My sister recently gave up gluten and dairy on doctor’s orders. In a show of support, my whole family has been exploring ways to make shared meals more tolerable for the poor woman, suddenly deprived of the two best food groups. We’re revisiting family recipes for breakfasts, sides and desserts: my grandmother’s strata, with its layers of cheese-soaked bread, is out altogether, while mashed potatoes go without butter and pie goes without crust.
It’s easy to make your first GF/DF meal. The first time my sister came over for dinner after starting her new lifestyle, we smoked a pork shoulder and ate it with mayo-based coleslaw and baked beans: a classic BBQ! Meat and potatoes are GF/DF, as are stir-fried veggies and rice, and bacon and eggs. So is the single highest-rated recipe in New York Times Cooking, Melissa Clark’s red lentil soup. You’ve likely made many GF/DF meals without even noticing.
Despite its name, the gluten-free, dairy-free diet isn’t only about loss. As a travel companion on my sister’s health journey, I’ve learned about the possibilities of GF/DF cooking and even come to be impressed by its resourcefulness.
Take the humble date. A staple of Middle Eastern cooking for thousands of years, dates seem to have little in common with either bread or cheese. As it turns out, their stickiness replicates the binding quality of gluten in baked goods, addressing the structural integrity deficiency that plagues gluten-free items, while their complex flavor distracts from dairy deprivation, making them ubiquitous in GF/DF recipes.
You can approach this diet by leaning on simulacra, like highly processed imitation cheese products or brittle legume-based pastas, fantasizing about the real thing. Or you can play a different game entirely, pursuing only recipes that shine in their natural GF/DF state. On Thanksgiving,
I made the New York Times Cooking suggested “stuffing,” which doesn’t attempt to copy the flavors of a classic turkey stuffing but instead puts its own spin on a savory grain side: rice, bacon and mushrooms. I’ll make this all year round, whether or not my sister is coming over. Roasted and shredded spaghetti squash doesn’t taste or act particularly like noodles, but offers a unique twist on a savory, starchy base.
Then there’s coconut milk, the frenemy of the GF/DF diet. It adds indulgent creaminess to both sweet and savory dishes, but often at the expense of flavor and texture: douse anything in coconut milk and it tastes like everything else that’s ever been doused in coconut milk. If you like chickpea curries, you’re going to love the GF/DF diet. If you or someone you cook for is giving up gluten or dairy, content creators such as JennaEatsGood, DadaEats and PaleoBailey are all good places to search for inspiration, in addition to the accidentally gluten- and dairy-free recipes you’ll find anywhere else.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s February 2024 World edition.