Gluten-free cooking has quickly progressed from unknown to commonplace in the United States. Gluten-free mixes suitable for American baked goods are flying off of supermarket shelves, and everything — from muffins to pancakes to chocolate chip cookies — is now available in a gluten-free version. But did you know that other countries have been using non-wheat-based flours for centuries in their traditional cooking? Now that these ingredients are commonly available in pretty much every grocery store in America, why not try your hand at some of these international alternatives to wheat?
Buckwheat Flour: France
In the Brittany region of France, crêpes are a favorite. Sweet crêpes, which can be found all over France, are typically made with wheat flour. Savory crêpes, however, are made with the nutty flour of buckwheat, also known as black wheat — blé noir – to natives of France.
Savory crêpes made with buckwheat flour are known as galettes, and they can be filled with a variety of toppings. First, mix up the buckwheat crêpe batter, and get a pan nice and hot. (If you’re not eating gluten for dietary reasons, sub all-purpose gluten-free flour mix for the all-purpose flour indicated in the recipe. Buckwheat flour alone will not hold together very well.) Once you’ve made your galette and flipped it once, top it with a raw organic egg and quickly fold the sides in, to create a square or rectangular crêpe, leaving the center opened to show off the egg. Top with salt, pepper and shredded organic cheese. Serve alongside a salad for a perfect lunch.
Teff Flour: Ethiopia
Teff flour is native to Ethiopia, and it lends an almost sour taste and nutty flavor to Ethiopian injera bread. Some restaurants sub buckwheat for hard-to-find teff, but even if you can’t find it in a supermarket near you, you can always order teff flour online.
In order to make traditional injera, you’ll need to make a sourdough base with the teff flour a few days in advance. The good news is that once the sourdough mix is made, it’s easy to make the pancakes. All you need to do next is top with a variety of Ethiopian dishes and eat with your hands (traditionally, injera is used as a plate for holding food, an accompaniment and an eating utensil!).
Millet Flour: India
Millet is one of many flours used to make Indian breads like roti. As with other gluten-free flours, millet can be difficult to learn to knead, especially for those accustomed to a gluten flour like wheat. Practice makes perfect! If you can’t get the millet flour dough to come together, try adding xanthan or guar gum to the dry ingredients (1 teaspoon for the recipe linked above). It may help you to get the dough to come together more cohesively.
Roti, like injera, is used as both an accompaniment and an eating utensil. Serve with dal or your favorite Indian recipe.
Rice Flour: Korea
Dduk is a very popular dish in Korea. This rice cake, sweetened with raisins or red beans, makes for an interesting and different rice-based dessert. It’s easy to make at home, provided you have a steamer, and the chewy texture is very unique. The frozen rice flour is very important; you can’t substitute this with anything else.Try an Asian grocer near you, or ask your local Korean restaurant where they do their shopping.
Corn Flour: Mexico
Corn flour, also known as masa harina, is different from both cornstarch (called cornflour in the UK) and cornmeal, also sometimes sold as polenta. Masa harina can be purchased in some grocery stores, in Latin food markets or online, and is the key ingredient in making sopes, a traditional corn-based Mexican dish served with a variety of fillings. You can use the filling in the recipe or make up your own! Many fillings that you use for tacos and burritos can make a delicious — if slightly less authentic — sope filling.