How to cook gluten-free food that’s full of flavor

Miami Herald

When you see “gluten-free,” chances are the last things to come to mind are cheesy, tangy, green-tomato arepas or fresh, crunchy fish taquitos. You’re more likely to imagine dense, depressing ghosts of favorite dishes.

Conceptions of gluten-free cooking vary from a saving grace for those living with gluten intolerance or celiac disease to a diet fad and shameless pandering to trend-happy diners. Regardless of any stigma attached to gluten-free eating, tasty and healthy dishes can come from a wheat-flourless kitchen.

At least two South Florida restaurants — Oolite Restaurant & Bar and Basil Park — are using gluten-free cooking as a platform to showcase locally focused, health-conscious dishes that pile on flavor.

“You never sacrifice flavor,” said Kris Wessel, chef-owner of Oolite in Miami Beach. “That [gluten-free] is flavorless cooking is the biggest misconception.”

Gluten is the protein in wheat and related grains, and gluten-free cooking is what it sounds like — food without gluten. If that seems like a high hurdle to overcome as a home cook, consider: Many dishes of our favorite cuisines have long been gluten-free, from Latin American tamales to Japanese soba noodles.

Gluten-free foods can be both filling and flavorful, and because they tend to lack high-carb or high-sugar components, food without gluten tends to not leave you feeling bloated or guilty.

“[There is a] misconception that it is difficult to work with alternative flours or that it’s difficult to make a whole meal gluten-free,” said Wessel, whose menu options are entirely gluten-free. “At Oolite, the idea is to open diners’ minds to what is possible with gluten-free.”

Wessel began working on gluten-free cooking when his daughter displayed signs of gluten intolerance. Similarly, Harry’s Pizzeria in the Design District began offering gluten-free pizza and beer options this year after chef-owner Michael Schwartz’s son, Harry, turned to gluten-free foods.

At Basil Park in Sunny Isles Beach, the focus on healthful whole ingredients lends itself naturally to gluten-free dishes, said chef-owner Tim Andriola, who adds that there is a correlation between what we eat and how we feel.

“It is all directly related to the food that we put in our bodies,” he said. “People think that food is not going to taste good if it’s good for you, but ... you don’t need to use a pound of butter or sugar to make it taste good.”

Turns out you don’t need a pound of flour, either.

Here, Wessel and Andriola show us how it’s done with recipes from their restaurants: Fried Green Tomato Arepas from Oolite, and Fish Taquitos from Basil Park.

Nina Lincoff is a Miami-based writer. Follow her on Twitter: @nincoff.

Pantry Staples

Flaxseed: An important tool in any gluten-free arsenal, ground flaxseed is a good substitute for eggs in baked goods.

Chia seed: Similar nutrient profile to flaxseed, including protein, fiber and antioxidants.

Xanthan gum: A binder and thickener, xanthan gum is made from fermented corn sugar that gives dough elasticity and extensibility — gluten’s job.

Guar gum: The ground endosperm of the guar bean, it can be used like xanthan gum in doughs to improve texture, but it also is used in dairy and meat products as a thickener or binder.

Tapioca: A product of the cassava root, tapioca powder can be used to thicken sauces in place of flour, or help to add viscosity to doughs and batters.

Cornstarch: A common thicken for sauces and stews, even in gluten-filled pantries. Be sure to choose a verified gluten-free brand like Argo.

Potato starch: Another great thickener for sauces and soups, potato starch can tolerate higher temperatures than cornstarch.

Corn flour: The base of polenta, grits and corn tortillas is 100-percent gluten-free.

Brown rice flour: Try this healthier alternative to white rice flour.

Nut flour: Almost any nut, from almonds to cashews to hazelnuts, can be ground into a flour to add depth of flavor to pastries and other baked goods.

Chickpea flour: Indian roti and French socca are two of many dishes made with chickpea flour.

Lentil flour: A hearty alternative flour that’s quite easy to make at home by grinding uncooked lentils.

Gluten-free all-purpose flour: Can be a mixture of anything from chickpea flour to tapioca flour to potato starch and more depending on the brand.

“The perception is that you need all-purpose flour to make a biscuit, that you need all-purpose flour to make French toast,” Oolite’s Wessel said. “We make a full brioche bread with rice flour and gluten-free all-purpose.”

Side dish

Fried Green Tomato Arepa

1 1/2 cups masa arepa corn flour

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons cheddar cheese, grated

1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons cold butter, cubed

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 1/4 cups water

1/4 cup neutral frying oil

1 large green tomato, washed and cut into 4 (1/4-inch) thick slices

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Lime wedges, for garnish

In a large bowl, combine corn flour, 1/3 cup cheddar, 2 tablespoons parmesan and salt. Cut in the butter and mix with hands until arepa dough resembles sand. Add the oil and water and mix until combined and the dough holds shape. Divide into four discs and cover with a damp towel. Let the dough rest for 5-7 minutes.

While the dough is resting, season the tomato steaks with salt and pepper on each side. Top each tomato with a quarter of the remaining cheddar and Parmesan. Heat 1/4 cup neutral frying oil in a cast iron skillet or other heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium-high heat. While heating the oil, take the masa arepa dough and divide a 1/4 section in half. Flatten that half into a disc about 1/4-inch larger than a tomato steak and repeat with the remaining half. Enclose a tomato steak in the two masa arepa discs, making sure to seal the edges. Repeat with the remaining three tomato steaks.

Shallow-fry the tomato arepas, about 3-4 minutes a side, or until golden brown. Let cool slightly on paper towels before serving with lime wedges, green tomato salsa and romesco sauce (see recipes). Serves 4.

Source: Chef Kris Wessel, Oolite Restaurant & Bar, Miami Beach.

Romesco Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus 1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large yellow onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 red tomatoes, peeled and seeded

2 roasted red peppers, seeded and diced

2-4 Thai chiles, minced

1/4 cup white vinegar

3 ounces whole almonds, toasted

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a large stock pot, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, and 2-4 chiles depending on how spicy you’d like the sauce, and sweat until tender, about 8-10 minutes. Remove pot from heat and let cool slightly.

Add cooked vegetables, vinegar and almonds to a food processor or blender and process until smooth. While processing, slowly add the olive oil to emulsify the sauce. If the sauce is too thick, add up to 1/4 cup water to thin. Once cool, refrigerate until use. Will keep for up to a week, refrigerated.

Source: Chef Kris Wessel, Oolite Restaurant & Bar, Miami Beach.

Green Tomato Salsa

2 green tomatoes, diced

2 tablespoons lime juice

2 teaspoons lime zest

2 tablespoons parsley, minced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate until use. Will keep for up to three days, refrigerated.

Source: Chef Kris Wessel, Oolite Restaurant & Bar, Miami Beach.

Main dish

Local Fish Taquitos

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

6 (1-ounce) pieces mahi mahi

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 (8-inche) brown rice tortillas, cut into 6 (three-inch-diameter) discs

6 tablespoons shredded iceberg lettuce

2 tablespoons cilantro leaves, for garnish

Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed sauté pan over medium-high heat. Season mahi pieces with salt and pepper on both sides. Sauté mahi pieces until golden brown and cooked through, about 2-3 minutes a side. Warm tortilla discs in a dry cast-iron skillet until golden brown and warm. Top tortillas with shredded lettuce, cilantro, mahi, and pico de gallo, guacamole and cashew “sour cream” (see recipes). Serves 2.

Source: Chef Tim Andriola, Basil Park, Sunny Isles Beach.

Pico de gallo

2 small plum tomatoes, diced

1 tablespoon cilantro, minced

1 teaspoon cumin

2 tablespoons lime juice

1/4 small yellow or white onion, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

Chile flakes, to taste

Mix all ingredients together in stainless steel bowl. Refrigerate until use.

Source: Chef Tim Andriola, Basil Park, Sunny Isles Beach.


1 avocado, cubed

1 tablespoon lime juice

1/2 tablespoon cilantro, minced

1/2 tablespoon red onion, minced

1/2 tablespoon fresh jalapeño, minced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Mash avocado with a wire whisk or fork in a mixing bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate until use.

Source: Chef Tim Andriola, Basil Park, Sunny Isles Beach.

Cashew ‘Sour Cream’

1/2 cup raw cashews

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon nutritional yeast

1/2 probiotic capsule

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Soak cashews overnight in 2 cups of water.

Drain the cashews and add to a blender or food processor with lemon juice and nutritional yeast. Blend until smooth, adding a splash of water a little bit at a time to reach desired consistency. Add probiotic and stir to combine. Let sit at room temperature for 8 hours, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until use.

Source: Chef Tim Andriola, Basil Park, Sunny Isles Beach.