Every day I get requests for meal that are gluten free, dairy free, free from eggs, vegetarian, vegan, free from onions, “my son cant eat meat protein”….genuinely, the list goes on. Every chef will be able to relate to knowing that waiting just outside your restaurant there is another new and exciting dietary requirement just waiting to trip in.
Some dishes are carefully planned, prepared and waiting to be consumed by customers in paroxysms of delight that they are so easily accommodated. Other dishes are spur of the moment inspirations that have to be executed in 15 minutes tops. So this is my opportunity to document some ideas from both categories, for the benefit of people who have time on their side more than food.
Without further ado…lets start simple. Gluten free food. Sounds a bit scary right? It definitely scares the living daylights out of people sitting in front of their gluten-intolerance diagnosis for the first, wondering how to cut that out of their diet. Suddenly they are going to HAVE to fork out for expensive free-from breads, biscuits, cakes, beer. Well here’s a thing…firstly no-one NEEDS any of those things in their lives. Secondly, they can totally enjoy ALL of those things and more. Chocolate doesn’t contain gluten. Nor do steak, vegetables, spices or wine.
What is gluten anyway? In simple terms gluten refers to a group of storage proteins found in wheat and wheat derivatives (like the durum wheat used to make pasta), barley, oats, rye and related products such as the malt used in real ale production. So we’re talking bread, pasta, porridge, sauces thickened with flour. Soy based products also contain gluten.
Ever noticed how Gluten Free bread and cakes don’t have the same texture or softness of the real deal? That’s because Gluten is the protein which gives these products their “elasticity”. Bakers talk about kneading their dough to build up the gluten content and this is important to give structure to bread, so gluten free alternatives often seem dry and crumbly in comparison. On the flip side, a baker will avoid “working” a short pastry, in order to minimise the gluten content that could make it tough or chewy, but without any gluten, pastry can seem powdery and claggy on the palate.
So, without further ado, lets talk about a simple, easy meal to get us started on a gluten free journey. Lamb Kleftiko is traditional Greek cuisine that literally translates as “stolen lamb”. I strongly recommend you purchase yours instead – preferably from your local high street butcher rather than a supermarket. Small businesses need our support, and its much nicer to chat to someone who really values each and every customer as you shop! If you have a slow cooker, this recipe is perfect for throwing together in the morning, and coming home to wonderful smells in the evening, but if you don’t you can still enjoy it fresh from the oven. While its cooking, get down to your local charity shops and pick up a slow cooker on the cheap…they’re great.
Lamb Shank Kleftiko
This recipe serves 4. You can scale it down, or make it all and freeze the spares portions for another day!
- 4 Individual Lamb Shanks
- 4 Medium Potatoes – Peeled & Quartered
- 1 Red Onion, Sliced
- 1 Red Pepper, Sliced
- Zest & Juice of 1 Lemon
- 1 x 200g pack of Feta Cheese
- 1 x 400g tin of Chopped Tomatoes
- 1 Tbsp Dried Oregano
- 4 Cloves Garlic, Peeled and Sliced
- 1/2 Cup White Wine
- A generous Pinch of Salt & Pepper
Mix all except the lamb together in a bowl, crumbling the feta as you do. Lay the lamb into your slow cooker and tuck the mixed ingredients in around them. If you’re using an oven, lay the shanks in a single layer in a deep tray – not too spacious as the meat could dry out – and tuck the remaining ingredients in around them Cover with a double layer of tin foil.
In the slow cooker, cook on medium for 9-10 hours, or high for 6 hours, until the lamb is tender. In the oven, roast for 3 and 1/2 hours covered, and a further 30 minutes uncovered, at 140-150 degrees centigrade.
Serve Hot and Delicious coated in the sauce – I like to pair mine with a fresh green salad with cucumber and olives. Still Gluten Free!