There’s a recurring conversation I’ve been having for almost a year now. It goes something like this:
Me: Oh, thanks for offering. I’ll have to pass on that lovely cookie/cake/sandwich, because I’m on this diet where I don’t eat any grains.
Normal person: Oh, you mean like gluten-free?
Me: Well, yes — but a step further. I don’t eat any grains at all, which means I can’t eat most “gluten-free” foods. In fact, I don’t even eat rice.
Normal person: NO GRAINS AT ALL? Oh em gee, what do you eat? No pasta, no bread, no RICE? I wouldn’t last a day on that diet.
And, you know, I get it. It is unorthodox, for sure — and I was totally one of those people who said I could never go gluten-free, much less grain-free. But, here I am. With the exception of a cheat bite here and there (and my now-allowed single piece of sprouted-grain Ezekiel bread each day), I’ve been grain-free and starchy-vegetable-free for almost 9 months. How do I do it? And more specifically, how do I do it when the rest of my family still eats many of the things I don’t?
Well, there are a few tricks up the hungry, resourceful sleeve of the grain-averse. Here are a few of my go-to replacements for things that were once our staples:
- Squashes: great replacement for pasta
The beloved squash, both winter and summer varieties, has been my flavor vehicle for countless meals over the past year. One of our favorite winter-time meals is a Classic Italian Meat Spaghetti Sauce. When I make a batch, I cook a pot full of pasta for my family, and roast a spaghetti squash for myself. The sauce tastes just as good on squash as it does on pasta (a good douse of olive oil and salt is in order). In summer months, zucchini serves the same purpose. One of my favorite ways to eat it is by steaming zucchini ribbons (recipe below) — last week I had the ribbons topped with pesto, chicken, and fresh cherry tomatoes for a light and filling dinner (but olive oil and good parmesan are also elegant toppings).
- Cauliflower: a good substitute for rice or potatoes
Cauliflower is another non-starchy vegetable that can mimic a classic. A shepherd’s pie is legal for my diet if I use puréed cauliflower in place of the mashed potatoes (with butter and salt, my husband couldn’t even tell the difference). For dishes that call for rice (like our beloved Coconut-Lime Fish Curry or Red Lentil Curry) I mash steamed cauliflower with a fork until it’s a similar consistency as rice.
- Greens: replace almost anything
I’ve discovered that you can go a long way with simple “meal salads.” I’ve long relied on grain salads as lunchtime workhorses — so these days I just throw everything on top of a big pile of lettuce greens instead. Nuts, seeds, fermented vegetables, cubed chicken, avocado, boiled eggs — this is a king salad that will keep you full until dinner. Greens are also the solution for taco night — my family reaches for taco shells, and I fill my bowl with greens.
- Grain-Free Crackers: keep a stash on-hand!
I’ve been known to sneak a baggie of my Grain-Free Crackers into a dinner party or book club. I don’t want to miss out on that cheese plate or dip, and a cracker certainly helps. I also love these for a quick lunch of smoked sardines or egg salad — the crackers give the exact crunchy vehicle necessary in dippy situations.
Believe it or not, I’ve grown so accustomed to these replacements, it will honestly be hard to go back when I wean off my diet. If you currently live grain-or-starch-free, what have I missed? Are there other nourishing, belly-filling foods in your arsenal?
For making zucchini ribbons, I prefer a swiss peeler -- it allows for slightly thicker slices. But any vegetable peeler will do.
- 1 medium zucchini, washed and ends trimmed
- olive oil, salt and pepper to taste
- In a medium saucepan, bring 1" of water to a boil. Lower a steamer basket into the pan.
- As water heats, use a vegetable peeler to peel the zucchini lengthwise into long ribbons. Peel all the way through the zucchini, setting the vegetable down on a cutting board to give support to the vegetable while you peel. Either peel directly into the steamer basket, or into a separate bowl and transfer to the steamer basket.
- Once water comes to a boil and begins to release steam, cover the pan, reduce heat to low, and cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until zucchini is tender.
- Carefully remove basket, and transfer zucchini to a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.