One of the new forms of food I learnt about moving to London was the free-from range. I had barely heard of food allergies or people with food intolerance back in Bangalore. There is no concept of food allergy labeling or segregation either in restaurants or in super markets. I had heard little about nut allergies but nothing much about gluten or dairy allergies. Vegetarian or non-vegetarian was the maximum food differentiation available and of course the Jain version of food. For example in Mumbai any self respecting Chinese restaurant would cater to the option of Jain Kung Pao Tofu. This meant that it would be a Kung Pao Tofu free-from onion and garlic! Hence you can see how different the concept of free-from range of food is in India and UK! Put it simply, food intolerance beyond religious grounds is quite unheard off.
I was however thoroughly amazed at the range of products available here in the UK. From wheat free bread and pasta to dairy free cheese cake, you name it and an alternative can be found! Though I do not suffer from any food allergies myself what fascinated me was the creativity and use of alternative ingredients that went in the creation of these products. I found a huge range of heathier food options in the free-from range. For example when I went for the Allergy & Free From Show at Liverpool last year I came across a healthier version of pizza bread made with a combination of whole meal gluten flours which was quite amazing! I also came across a series of gluten free pastas made from lentils and beans which I felt was a truly healthy alternative while eating pasta. Dairy free desserts are made with nut butters or tofu and a range of free from now includes free from refined sugars which is truly fantastic!
Word of caution: I did notice that some free from products were extremely processed and had a variety of unhealthy ingredients and additives to get the familiar texture and flavour. Hence it is always very important to read the ingredients list to make sure you are not consuming any unnecessary sugars or additives.
I decided to try my hand at making some gluten free dishes at home with the perspective of getting healthier alternatives on the dinner table. I wanted to make something simple and familiar and hence I decided to make a healthier version to a regular pasta and cheese sauce. I firstly wanted to try some lentil based pasta as the first alternative. Usually gluten free pastas are made with rice which I do not find as healthy. I would prefer to choose wholemeal pasta over a rice pasta. However three delicious and healthy alternatives are buckwheat pasta, quinoa pasta and lentil/bean pasta. Packed with vitamins, protein and fibre, these gluten free pasta alternatives add a healthier alternative to your weekly dinner. In comparison regular pasta is made from refined flour which has had almost all its nutrition stripped off and is providing nothing more than bulk to your meals. You also tend to over eat when you have such pastas as compared to a whole meal version or or a high protein/ fibre gluten free alternative.
I also wanted to make a healthier version to my regular cheese sauce. Usually cheese sauce has maida or plain flour as its thickener and I wanted to avoid using this. I hence decided to use sorghum flour or jowar as an alternative. Sorghum flour is used widely in Norther India as an alternative flat bread. Not only does sorghum promote digestive health with its good source of fibre it also helps improve your body’s metabolism due to a good content of magnesium, copper and niacin. Another good factor with sorghum is that it also tends to be more filling and hence there is no over eating with this cheese sauce as it also fills you up quickly.
The main recipe is inspired by one of Mary Berry’s pasta recipes that she makes for her grandchildren (there recently was a very cute episode on BBC). I like this recipe because of the fun layer of chicken layered between the pasta and cheese sauce. I have made my healthy version of her recipe using a chickpea pasta and my sorghum based cheese sauce. I have also added some chopped spinach for much required greens. I found this recipe to be a fantastic alternative to a regular pasta and cheese bake. The sorghum cheese sauce does not compromise in flavour at any any point. I have not used any other whole grain gluten free flour but do let me know if you have any success with alternatives. Wholemeal pasta can easily be substituted if a gluten free alternative is difficult to come by. I used coconut oil to fry the chicken in this recipe. This pasta can be a vegetarian option as well by adding some roasted vegetables instead of the chicken.
Healthy Tip for day!
- Check out the free from range of products at your super market and discover some healthier alternatives for you dinner table!
Store Cupboard tip # 5
- Stock up on some gluten free pasta alternatives made from lentils or beans or quinoa or buckwheat. You can buy them online from Ocado or from Whole Food Markets. Use them to make a quick guilt free dinner.
Finally my gluten free range on Meghna’s also incorporates the concept of using healthier cereals and grains without any additives and using only natural ingredients. My Hindi Heartland Herb Munchies are one such example where I have used Buckwheat flour and red lentil flour as healthy gluten free cereals. Do take a look!