Ditch the Delivery

Cooking Chinese at homelets you enjoy eggrolls and
other treats without vthe gluten.

September/October 2017

By Corinne Garcia

Perhaps one of the most craved cuisines that is often banished from the gluten-free diner’s list is the classic Chinese take-out. Considering the fact that Chinese menus feature many stir-fry dishes served with rice, much of the food would seem naturally free of gluten, right? Wrong.

“A common thought is that there wouldn’t be a lot of gluten in Chinese food, but realistically gluten is in almost all of the sauces,” explains Laura Russell, author of The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen (Celestial Arts). “When you’re dining out, it’s very difficult to find gluten-free Chinese food. If you can’t eat wheat, you’re way better off cooking at home.”

And it’s not only the hidden ingredients in the sauces that contain gluten. There are also those old favorites that are sorely missed: dumplings, noodles and breaded sweet-and-sour chicken or shrimp, to name a few.

But you don’t have to give up these dishes in the name of better digestive health. By recreating them at home, you’re not only creating gluten-free meals, but healthier meals overall. “When you’re dining out, for someone who’s on a gluten-free or Paleo diet, there are a lot of issues,” says Russ Crandall, author of Paleo Takeout: Restaurant Favorites Without the Junk (Victory Belt). “You don’t really know what’s going into your foods. In your own kitchen, you can control those ingredients, the random sauces, the breading and other things on a typical take-out menu.”

Here’s a look at how the home chef can conquer gluten-free Chinese cuisine. Hold the MSG!

Saucy Makeovers

For many Chinese menu items, the sauce really does make the meal. Think about the sweet and savory balance of the brown, gravy-like sauce that accompanies a beef-and-broccoli
dish, the fiery spice of a kung pao chicken or the simple seasonings that go into a dish of moo shoo pork. And that’s not to mention the soy sauce that graces every table at a Chinese restaurant.

Many traditional Chinese sauces, including hoisin, chili bean, plum, oyster and even some rice wine vinegars, contain wheat or barley malt. And one of the biggest culprits is soy sauce, which is made from the fermented paste of soybeans. “Just about all commercial soy sauce you would find in Asian cooking is made with wheat,” Crandall says, explaining that wheat is added to speed up the fermentation process. “Essentially, soybeans are mashed into a paste, and the liquid that comes from it is tamari. Over the years, they figured out that if you add wheat it speeds up the fermentation process, so someone with celiac would definitely have to avoid it.”

In place of soy sauce, Crandall recommends using straight-up tamari, a wheat-free byproduct of fermented soybeans. “It tastes a little different, a little more sour with a very bold flavor,” he adds.

Crandall also uses coconut aminos, the fermented sap of the coconut tree, which shares a similar flavor profile. “It has the same strong, pungent flavor, but it’s not quite as strong as soy or tamari,” he says. “But I don’t like cooking with it.” Crandall would opt for tamari in cooked dishes, such as a fried rice dish, and might use coconut aminos as a flavor enhancer—as a dip for an egg roll, for example.

Health food stores generally stock gluten-free versions of many other Chinese sauces. “In the last couple of years, companies have been starting to make gluten-free versions, but almost never the ones that are used at a restaurant, because they’re too expensive,” Russell says.

Russell has tried to recreate a few sauces at home, including a peanut sauce and a teriyaki sauce that she makes with gluten-free soy sauce, ginger, mirin, honey and garlic. However, she found hoisin and oyster sauce far too complicated to make, so she opts for the store-bought versions of these.

Noodles Galore

With plenty of gluten-free noodles on the market, recreating traditional Chinese noodle dishes, such as chow mein, lo mein and sesame noodles, is a cinch—as long as you find the right noodle for the dish, that is.

“There are three easy-to-find categories: rice noodles, cellophane noodles (or glass noodles made from mung bean starch) and soba noodles, the ones made with 100% buckwheat flour,” Russell says. “I really like all of them, so for me it would depend on what I was making.” (As many gluten-free eaters know by now, the name “buckwheat” is a misnomer; it’s actually a starchy seed with no relation to wheat.)

For a saucier dish, Russell likes cellophane noodles, which tend to absorb the sauce and have little flavor on their own. For a stir-fry dish, she suggests a sturdier rice noodle. “Asian markets have a thicker round rice noodle, which can be a nice substitute in a dish that has a thick wheat noodle,” she says. And for a peanut or sesame noodle dish, she opts for sobas.

Crandall explains that some people use vegetable noodles made with a spiralizer. “You can make zucchini and sweet potato noodles, but it’s not really the same,” he says. “I like the Korean sweet potato noodles, but for a chow mein it’s pretty easy to just substitute with any gluten-free noodles. The number-one easiest are rice noodles that are found at any Asian market.”

Doing the Dumplings

Here’s where things get a little more complicated. For the gluten-free home chef, those mouthwatering dim sum dumplings and wontons, either fried or served in a warm broth, are more difficult and time-consuming to recreate, and as far as Russell and Crandall are concerned, there are no gluten-free store-bought wraps on the market yet.

“When it comes to dumplings, it’s possible, and it’s possible to make good ones, but it’s very labor-intensive,” Russell says. “You have to make the individual dumpling wrappers, the filling, and then stuff them.”

Russell uses a blend of millet, sweet rice and tapioca flour to make wrappers, stressing that a blend is necessary to create a dough that’s easy to work with and that also has a good consistency, or chew. “Gluten has a lot of jobs, so you have to replace each with a different flour,” she explains. “It’s not hard; it’s time-consuming. I always say, if you’re going to do it make like 100 of them, because they freeze nicely.”

Crandall gave up on finding a perfect replacement for dumpling wraps. “I tried to mix all these flours, and it got to the point where I was getting close, but I thought there was no way a home chef would try to make this, they would get too frustrated,” he says.

Instead, Crandall works with the filling, mixing ground pork, ginger, garlic, rice wine vinegar and other flavors, and calls them gyoza bites, which are traditionally Japanese but can be substituted in Chinese dishes in place of dumplings. “Honestly, it’s a meatball that’s pan-fried, and it tastes really good,” he says.

Rolling with Rolls

When it comes to making egg and spring rolls, Crandall uses rice paper wrappers. For egg rolls, the filling can be the same ground pork version used in dumplings.

Spring rolls are typically filled with cooked thin rice noodles and a mix of vegetables including finely grated cabbage, garlic and carrots, along with bean sprouts, and can be served cold or deep-fried.

However, the trick is in the rolling; the rice paper needs to be wetted to the right consistency beforehand. “Rice paper is a lot more finicky than wheat wraps,” Crandall explains.

He typically makes a bunch of rolls and freezes them before cooking, so “they don’t fall apart when baked or deep-fried.”

Breadless Breading

A variation of those tasty, crusted nuggets of chicken or shrimp you get in a restaurant, typically doused in sweet-and-sour sauce, can be created at home. Russell recommends using one part starch, such as corn, tapioca or potato, mixed with three parts rice flour.

“I would coat shrimp with a little more starch and dump it into the mixture of the flour and starch to coat it evenly,” Russell says. “When they hit the oil, they get really crisp, so you’re still going to get that crunch.”

Crandall uses a similar method, dredging the meat in the starch, but then he dips it into a beaten egg batter and places it into a pan that’s not too hot. “It turns into a puffy outer breading, like a fried egg on the outside of the meat,” he says. “It’s really spongy and has nice texture that absorbs the flavors of the sauce.”

As they might say in China, Qing màn yòng, meaning “enjoy your meal!”



Kung Pao Chicken

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, 1/2-inch dice
4 tbsp soy sauce or tamari, divided
1 tbsp sake or dry sherry
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp warm water
1 tbsp sugar
2 1/2 tbsp unseasoned rice vinegar
2 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
3 tbsp vegetable oil, divided
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
8 cloves garlic, minced
6 green onions, white and green parts, sliced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup coarsely chopped roasted peanuts or cashews
Steamed rice, for serving (optional)

1. In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the chicken, 1 tbsp soy sauce, the sake, salt and pepper. Set aside until ready to use.

2. In a small bowl, stir together the warm water and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Add the rice vinegar, sesame oil and remaining soy sauce.

3. In a large frying pan or a wok, heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add half the chicken to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned but not all the way cooked through, about 2 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a large bowl. Repeat with the remaining chicken and 1 tbsp oil. Add the cornstarch to the chicken; toss to combine.

4. Heat the remaining tbsp oil over medium-high heat. Add the ginger, garlic, green onions and red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the chicken back to the pan and stir to coat. Stir in the soy sauce mixture and bring to a simmer. Cook until the sauce coats the chicken and everything is heated through, about 2 minutes longer. Stir in the peanuts; serve hot with steamed rice.

Serves 4

Reprinted with permission from The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen by Laura Russell
(Celestial Arts, http://crownpublishing.com); photo by Laura Russell



Chow Mein

1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp tamari
1 tbsp mirin
1 tsp coconut palm sugar
1/2 tsp white pepper
sea salt to taste

2 large sweet potatoes
5 tbsp expeller-pressed
coconut oil, divided
2 tbsp water
1 lb raw shrimp, peeled, or leftover cooked meat
4 handfuls mung bean sprouts, divided
4 handfuls of chopped Chinese cabbage (won bok, bok choy or choy sum), divided
2 medium carrots, julienned, divided
4 splashes of toasted sesame oil, divided

1. Combine the sauce ingredients and set aside. Then make the noodles*: Peel the sweet potatoes and run them through a spiral slicer on its largest setting. Heat a wok or skillet over medium heat, then add 1 tbsp coconut oil. Add the noodles, toss with the oil, and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the water, cover and steam for another 2 minutes or until almost soft; set aside.

2. Increase the heat to high, then add 2 tbsp coconut oil and heat until shimmering, about 30 seconds. Add half the noodles and stir-fry until slightly crisp, about 2 minutes. Add half the shrimp or meat and stir-fry until starting to brown at the edges, about 2 minutes, then stir in half of the sauce and toss with the noodles. Add half of the bean sprouts, Chinese cabbage and carrots; stir-fry until softened, about 1 minute. Add 2 splashes sesame oil, then serve.

3. Repeat step 2 with the remaining half of the ingredients.

* To use sweet potato noodles instead of spiral-sliced sweet potatoes, drop 6 ounces of noodles (about three-quarters of a box) in boiling salted water and simmer until soft, about 6 minutes, stirring often. Drain and rinse with cold water (the noodles will harden up again, and that’s fine). Proceed to step 2. To use rice-based spaghetti, prepare a box of spaghetti as directed on the package, then drain and rinse with cold water. Proceed to step 2.

Serves 4

Reprinted with permission from Paleo Takeout: Restaurant Favorites Without the Junk by Russ Crandall (Victory Belt Publishing, http://victorybelt.com)



More Delicious Ways

to Go Gluten-Free


Chinese Style Sweet

and Sour Chicken

Serves: 4, Prep time: 10 minutes, Cook time: 30 minutes

“It is probably not surprising to read that while this dish is served in Chinese restaurants in many Western countries, it doesn’t really exist in China,” says Russ Crandall, author of Paleo Takeout: Restaurant Favorites Without the Junk (Victory). There are several sauces served in China that incorporate both sweet and sour tastes, the most common being from the Hunan province, but they’re a far cry from what you can get at your local Chinese-American restaurant.”

1 cup Chicken Broth
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tbsp honey
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp tamari
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp white pepper

2 tbsp expeller-pressed coconut oil
1/4 cup tapioca or arrowroot starch
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp white pepper
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized chunks
2 large eggs, beaten

1 tbsp arrowroot starch
1 tbsp cold water
1/2 tsp sesame seeds, to garnish
2 green onions, sliced, to garnish

1. In a saucepan, combine the sauce ingredients. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, then reduce the heat to low and gently simmer as you prepare the rest of the meal. Stir occasionally.

2. Preheat your oven to 250°F. In a wok or skillet, warm the coconut oil over medium heat. Combine the tapioca starch, salt and pepper, then toss the chicken pieces with the starch mixture. With your fingers, dip a starchy chicken piece in the beaten eggs, shake off the excess and then add to the oil. Repeat until you have filled your skillet, being careful not to overcrowd the chicken pieces. Fry until cooked through, flipping every 2 minutes, about 6 to 8 minutes per batch. As you finish each batch, place the cooked pieces on a plate lined with paper towels; put them in the oven to stay warm. You should be able to cook the chicken pieces in 3 or 4 batches, depending on the size of your skillet.

3. Once the chicken is cooked through, finish the sauce. Taste and add more salt or pepper if needed. If the sauce is too dark and strong-tasting, add a little chicken broth to thin it out. At this point, the sauce should be about as thick as tomato soup and should have a sharp but not overwhelming flavor.

4. In a small bowl, stir together the arrowroot starch and cold water to create a slurry. Raise the sauce temperature to medium; once bubbling, add half of the slurry and stir until thickened, adding more slurry if needed. Remove from the heat.

5. Toss the chicken pieces with the sauce, then garnish with sesame seeds and green onions. Serve over steamed rice  or steamed riced cauliflower.


Gyoza Bites

Serves: 4 as an appetizer, Prep time: 10 minutes, Cook time: 15 minutes

This is how Crandall describes the development of this recipe: “Replicating the thin wrapper dough of traditional gyoza turned out to be too much of a challenge for the weeknight home cook, so I developed this Gyoza Bites recipe instead, which can be made quickly and tastes just as great.”

Dipping Sauce:
2 tbsp tamari
1 tbsp mirin*
1 tsp rice vinegar
1/2 tsp togarashi powder**

Surimi (Meat Paste):
1 lb ground pork
1/2 inch ginger, peeled and grated, or 1/4 tsp ground ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp tapioca starch
1 tbsp mirin
1 tsp tamari
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp white pepper

1 cup finely chopped green cabbage
1 green onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp expeller-pressed coconut oil, divided

1. Combine the dipping sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

2. Combine the surimi ingredients in a food processor and pulse until tacky and well mixed. Transfer to a mixing bowl and mix together with the cabbage and green onion using your hands. Form into 20 to 25 small balls using wet hands.

3. Heat 1 tbsp coconut oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering, about 1 minute. Add half of the balls and pan-fry until cooked through, rotating often, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Add the remaining tbsp oil and remaining balls to the skillet and pan-fry until cooked through, then serve with the dipping sauce.

*A type of rice wine similar to sake, but with less alcohol and more sweetness.
**A peppery Japanese condiment that includes red chili and black peppers, green seaweed flakes and sesame and other types of seeds, along with additional ingredients.

Both recipes reprinted with permission from Paleo Takeout: Restaurant Favorites Without the Junk by Russ Crandall (Victory Belt Publishing, http://victorybelt.com)

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