Introduction: Let's All Party Gluten Free - 8 Savoury & Sweet Fun Finger Foods

Although gluten-free food is often a choice due to allergy and food intolerance and therefore often purely associated with health, it can also be an everyday food choice for those who can tolerate gluten but enjoy new taste sensations. Most importantly gluten-free food can be colourful, frivolous and fun!

Therefore, I've chosen not so much to present gluten-free versions of recipes but rather to take traditional foods from several countries and/or regions where gluten-free foods are just an integral part of the culture.

From my experience a real problem for those who are gluten-free occurs when they eat out or are invited out. This in particular when the invitation is to a big celebration, where the hosts are often already under stress. It can seem inappropriate for a gluten-free person to point out, even to friends and relatives, the full spectrum of his/her food intolerances. I've known of people who have eaten party food and been ill for weeks afterwards, rather than cause a problem. What should be for them a happy family occasion with great memories, such as a wedding or birthday, turns into a nightmare and that is a real shame. I'm hoping that these recipes will help because they are all delicious, festive, gluten-free options everyone can enjoy and although I'm presenting them here in micro-versions, they are actually all main meals, supper dishes or full desserts.

Foreword on the Ingredients

The ingredients used are, as in all my recipes, 100% organic. This can be particularly important for those allergic to gluten, as there is a school of thought that believes it is the intolerance to pesticide levels within the wheat, that is also at issue. These are both the natural pesticides (such as those engineered into modern hybrids of wheat at a higher level than the grain's normal defence mechanism) and the applied synthetic ones. People with celiac should also check out Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency, which with certain triggers such as fava beans or artificial food colours, in particular the colour blue, can cause the premature breakdown of red blood cells. To this end I will also be including along the way some ideas for natural colours and decor from fruits, flowers and vegetables.

I buy ingredients in bulk, it works out a lot cheaper, we are lucky here in that we have a local organic shop which sells local basic ingredients directly from dispensers, so you can buy as much or as little as you need. Many of the salad ingredients are also very easy to grow from seed and in a small space, particularly if you choose ones where several parts of the plants are edible, such as arugula/rocket or nasturtium. This means that through all stages of the plant's life and over many months of the year it is producing something edible, both these plants also self-seed, so you can have new 'offspring' coming up with leaves to eat as the mother plant is still producing flowers!

..that said.... LET'S PARTY

Step 1: Scotland Meets France Gluten-free Oatcakes With Roquefort Salad

As the recipe for the oatcake was handed down through families, it is difficult to know its exact origins. However, like the ancient Mongolians, who used their shields to cook their food, documents show that in the 14th century the Chieftain and his clan used theirs to bake oatcakes. It is even believed that the Romans, whilst in the country, to misquote Saint Ambrose; 'did as the Scotch did' and survived on oatcakes!

FOREWORD on Gluten-free Oats

Oats do not contain gluten, however it is best not to buy and use them, if you are gluten intolerant, unless they are labelled as certified gluten-free. Oats can be contaminated by stray plants when other cereal crops are grown in close proximity. For this reason countries like France, where there are no large dedicated oat-growing areas, can not guarantee their oats to be gluten-free. Post harvest certified gluten-free oats are processed in dedicated mills where they can not be contaminated by other grains. This is why people often get confused about why all oats are not labelled as suitable for those allergic to gluten.

INGREDIENTS

(makes 30 small oatcakes)

225g - 8oz rolled, pinhead or steel cut gluten-free oats

1 generous pinch salt 1 tablespoon butter or butter and palm oil, dripping, bacon fat or lard

¼ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

8 tablespoons of hot water (steel cut oats may require a little more water)

Extra oats for sprinkling

TEMPERATURE & TIMES

Preheat the oven to 390°F or 200°C. Cook for approximately 20-30 minutes.

METHOD

Chop up oats using a coffee grinder or similar for a few seconds so as to retain the texture of the oats without making a flour.

Mix the dry ingredients and add the melted fat by pouring into the centre of the mixture.

Using a wooden spoon handle stir well whilst incorporating enough water to make a stiff dough.

Powder your hands, bowl or board with chopped oats or oat flour and knead the dough, working quickly.

Using plenty of chopped oats on your board and pin, roll out into a thin round, traditionally these are cut into wedges but for finger food we cut them into small biscuits.

Place on a buttered baking tray put in the pre-heated oven for 20-30 minutes. Or, if you decide to make the traditional way, cook on a medium heated griddle or frying pan for approximately 3 minutes. When they are cooked the edges will begin to curl and turn golden brown.

ROQUEFORT SALAD

Traditionally oatcakes are eaten with honey, game, smoked salmon, soup and cheese. Here I am matching them with a Roquefort salad, a simple yet satisfying accompaniment made from a slice of pear, on a bed of nasturtium leaf (to prevent sogginess) and arugula/rocket flowers topped off with a crumble of Roquefort (or your 'local' blue cheese) and a simple vinaigrette made of one part cider apple vinegar to three parts olive oil.

Step 2: Germany Meets Italy - Kartoffelpuffer With Fresh Fig and Prosciutto Di Parma Salad

German potato pancakes aka kartoffelpuffer unlike the English version, which are traditionally made from mashed potatoes and then baked, are made from grated potatoes and often onions and then shallow fried. In Northern and Western Germany the potato pancake is like the wheat flour crêpe in Britanny and Basse-Normandie, the ultimate in street food and is sold in markets, fairs and holiday destinations for immediate consumption. However, unlike the crêpe, which is purely for sweet toppings, with its counterpart the buckwheat galette used for the savoury, kartoffelpuffer are used for both. The popular and traditional German dessert version would be served with apple sauce, cinnamon and sugar. As a base for a gluten-free dish therefore kartoffelpuffer are extremely versatile.

INGREDIENTS

As a general guide and for 20 small Kartoffelpuffer:

Two large potatoes

Two small onions

One small beaten egg

The figs are from our garden.

The Parma I buy as the end of the ham - the bit that no one can cut into a decent slice, so I get it at a knock down price! Bacon or ham of any sort would be just as good when matched with a fig and the vinaigrette below.

Green salad leaves, here I'm using young beetroot leaves from the garden.

The salad is dressed with a honey vinaigrette made with raw apple cider vinegar and olive oil and with just a hint of whole-grain mustard.

METHOD

Peel and grate the potatoes and onions with a coarse grater.

Using a large sieve held at an angle, over a bowl, squeeze handfuls of the grated vegetables to express the juice. The angle allows you to keep the potato mix draining, whilst squeezing further handfuls. Many people use a glass cloth or tea towel to do this but personally I find it makes for less clearing up to do it this way!

Once you have finished, allow the liquid in the bowl to stand until you see the starch separating from it and sinking to the bottom of the bowl. Pour the liquid from the starch. Discard the liquid and add the grated vegetables to the starch in the bowl.

Season with salt and pepper and incorporate the egg and grated vegetable. Meanwhile heat a large frying pan with butter or an oil suitable for frying, just a thin layer.

When the oil is hot enough so it sizzles when you add a test piece of potato, spoon in a tablespoon of the mix and flatten down with the back of the spoon. I like the pancakes very thin, that way they become very crisp and complement the salad really well.

After approximately 4 minutes of cooking, when they are golden brown, flip the pancakes over to cook on the other side.

Top pancakes with salad leaves, fig and ham and vinaigrette. They are usually served straight form the pan but actually we like them cold too!

Step 3: Gujarati Meets Greece - Pudla With Tzatziki - Garbanzo Pancakes With Cucumber Relish

We eat chickpea pancakes on a regular basis, they make a tasty accompaniment to all kinds of snacks, main course and supper dishes. I was intrigued to marry, what might be thought of as a distinctly Indian 'bread' with a traditional cucumber meze but actually there is a traditional tasty Greek pita made from chickpea flour. Throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East, wherever chickpeas are grown there are a whole host of gluten-free flatbreads and wraps. The most famous of these perhaps is the Tuscan 'Cecina', a chickpea flour flat bread which is baked or shallow fried. Cecina is also found in the cuisine of the Côte d'Azur, in particular Nice and is said to date from Ancient Rome. It's a bread we have often in the Winter with soup when the temperatures begin to drop!

PUDLA

INGREDIENTS

(makes 20)

140g (5oz) sifted chickpea flour

A generous pinch of sea salt and black pepper

250ml water

5 cloves of garlic

1 medium (red) onion

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon powdered turmeric

Oil or butter for cooking

METHOD

Put flour and sea salt and pepper into a bowl. Slowly add the water whilst mixing, so as to form a smooth batter. Peel and finely chop the garlic and onion and add to mixture. Leave to stand for at least half an hour.

Dry fry the cumin seeds until they begin to crackle. Add them and the turmeric to the batter.

Melt cooking fat in a frying pan, I use certified sustainable organic palm oil or coconut oil that really enhances all the other flavours. Depending upon the size of your pan, ladle in sufficient batter to form small thin pancakes, about 40mm (1½") diameter. Leave to cook for approximately three minutes. Lift the edge of the pancake to test if it is cooked, it should be a golden brown in colour. Flip over but add additional fat to cook the second side.

Once cooked, set aside in a warming drawer or low oven. if you leave them long enough in the warming drawer, they will become delicately crispy and even more delicious! I discovered this by accident whilst making all this food last night and into the early hours of this morning!

TZATZIKI

INGREDIENTS

1 Cucumber

Greek Yoghurt

1 clove of garlic (grated)

The juice of half a small lemon

Dill, lemon balm or fennel to taste

METHOD

Peel and then either grate or chop the cucumber very finely. With a sieve and your hand press down and remove as much liquid from the cucumber as possible.

Add the garlic, lemon juice, yoghurt and herbs, season with salt and pepper to taste.

Put in a cool place for the flavours to develop for at least an hour before use.

Step 4: Russia Meets the Pays Basque - Buckwheat Blinis With Raw Cream and Piperade

Buckwheat is another interesting gluten-free option. Due to its triangular shaped seed head which resembles a beech mast, its name derived from the Middle Dutch boecweite means beech wheat. However, it is not related to wheat but rather to sorrel, dock and rhubarb. Native to Northern Europe and Asia it was cultivated in China from 900 onwards and from there its cultivation spread outwards to Europe and Russia in 1200. It was finally introduced into the United States by the Dutch in the 17th century.

Buckwheat is still widely cultivated in Russia and Poland and forms an important part of their respective traditional cuisines. Here in North Western France and in particular Brittany, every town has at least one pancake house and every market and fair a row of vendors selling galettes - traditional buckwheat savoury pancakes, folded into a square and served with a multitude of fillings.

Piperade is a traditional Basque dish, which I make in huge batches since I was lucky enough to be given two whole strings of organic authentic Basque d'Espelette chillies. I have worked out that for heat I can fill my large cooking pot with peppers, tomatoes and a few onions and one whole piment d'Espelette and create something truly delicious. For making smaller quantities I usually take out the seeds and divide up the d'Espelette but as you are likely to have your own home-grown or local chilli favourites maybe I should leave this particular ingredient to your own discretion! The equivalent to d'Espelette would be cayenne pepper.

BLINIS

INGREDIENTS

(makes 20)

100g (3½oz) buckwheat flour

¼ teaspoon baking powder

A generous pinch of salt

1 egg separated

100ml (3½ fluid oz) milk

Butter or oil for cooking

METHOD

Sift the flour, salt and baking powder together and then make a well in the centre.

Beat egg yolk and milk together.

Gradually add the liquids to the centre of the well, drawing the flour from the sides into the egg mixture.

Mix into a smooth batter.

Whisk the egg white until it holds in soft peaks, gently fold into the batter.

Brush a frying pan or griddle with butter or oil. Working in batches drop a heaped teaspoon of the mixture into the hot frying pan. Cook until bubbles appear, (approximately after 3 minutes), the underside should now be golden. Turn and cook on the other side (2 minutes). Brush pan with butter or oil between batches.

PIPERADE

You can never have too much of this! You can use it as a pizza topping, to make a Provençal tian, liquidise it into soup or hot sauce for rice, meat or fish. In the Pays Basque piperade is a complete meal, the vegetables are cooked and then eggs and ham are added. It is also used to make the traditional omelette à la piperade.

Traditionally Piperade denotes the Basque flag so green peppers are used. However, we do not like green peppers so I use red and when I have them yellow.

INGREDIENTS

4 large tomatoes

1 large red pepper

1 medium onion

2 cloves of garlic crushed

Piment d'Espelette, cayenne or chilli of your choice

Salt

Butter or oil for cooking.

METHOD

In a heavy pan or one with a substantial base sauté the chopped onion and garlic for a few minutes until soft.

Add the pepper and chilli, turn down the heat, cover the pan and cook until the vegetables start to soften (approximately 8 minutes).

Chop the tomatoes add to the pan and cover. Cook for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the tomatoes have broken down.

Remove the lid, turn up the heat and cook until the sauce thickens. At this point I usually add the salt. Keep tasting until you have the level of heat you want from the chillies. The time of this will depend on the amount of water in the tomatoes and how hot you like your sauce!

Allow to cool.

Place a teaspoon of raw cream on each blini and spread it so that it makes a thick layer. Top with piperade. Make sure the cream is straight from the fridge, that way you will get the taste sensation of hot chilli and cold cream!

Step 5: Caledonia With a Touch of the Carribean - Cranachan Cream Crowdie With Rum

Cranachan from the gaelic crannachan meaning churn and crowdie from the Lowlands Scots, meaning porridge-like, is a celebration sweet eaten at Harvest Home, it showcases the good things of the land and the ingredients reflect just some of Scotland's finest produce: oats, raspberries, honey, cream and of course whisky! For this gluten-free* recipe though I'm using rum . This is not so heretical as you might think as the doyenne of Scottish cookery and celebrated Orcadian folklorist, F. Marian McNeill was supposed to have used it in her 1929 version of this dessert and it is also mentioned as a suitable alternative in the recipe book my mother sent me from Scotland.

* Gluten-free Alcohol

The distillation process removes any gluten protein from alcohol. However, from reading around the subject it seems that people with gluten intolerance have specific individual reactions to grain-based spirits. People should also be aware that some companies add malt etc., to give flavour to the spirit. If you are gluten-intolerant you should also check on additives and/or ingredients used in ready-made combinations, such as punches and cocktails.

INGREDIENTS

(makes 16 to 20 depending on size of shot glasses)

300 ml (10 floz) of cream (I use raw straight form the churn or rather cream separator)

75g (3oz) toasted rolled, pinhead or steel cut gluten-free oats (here I've used rolled)

1 tablespoon of raw honey

1 tablespoon of rum

A couple of handfuls of raspberries or blackberries (or a mix of both)

METHOD

In a frying pan and with quite a high heat, toast the oats until they smell nutty (a few minutes) move them around the pan so they get an even toasting. Leave to cool.

Whip up the cream and stir in the honey, oats and rum. I inadvertently stirred my oats in whilst they were still warm but I just whisked the whole lot up together and everything was fine!

If the raspberries are over-ripe like the ones I have, then cook them up into a purée with a little sugar, otherwise they may run into the cream and spoil the 'look'!.

Add layers of the cream mixture and raspberries to a tot aka shot glass finishing with cranachan and decorating with a berry fruit or a scented geranium or borage flower (optional).

Step 6: Ratafias Sardinian Style - Early 18th Century English Biscuits Get a Mediterranean Makeover

Every Summer our neighbours go back to their family in Sardinia and we look after their backyard farm. They return with all sorts of Sardinian goodies including a colourful and delicious selection of almond-based confectionery, for which the island is deservedly famous. My ratafia recipe is a Mrs Beeton inspired one from 1865. The addition of home-made royal icing and purchased gluten-free organic sprinkles, which I couldn't resist buying and was looking for an opportunity to use, is my homage to an island I know only through its food!

INGREDIENTS

RATAFIAS

(makes approximately 20)

4oz Blanched Almonds

4oz raw cane sugar (rapadura)

½ teaspoon rose water

2 egg whites

TEMPERATURES

Preheat the oven to 190ºC or 375ºF

METHOD

Pound the almonds with the rosewater.

Stir in the sugar.

Whisk the egg whites until stiff and add them to the almonds and sugar.

Line a tray with baking paper you can add a smidgen of coconut oil to the surface.

Using a teaspoon, cooled in ice-cold water, drop a little amount of mixture on the paper, allowing room between each for expansion during cooking.

Place in oven on the middle shelf and cook for around 10-12 minutes or until they feel slightly firm to the touch. Check them at 5 minutes to see how they are progressing!

Leave to cool and prepare the icing.

INGREDIENTS

ROYAL ICING

85g or 3oz of blonde unrefined cane sugar- ground to a powder.

1 small egg white, beaten to a 'strong froth'.

lemon juice

A little hibiscus tea or raspberry for colour and taste (ground organic sugar see above) is light brown not the dazzling white of non-organic,)

METHOD

I made this icing for the first time on my Twelfth Night Cake last year, it was delicious, if I say so myself. I have no problem with raw egg because we raise our own organic poultry but if you want to you can just use a simple glacé icing made with warm water instead of egg.

I used a liquidiser to make the sugar into a powder, be aware of lifting the lid too quickly before the dust settles! I also needed to run my fingers through it just to test that it was fine enough.

Add a tiny squeeze, approximately ¼ teaspoon, of fresh lemon juice to the sugar before adding it to the egg white.

Add the raspberry liqueur or hibiscus tea drop by drop until you get the right pale pink shade.

Ice the ratafias, add the sprinkles and place in mini paper cases.

Step 7: Australian/New Zealand/American Sweet With a French Filling - Pavlova With Crème Pâtissière

Pavlova was created and named in honour of the Russian prima ballerina when she toured New Zealand and Australia in 1926 and again in 1929. There have been various claims as to the recipe having earlier origins in both Germany and the US but essentially when I look at a Pavlova I think tutu and light-as-a-feather. So in mini version these are a cross between a Pavlova and a meringue nest.

FOR THE MERINGUE

Preheat the oven to 150ºC or 300ºF

3 egg whites

175g (6oz) blond cane sugar - ground finer in a coffee grinder or liquidiser

½ teaspoon of lemon juice

Whisk the egg whites until very stiff and dry.

Whisk in half the sugar and continue until the mixture is stiff and shiny (see photo above).

Gently fold the rest of the sugar and the lemon juice into the meringue.

Place spoonfuls of meringue on baking paper, lightly brushed with coconut oil. Using a teaspoon gently open up the centre of each meringue to create a nest shape. You can if you wish build up the sides of the 'nest' with a piping bag.

Cook for 1 to 1½ hours or until meringue is firm to the touch. Some of mine cooked really quickly in 20 minutes but I like meringues crisp on the outside and chewy within.

Store the meringue in an airtight tin until needed.

FOR THE FILLING

Cream and fruit are the traditional fillings for Pavlova and in particular passion fruit. I used what I had to hand, peaches, apricots and raspberry.

Fresh fruit and/or fruit compote or purée as garnish or fillings

For assembling this and the following sweet, I am using fresh seasonal fruit from our garden or fruit given by friends and where over-ripe I have made compote or purée. This is because otherwise the fruit will be too juicy and therefore too soggy for the recipe, particularly if you are making and assembling these in advance for a party. All I have done is to add a little sugar to the fruit and then reduce the water content by heating it to thicken it. In the case of purée, when the fruit is really juicy, I have mashed the fruit in situ and thus allowed for more water to be removed in the cooking.

Step 8: Doubly Chocolate - Doubly French - Chocolate Roulade Sponge With Chocolate Ganache

This is a sponge I first made years ago on a school exchange visit to the Loire. I remember the teacher provided us with lashings of cream, rich dark chocolate and Gran Marnier, which from our English educational establishment perspective, tutored in bread and butter pudding and rock buns seemed incredibly exotic and wonderfully liberating. There has always been tremendous tension over this cake/dessert, which in the UK and US has respectively transmogrified into Swiss and Jelly roll. Both, with their pale sponge and meagre filling of jam, are but wraithlike shadows of their luscious Gallic counterpart. In fact, at one time, the Swiss wanted the British to rename their version, as they didn't wish their country to be associated with it!

FOR THE ROULADE SPONGE

(makes around twenty triple stack)

6 eggs separated

150g (5¼oz) blond raw cane sugar

Vanilla bean/pod (I have a vanilla pod in my cooking sugar, so it is already infused and is a great way of getting a permanent supply of delicious organic vanilla sugar!)

50g (2oz) cocoa

TEMPERATURES

Preheat the oven to 180ºC or 350ºF

METHOD

Whisk egg yolks and sugar until creamy,

Whisk the egg whites until the form soft peaks and fold into the egg and sugar mixture.

Pour into a baking tray lined with baking paper and spread gently into the corners (in France they often use a flat baking tray and the paper is twisted at each corner to hold in the batter.

Cook for 20 minutes or until the cake is firm to the touch but still springy. If you over cook it, it may crack when you come to cut it (but you can always hide that with ganache)!

Turn out upside down onto cooking paper powdered with sugar.

When cool cut into small rounds.

FOR THE GANACHE

Use equal amounts of chocolate and cream. This will make a ganache that holds it shape. I would use 100g (4oz) of quality cooking chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa.

Heat the cream gently on a low heat, do not boil or simmer, it just needs to be hot enough to melt the chocolate.

Whilst the cream is warming, grate the chocolate.

Remove the cream from the heat and add the chocolate.

Leave to stand for a few minutes.

Beat mixture with a wooden spoon until it is smooth.

Leave to cool.

Whisk the ganache for a couple of minutes to obtain a thicker, fluffier frosting.

ASSEMBLY

Stack the cakes in layers, alternating fillings. My choice is a fruit purée of apricots and ganache with a physalis atop.

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Bio: I am passionate about organic farming and food. We have a small homestead or rather a forest garden with rare breed poultry, fantail pigeons and ... More »
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