When Laura B. Russell found out she had developed a gluten intolerance after the birth of her second child, everyone around her said the same thing: "You can just eat Asian food."
The Portland, Ore.,-based food writer assumed, like her well-meaning friends, that because so many Asian dishes revolve around rice and noodles made with gluten-free ingredients like tapioca, sweet potatoes, buckwheat and beans, she wouldn't have any trouble finding dishes that met her dietary needs.
"What I found pretty quickly is that the sauces are very, very problematic," she says. Soy sauce, hoisin sauce and oyster sauce, the building blocks for many cuisines throughout Asia, generally contain wheat, and Russell found that few of her favorite restaurants could prepare dumplings, soups, salads, marinated meats and noodle dishes that didn't contain any traces of gluten. (Southeast Asian food, such as Thai and Vietnamese, is a little easier because many dishes call for fish sauce, which is generally wheat free.) Gluten-free take-out and frozen dumplings that she could pop in the skillet for a quick appetizer? Forget it.
Russell, who has a food column in the Oregonian, started playing around with various recipes in her own kitchen and doing research on "cheats," homemade sauces that taste like their commercially made counterparts that are off-limits because they contain wheat. She discovered that tamari, unlike soy sauce, which is often made with half wheat and half soy, is almost always made with only soy and not wheat. (Check the label to be sure, she says.) Over the course of her cooking, she compiled her recipes and in 2011, published "The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen" (Celesial Arts, $22.99).
The potstickers were her big breakthrough, though. Her kids, ages 9 and 13, like to eat them (and equally as important, like to help her make them), and her friends and the gluten-free eaters she's met online can't seem to get enough of them. Like many who have found themselves having to cut gluten out of their diets, Russell says finding a growing community of others in her situation has been the most rewarding part of her once-overwhelming diagnosis. She'll get to meet many of them at an event at 7 p.m. Friday at BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd. This will be her first trip to Austin, but "I know Austin is really one of the most gluten-free-friendly cities in the country."
Red Curry Soup with Chicken and Rice Noodles
8 oz. flat rice noodles
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut crosswise into thin slices and then into thin strips
2 Tbsp. Asian fish sauce
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. red curry paste GF, such as Thai Kitchen
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
3/4 tsp. salt
2 (14-oz.) cans unsweetened coconut milk
2 cups store-bought or home-made gluten-free chicken broth
Cilantro leaves, for serving
Shredded cabbage, for serving
Lime wedges, for serving
Sriracha, for serving
Cook the noodles in a large pot of boiling water until just done, about 5 minutes, or according to package directions. (Remove a noodle with tongs and taste it for doneness.) Drain the noodles in a colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Set the noodles aside until ready to use. In a small bowl, toss the chicken with the fish sauce. Let stand while you prepare the soup.
In a pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic, curry paste, turmeric and coriander and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute. Add the salt, coconut milk, and chicken broth and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, to infuse the flavors, 10 to 15 minutes.
Add the chicken and fish sauce to the simmering broth. Continue cooking until the chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes. To serve, divide the noodles among 4 bowls and ladle the soup over the noodles. Top with the cilantro, cabbage, a squeeze of lime juice, and hot sauce to taste.
Variation: Brew up a delicious seafood curry soup. Instead of the chicken, add a pound of medium raw shrimp, bay scallops, crab, or a combination of these (tossed with the fish sauce) and simmer for 5 minutes. Serves 4.
— From "The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen" (Celestial Arts, $22.99)
‘Lemony Thickness,' ‘Concessions' to tour
The Alamo Drafthouse hosted a milkshake contest this summer, and last month, I got to help judge the 12 finalists. Drafthouse beverage director Bill Norris had the pleasure of going through more than 2,000 submissions from moviegoers across the country.
"Gourd of the Rings: One Shake to Rule Them All" tasted like a pumpkin pie whipped up in a shake, while "A Chocwork Orange" blended orange syrup and dark chocolate sauce.
"Patsy's Coconut Holy Grail Shake" and "Pineapple Caress" made it into my own personal top 5, but by the end of the judging, I was making a hard case for "Lemony Thickness: A Series of Fortunate Ingredients," a milkshake submitted by Natalie Thompson of Austin that features the Drafthouse's signature brown-sugar lemonade, prosecco, violet syrup, whipped cream and a shot of lemon syrup over the top.
But first place went to "Concessions of a Dangerous Mind," a creation of Austinite Mary Houseman that evoked the best movie theater treats — peanut butter and malt, caramel syrup, root beer and chocolate syrup, topped with whipped cream and caramel popcorn. It will be sold in Drafthouse theaters across the country for the next three months. But because the contest was so close, Thompson's shake will be added to menus in Central Texas for the same time period.
New farmers gathering for inaugural meeting
In previous generations, the vast majority of farmers were people who had been born into the business, but in recent decades, thousands of people, both young and old, are getting into agriculture not because their parents did it, but because they want to make a difference in how food is grown and cultivated.
Last year, I profiled several of these local young (and not-so-young) new farmers, just as they were starting to coalesce. But just this week, I heard from Lorig Hawkins, one of the farmers in last year's story, who is helping organize a group called the Texas Young Farmer Coalition, which is having its first meeting at 6 p.m. Saturday at 5012 Eilers Ave.
Hawkins says it'll be a mixer for farmers from all over the area to get to know one another, and there will be a panel discussion that starts at 7 p.m. She also says that the event is open to people who are interested in farming or food production, but who haven't actually started a farm.
The Texas group, which already has a spiffy website and blog (texasyoungfarmers.org), is part of a national nonprofit called the National Young Farmers' Coalition, which listed about eight statewide organizations to promote and help build connections between beginning farmers.