Gluten-Free Cooking with Beans

Falafel, ready to eat

Beans are a great, naturally gluten-free food. High in protein and fiber, they are nutritious, delicious, and extremely flexible. Seriously, how many other foods can be eaten whole or ground into flour? I love beans because they are perfect for so many meals.

Needless to say, my favorite way to enjoy beans is with rice. Recently, while in Austin visiting family, I had red beans and rice. I helpfully suggested we eat them every day; my family declined this perfectly reasonable idea. Someday, I will perfect my own red beans and rice recipe, or so I keep promising myself.

At a local Cuban restaurant, I head straight for the moro: a mix of black beans and rice. For parties, I love to make a Middle Eastern dish featuring lentils, rice, and caramelized onions. Dishes like these highlight how easy it is to make delicious gluten-free meals.

Most of the time, I use dried beans. They’re cheaper and for many recipes, like the falafel highlighted below, create a much better texture. Soak in brined water, rinse, and cook. Canned beans, which can be a lifesaver for quick meals, absorb too much water for some recipes.

If you’re in a hurry, and by “hurry” I mean if you have a couple of hours, you can put the beans in a pan, cover with about three inches of water and about three tablespoons salt, bring to a boil for about five minutes, and let sit, covered, for about an hour. Otherwise, use canned beans.

A note about salting dried beans: while some recommend not salting your beans before cooking, sources such as America’s Test Kitchen highly recommend soaking (or brining) your beans in salted water for tender skins and more flavorful beans. Recipes such as red beans and rice include salted pork in the cooking process as well. I brine to get deeper seasoning in the beans, then add more salt later if needed.

There is a chance of cross-contamination when using both dried and canned beans. Dried beans are often grown and processed in facilities that also process gluten-containing foods like wheat and barley. I’ve encountered some anecdotal discussions about discovering barley in dried beans, and others have noted accidental glutenings from dried beans. This has not happened to me, but I do not recommend purchasing dried beans from bulk bins as the potential for cross-contamination from flours is extremely high.

For canned beans, there is the added worry of additional ingredients in the beans. Read labels carefully to ensure no gluten-based flavorings such as soy sauce are part of the ingredients list. Gluten is sneaky stuff.

What is your favorite bean-based dish?

Tip of the Week

If you’re grinding beans into flour, or buying flours such as garbanzo flour, please note that bean flours can have strong flavors that don’t work well in some baked goods, particularly desserts.

Gluten-Free Menu of the Week

I love falafel, and it’s so easy to make a gluten-free version. Instead of pita bread, serve the falafel in a lettuce wrap. Making tabbouleh with quinoa is quick and easy, and roasted vegetables round out the meal.

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