gliadin and glutenin and is what makes bread and pizza dough stretchy, chewy, and fluffy.

In nature, gluten is only found in wheat, barley, and rye. What makes life difficult for Celiacs is that gluten is often a hidden ingredient with cryptic or generic names. Gluten is used as an additive and as a stabilizing agent. Most people know intuitively that beers, breads, and doughs contain gluten because we know they are made from wheat or barley. But who would guess that gluten is in most soy sauces, and often found in salad dressings, ice cream, sour cream, ketchup, pre-shredded cheese and even nuts?

The Ground Rules

Because gluten is often hidden in packaged ingredients, it is understandable that friends and family may be overwhelmed by the thought of taking on the task of cooking for someone with Celiac. And someone with Celiac is likely to be very hesitant about eating food prepared by someone who is new at it. There are a few ground rules to be prepared for:

  1. Communication is key. Keep in touch with your Celiac friend. Have their phone number on hand and don’t hesitate to contact while shopping or cooking. They are the expert and will feel better if you ask questions. Not sure about a label, certain brand, or ingredient list? Take a picture and text/email to it to them.
  2. Avoid already-open items in your refrigerator or cupboard–these are likely to have been contaminated. For example, if you have a half-empty jar of peanut butter, it has almost certainly been contaminated through double-dipping or contact with bread crumbs or crackers, or other sources of gluten. Open a fresh package, or pick up some sample packs if you only need a small amount.
  3. Skip the “bulk section.” Most people with Celiac disease avoid ingredients from the bulk section of the grocery store because scoopers often travel between bins and ingredients are likely contaminated with gluten.
  4. Almost anything that comes in a bag, box, bottle, or can is processed and may have gluten in the ingredients. Check every label very carefully. This includes nuts, seasoning mixes, soup stocks, and everything else. (See the “Guide to reading nutrition labels” below.)
  5. Beware of your spice collection. Read labels of spices and spice mixes–both are potentially unsafe.
  6. Oats are a grey area. You’ll need to communicate with your Celiac friend to find out if they eat oats. Even if they do, however, oats must specifically be marked as “Gluten free.” They must be grown and processed in special gluten free facilities because they are so likely to be contaminated with gluten.
  7. Avoid porous or non-washable cooking surfaces such as the toaster, wooden spoons, wood cutting boards, pizza stones, cast-iron pots, basting brushes, colanders (unless dishwasher safe), or your grill. Because these are porous and cannot survive the dishwasher, unless they have never been used, are likely contaminated with gluten. If you insist on grilling, use clean aluminum foil so the food won’t touch the grill. If you’re worried about a baking sheet, use parchment paper.
  8. If you’re hosting, keep any packaging from ingredients you have used. Your Celiac friend may want to inspect these when they arrive.

Packaged products: How to read labels

  • Don’t be shy! Email pictures of labels to have them OK-ed or vetoed by your Celiac guest, especially if there is any question, whatsoever, about any ingredient. Keep your eyes open for ingredients you aren’t sure about. Check out this list for an introduction.
  • Read beyond the list of ingredients. There is usually important information below the list.
  • Regardless of ingredients, if a label says: “May contain wheat” or “May contain traces of what” it is not gluten free
  • If a label says: “Packaged on the same equipment as items containing wheat,” they are likely not gluten free. Some people with Celiac feel comfortable with these items depending on the company, so ask them.
  • If an item has no gluten-containing ingredients but the label says: “Packaged in the same facility as items containing wheat” they are safe.   
  • Some packaged items say: “Gluten Free” on them. These are most likely safe, but you still must check the labels because, although there are new laws around gluten free labelling, they are still young and may not be completely trustworthy or enforced. But, in general, if made in the U.S., a gluten free label is likely a safe bet.
  • Look for allergen warnings or “Allergy information:” They are usually found under an ingredient list. Here is an example of an allergy warning: CONTAINS MILK AND SOY. MAY CONTAIN WHEAT
    • How to interpret Allergy information on nutrition labels:
      • If wheat is listed, even under the “may contain …” section, the item is not gluten free and should not be used.
      • If an item has allergy information listed and wheat is not listed, it is likely gluten free but still check the full ingredient list.
      • If an item does not have allergy information, inspect the ingredient list even more carefully and if you aren’t absolutely sure about all listed ingredients, do a quick Google search: “[brand name item name] gluten free” to look into it. Or have your Celiac guest do this investigation for you.


Cooking & Serving

  • Be diligent about cooking with clean utensils and cooking surfaces.
  • Corral all of your gluten free and safe ingredients in one area to keep yourself from accidentally grabbing something from your cupboard or refrigerator that isn’t safe (including spices, vinegars etc … ).
  • If you will be storing the food before serving, use clean dishes or storage containers and store GF items on a higher shelf than the other non-GF items in your refrigerator. Label GF and non-GF items clearly.
  • If possible, try not to serve both gluten free and non-gluten free options. This complicated how you serve the food as you’ll need to be extremely careful not to transfer serving utensils between them, and you will have to warn all guests to do the same (which can get socially awkward). If you must serve both options, serve the person with Celiac first to minimize the chances of exposing them to cross-contamination.

It’s worth the effort!

This may seem like a lot to take in at first glance, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll realize that it isn’t so difficult. And, your friend with Celiac will truly appreciate your effort, your diligence, and the great care that you’ll take in keeping them healthy, well fed, and having fun together!  

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Bol Pho Bistro in N. Seattle

Someone recently recommended the Vietnamese restaurant “Bol” after seeing their many “gluten free” advertisements in their restaurant.

I love the space. It is tiny, casual, and intimate. The service is friendly and the alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks are creative! Almost everything there is gluten free and the food I have tried (mostly “Bun”) has been delicious.

My only complaint about Bol is the “almost gluten free” aspect. Because there is wheat-flour-based hoisin sauce on every table, and they have normal baguette for their Bahn Mi sandwiches, it makes me hesitant and concerned about how they write “Gluten Free” on their menus and on their walls.

In my humble opinion, for that kind of advertising and labeling, ditch all of the gluten! They are so so so close to being a completely gluten free establishment that it is saddening to me that they don’t just go for it! So far, I’ve had good luck at Bol, so I’ll keep going, but I would be ecstatic to see them get rid of all of that hoisin sauce!

Thank you Bol!

Click to add a blog post for Bol Pho Bistro on Zomato

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Gluten Free Matzo Balls (kneidlach) and Soup

Matzo ball soup is at the core if every Passover Seder. Without matzo ball soup, it just isn’t a true Passover meal. Traditional matzo balls are made with “matzo meal.” Matzo meal is finely ground matzo, which just so happens to be made of flour.

Matzo balls are served in a simple chicken soup, which is naturally gluten free. But gluten free matzo balls? That’s a different story which required a great deal of experimentation, trial, and error.

To make matzo balls gluten free, the main ingredient, matzo meal, must be replaced. We found that matzo meal is quite heavy, whereas most gluten free flours are very light. This made making the gluten free matzo balls round in shape especially difficult.

We decided to focus on flavor over form:

Gfnoms’ mom tried many different recipes, including recipes we found online that utilized almond flour. These seemed promising because almond flour is one of the heavier gluten free flours. And indeed, the matzo balls made with almond flour were easy to shape into round balls, and they tasted fine –but not quite right. The almond flavor was strong and introduced a very “non-traditional” taste to the matzo balls that we didn’t love.

But Gfnoms’ mom didn’t give up. She wanted to find a gluten free matzo ball recipe that would taste like the traditional matzo balls that everyone else at the table would be enjoying. So she kept trying, and tasting, and trying again.

The matzo balls made with a gluten free flour mix (we used the Trader Joe’s brand mix) were the closest in taste to the traditional matzo balls but they were much harder to shape. In the end, we decided that flavor was more important than shape, so after trying nearly 10 different recipes, this is our recommendation for your gluten free passover matzo balls:

GF Matzo Balls!

Gluten Free Matzo Balls

Recipe is for ~15 matzo balls

3 medium eggs
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1-2 tsp salt, to taste
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup Gluten Free flour mix (we used a Trader Joe’s brand but most store-bought gluten free flour mixes such as Bob’s Red Mill should work)

  • Mix together the eggs and the oil
  • Add salt and pepper
  • Add this mixture to the flour, mixing well with a fork
  • Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before proceeding
  • Heat soup stock to a boil and drop shaped spoonfuls of batter in.
    • *Note: If the batter is too wet or runny to shape with your hands, use 2 teaspoons: one to scoop the batter and the other to drop the batter into the soup.
  • Make sure the matzo balls do not stick to the bottom of the pot. If they do, release them with a large spoon.
  • Let the balls float.
  • Cover the pot, lower the heat to a low simmer, and cook for 30-40 minutes.

*Note: Do not cook the matzo balls in the soup that will be served as it will get cloudy. Instead, use other chicken or vegetable stock (or even salted water in a pinch!)

The matzo balls will taste best if they are prepared on the same day that they are served. Transfer the cooked and hot matzo balls to your chicken soup (recipe below) and enjoy your seder.

Chicken Soup

This is a simple and tasty recipe that will be even better a day or two after it is cooked.

8 chicken drumsticks, skin removed (or equivalent amount of chicken and bones from other parts of the chicken.)
1 onion
1 peeled potato
6 celery stalks (use the stalks with leaves)
10 carrots, peeled
3 zucchini, unpeeled
1/3 bunch of Italian parsley
1/3 bunch of dill
3 bay leaves
14 cups water
Salt and pepper to taste

  • Remove the skin from the chicken and place in a large soup pot.
  • Add the clean vegetables, whole, to the pot
  • Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot and add the water.
  • Cover the pot and bring to a boil.
  • After the soup comes to a boil, reduce the heat and cook for another 2 hours.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • The soup is ready when all of the vegetables are soft.

Happy passover!

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Falafel is one of the most popular meals in the middle east. It can be found on almost every street corner. Falafel is usually eaten out of a pita pocket, but thankfully for the gluten free community, many people enjoy their falafels on a plate, with the pita bread on the side or not at all. Gluten free pita is hard to find in Seattle and we have only found good gluten free pitas in natural groceries in the middle east. A falafel meal is delicious and filling with or without the GF pita! Falafel balls are made from a mix of garbanzo beans, spices, and herbs. They make for an excellent gluten free dish year round.


Typically, the falafel balls are topped with variety of salads and sauces. Tahini, hummus, cucumbers, tomatoes, and pickles are our favorite additions.

(This recipe makes 20-30 falafel balls)
1 lbs (or about 2 ¼ cups) garbanzo beans soaked overnight*
1/2 bunch cilantro leaves
1/2 bunch Italian parsley leaves
7-10 garlic cloves
1 small onion
1 small jalapeño
Vegetable oil (for frying)
A few tbsp of chickpea flour if needed

*Soaking garbanzo beans or chickpeas:

  • Soak 1 lb of picked over dried chickpeas in water (enough to cover) for 12 hours
  • Drain before using

Note that old chickpeas will not soften regardless of how long you soak them, so if the dried chickpeas are over a year old, toss them and buy a new batch!

1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tbsp cumin
1/2-3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2-3/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 Tbs salt
Dash of cardamom, nutmeg, and ground cloves


In a food processor, pulse the soaked beans with the cilantro and parsley. Add the spices, mixing well and pulsing in the food processor but still keeping a coarse consistency.

This falafel mix can be used immediately or it can be frozen and kept for up to 2-3 months. If you freeze the mix, let it thaw completely before proceeding with the next steps:

  • In a small deep pot, heat about 2 inches of vegetable oil.
  • Create small balls of the falafel mix and drop them into the pot.
  • Deep fry uncovered for about 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

A note on forming the falafel balls before frying: if the mix is too soft, and the falafel balls won’t form into balls, sprinkle some chickpea flour into the mix and try forming falafel balls again. Repeat if necessary. If the mix becomes too dry, add a few teaspoons of water.

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Event: Old School Treats’ Holiday Cooking Class for Kids

This upcoming event for kids sounds fun!

A local small catering bakery (Old School Treats) is teaching a “Holiday Cooking Class for Kids.”

Last summer they were at the Maple Valley and Magnolia Farmer’s Markets selling Gluten-free baked goods and are now offering a cooking class at the historic Pike Place Market Atrium Kitchen, on:

Saturday, December 27th, from 12:00-2:00.

We want to share the tricks that we have learned on how baking Gluten-free does NOT have to sacrifice amazing taste!

Our motto is: “Tastes, like you remember!”

You can contact Old School Treats at:



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Zucchini Garbanzo Bean Salad


Zucchini Garbanzo Bean Salad

8-10 servings

This recipe was inspired by a recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi’s book “Jerusalem: A Cookbook”

A family BBQ was planned for Sunday and I knew that I would be gone for most of the day, so I had to do all of my preparations in advance.

I decided to make a salad that combines both cooked and raw ingredients. The cooked ingredients were prepared in advance, and the raw vegetables and dressing were added just before serving.

3 zucchini, cubed
⅓ cup dry garbanzo beans (or 1 can of garbanzo beans)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cumin
extra virgin olive oil

1 pepper, cubed
10-12 radishes, cut
1 small red onion, cubed
6 -8 oz feta cheese, cubed

5 tsp olive oil
2 tsp lemon juice
Lemon rind
1 1/2 tsp sherry vinegar
1 clove minced garlic
1 tsp sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Soak the garbanzo beans overnight submerged in water and (GF) baking soda
  2. The next day, cook the garbanzo beans in clean water for about 30 minutes, or until soft. Drain. Heat a frying pan on medium heat and cover the bottom with a thin layer of olive oil. Add the  cardamom, allspice, cumin, salt, and pepper, and mix well. Pour garbanzo beans into the spices and fry over medium heat for about 2 minutes, stirring well.
  3. Sautée the zucchini: add just enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a frying pan and heat well. Fry zucchini cubes about 5 minutes over medium to high heat, stirring occasionally, until nicely browned but still somewhat firm.  Set aside to cool and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  4. When ready to serve: combine all dressing ingredients into a jar and shake well. (The dressing can be prepared in advance and refrigerated until ready to serve).
  5. Just before serving, combine zucchini, fresh vegetables and cheese. Pour dressing, mix well.
  6. Warm garbanzo beans to room temperature and add to the salad.

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Upcoming Gluten Free Expo in Tacoma, WA

I was recently contacted by the Gluten Intolerance Group. They asked me to share that they will be hosting a gluten free expo on November 9th. It sounds like a lot of fun and I hope to be able to attend!

Here is their message:

“GIG is hosting an Expo and Celebration on November 9th,   1 – 5 pm at the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center.  This will be a great opportunity to sample gluten-free products and help GIG celebrate 40 years of supporting the gluten-free community. The Celebration will include events for both adults and kids to enjoy, with gluten-free vendors showcasing new products, silent and live auctions for fabulous gluten-free related items & experiences, bouncy houses, and fun for all ages.
Admission is just $ 5 and kids 12 and under are free. 
Thanks GIG for including GFNoms!

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Almond Cookies and Nut Cake

It is my pleasure to introduce a new contributor to GFNoms’ own mother has decided to share her successes in gluten free baking and cooking with all of you. Ever since I started eating gluten free, she has been inspired to combine her wealth of cooking and baking knowledge with new information about Celiac needs and experimentation with gluten free ingredients. There have been triumphs and failures but the triumphs have been delicious and we look forward to sharing the recipes and insights here!

— GFNoms

Here she is:

Gluten free cooking is easy if you use regular recipes which naturally do not contain wheat, barley, or rye products. Stick to raw ingredients and use GF versions of ingredients such as spice mixtures, mayonnaise, soy sauce, yogurt, mustard etc …) and your food will be GF.

Some recipes that call for flour or other gluten-containing ingredients can be still made by replacing ingredients, but this requires some trial and error.

I’ll post gluten free recipes as I use them in my daily routine, based on my personal events, such as celebrating holidays, hosting guests, social gatherings, etc …

So please join my kitchen!

This weekend we are having guests come to stay with us. I do not know exactly what the plans are, so I’ll prepare some cakes and cookies that go well with coffee, tea, or a glass of wine.

Nut cake with dried fruit

 Nut and fruit cake

I have had this recipe for many years and I originally got it from my sister-in-law. I simply exchanged the regular flour with almond flour. The results were even tastier. The cake does tend to crumble a bit more, so be extra careful when slicing the cake.

3 eggs
1 cup almond flour / meal
3/4 tsp GF baking powder
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbs cognac
7 oz (or 200 grams) mixed raw nuts such as pecans or walnuts coarsely chopped
12 oz (or 350 grams) dried fruit coarsely chopped (I used dried cranberries, apricots, and cherries)

Mix all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl.

Grease a loaf pan with butter. Line the bottom and all 4 walls of the pan with parchment paper.

Transfer the dough to the pan and bake for around 50 minutes in a 350 degree oven. When the cake is nice and brown and a toothpick comes out dry, take it out of the oven.

Let the cake cool thoroughly.

Remove from the pan with the help of the parchment paper. Peel away the paper and cut into thin slices with a sharp knife.

Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

Fluffy Almond Cookies

photo 4

(makes ~24 cookies)

9 oz (or 250 grams) almond flour or meal
7 oz (or 200 grams) powdered sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp almond extract
2 egg whites

Mix all of the dry ingredients

Beat the egg whites until they form peaks.

Slowly fold the dry ingredients into the egg whites and mix well.

Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Drop teaspoonfuls heaps of dough on the cookie sheet, leaving some space between each (the cookies will spread)

Place one sliced, preferably peeled almond on each cookie (see photo).

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes or until the cookies are flat and golden.

Let the cookies cool before removing them from the parchment paper.

Store in an airtight box.

–GFNoms’ Mom

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San Francisco Gluten Free

San Francisco: just a short flight from Seattle. We had great luck eating out in SF and the Bay Area. We especially loved Asian Box (in Mountain View), Minako, Cafe St. Jorge, and Pica Pica. I’d love to try all of the other promising gluten free friendly restaurants but I can’t promise that, next time I’m town, I won’t just visit the same great ones I discovered last time! They were that good.

I’ve compiled a long list of GF SF recommendations here.

Here are some of the treats from Pica Pica:


Pica Pica:


Here are some treats from Cafe St. Jorge:


Cafe St. Jorge:


And lastly, a few treats from Minako:






Pica Pica Arepa Kitchen on Urbanspoon
Minako on Urbanspoon
Cafe St. Jorge on Urbanspoon

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A Few Favorite Gluten Free Products

I’ve been meaning to share some of my favorite gluten free products, but alas, life has been quite busy.

What I’ve included below is a snapshot and is by no means comprehensive!

First off, I’ve been raving to my friends and family about Brazi Bites, so it’s time I rave to all of you as well.

Brazi Bites Baked

I’ve made pao de queijo (Brazilian cheese buns) from scratch before and while it was a great success, it seemed like a lot of work. The great thing about Brazi Bites’ frozen pao de quiejos is that they are frozen! You can pull as many as you like out of the freezer and pop them into the oven for 20 minutes. When you make them from scratch, you have to bake the whole batch, so I very much appreciate how convenient and easy Brazi Bites are to enjoy. The disadvantage is that you might end up eating a few too many!

Brazi Bites Bite

Next is Ancient Harvest Quinoa pasta. This pasta has been the most successful and really tastes like normal gluten-ful pasta. It doesn’t stick and get as gummy as the other dry gluten free pastas (Trader Joe’s GF pasta is the worst). They have many different varieties and just last week I made Thai peanut noodles with the linguine noodles!

quinoa pasta

I’m a pretty big fan of cookies and I’m happy that there are several great GF cookie options. Perhaps too many … I should eat less junk. Some of my favorites:

Glutino Chocolate Vanilla Cream

Tweasonale and glutino

Trader Joe’s GF Joe Joe’s

TJ's joe-joe's

Glutino GF lemon wafers

Glutino lemon wafers

and WOW Baking Co.’s Oregon Oatmeal Cookies (the Snickerdoodle one is great too!). As you can see, the WOW cookie bag is empty. I wonder why.

WOW cookie

On to beverages. Good GF beer seems to be the holy grail, and I have never been a beer connoisseur, so you’ll have to take this with a grain of salt!

My favorites are DogFish Head Tweason’ale


 New Planet Tread Lightly

New Planet Tread Lightly

 and RedBridge.


As for ciders, my list keeps growing and growing! After having way too much fun at the Seattle Cider Summit, I discovered awesome new ciders like Reverend Nat’s Hallelujah Hopricot, Alpenfire, Finn River Habanero Cider, Carlton Asian Pear, Sea Cider Bramble Berry, and the list goes on. And on. The sweetest (not my favorite aspect of ciders) and most accessible, is Spire Dark & Dry.

Dark and Dry

As I look at my list it seems quite unhealthy. But I’ll keep in mind that these are all packaged items, so I’ll be sure to take it easy!

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