A Gluten-Free Thanksgiving

How-to have a successful Thanksgiving without gluten

As Thanksgiving approaches, it’s time to start preparing our kitchens and cookbooks. In my house, we have to start cleaning. Half of my family has Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that attacks the immune system when coming in contact with gluten. Celiac is smart and can pick up even the tiniest specks of gluten. My home is preparing for yet another gluten-free holiday. This involves deep cleaning, stainless steel utensils (as opposed to wood), washing hands frequently, and avoiding any glutenous baking, as flour particles could fly into the gluten-free foods. Other than these safety protocols, we also have to do plenty of gluten-free cooking and baking. For anyone who will be joining me in a gluten-free Thanksgiving this year, I’d like to share the best naturally non-gluten foods, the easiest foods to recreate gluten-free, and harder-to-substitute gluten-free foods that your gluten-free friends and family will love you for bringing to dinner.

Turkey is most commonly gluten-free. Unless you bread it and fry it, your turkey will probably be Celiac-safe. This also depends on what you stuff your turkey with, however. If you plan on stuffing your turkey with actual stuffing, make sure that you’re substituting gluten-free ingredients which I will touch on a little later. Mashed potatoes are a pretty safe bet for gluten-free dining, except for the gravy. Once again, I will cover gluten-free gravy in detail later in this article. Most pre-made mashed potatoes are gluten-free, as are homemade. Whether you’re using canned or homemade sauce, cranberries are generally gluten-free. If you make your own cranberry sauce, be careful not to thicken it with flour. Corn starch is indeed gluten-free, and will work just as well, if not better for your cranberry sauce.

Gravy is incredibly easy to make gluten-free. All you need to do is follow your regular gravy recipe but substitute the flour for gluten-free 1-for-1 flour. The gravy should taste exactly the same with the only difference being a minor texture change. However, when the gravy is paired with mashed potatoes, you will not be able to tell. A note about gluten-free gravy: gluten-free flour reacts to heat differently, so add the flour very slowly to prevent it from getting clumpy. Don’t cook the gravy on quite as high of heat to further prevent this from happening. Likely, you won’t need to use as much flour substitute.

Stuffing is another easy-to-replicate Thanksgiving recipe. The simple substitute for this is gluten-free bread. This bread will be a little more expensive, but I promise it’s worth it for anyone who can’t eat gluten bread. My–and my Celiac relatives’–recommendation for gluten-free bread is Canyon Bakehouse honey white bread. Leave this bread out for a couple of hours and it’ll be perfectly crispy for your stuffing. Another note on this, most stuffing recipes use chicken broth, and not all broths are gluten-free. Check your label before buying if you do plan on using broth in your recipe.

Now for my last easily substitute-able recipe, I realize that sweet potato casserole can be controversial. Some families top their casseroles with marshmallows. In this case, your recipe should be totally safe. If your family uses brown sugar-pecan crumbles though, you will need to switch it up. Simply substitute the flour in your crumble for gluten-free 1-for-1 flour, and your recipe will be safe for all of your Celiac-friendly needs. 

Now we move onto the harder-to-replicate but highly sought-after gluten-free Thanksgiving foods. Pie crust can be very hard to create gluten-free. I definitely wouldn’t recommend making a gluten-free pie crust if you’ve never made a regular pie crust before. Do not attempt to substitute gluten-free 1-for-1 flour in a regular pie crust recipe. Gluten-free flour is much drier, so your pie crust will likely not turn out well.

Do follow a pre-planned gluten-free pie crust recipe. These recipes will typically contain more butter or oil to serve as binding agents, making up for the lost elasticity of glutenous flour. The 1-for-1 flour brand I’d most recommend is Cup4Cup. Bob’s Red Mill and King Arthur work decently in most cases, but baking with them can be pretty tricky.

In addition to the crusts, check the labels of any fillings or filling ingredients for wheat warnings. If the label says “contains wheat,” it’s a definite no. If it says “processed in a facility with wheat,” it is not Celiac-safe but should be just fine for less serious gluten intolerances.

My last harder-to-replicate recipe is green bean casserole. This recipe is difficult because most cream-of-mushroom soups contain wheat. In fact, it is strangely difficult to find one that doesn’t. In addition to this, it is also incredibly difficult to find gluten-free French fried onions for your topping. You’ll most likely have to order these online. Pacific Foods has a gluten-free cream of mushroom soup, which can often be found at Target. Aldi’s Simply Nature gluten-free French fried onions are also a perfect substitute for the topping.

I understand that all of these recipes might feel tedious. Gluten-free cooking and baking usually is. However, it is so worth the struggle to provide your gluten-free friends, family, or self with safe Thanksgiving foods. Once again, if these recipes need to be Celiac-safe, make sure to follow strict kitchen-cleaning protocols. Clean your kitchen twice. Or three times. Per hour. That’s an exaggeration, but you get my point. Better to be safe than sorry. Happy Thanksgiving!

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