After years as a first-class food writer and educator, with a distinguished career that included teaching with James Beard and writing New York Times best-selling cookbooks, Barbara Kafka thought she had to stop.
As a child, gluten and lactose made her sick, but when Kafka grew up, most of the symptoms disappeared. As she grew still older, however, the symptoms returned, too strong to ignore. Gone were the days when she could eat at will, but she continued to cook for herself and loved ones, thinking that she had "reached an age to stop writing."
Almost. First, Kafka decided, she would listen to friends who urged her to turn what she had learned about cooking without gluten and lactose into one more book, "that it was a gift worth giving."
"The Intolerant Gourmet" is the result, a collection of recipes that achieve gorgeous dishes, worthy of a dinner party, without laboratory chemicals or apologies.
Butter, cream and flour are gone, but careful cooking with vegetable oils and non-wheat starches can make their loss fade from dietary consciousness. "The natural gelatin from good stock or added commercial gelatin, egg yolks, coconut milk and various oils -- olive to toasted sesame -- all help," Kafka writes in her introduction.
The recipes are arranged in familiar groupings: breakfast includes "light and elegant" waffles and arepas, pita-like Central American griddle cakes made from corn flour. Appetizers include chips made from rice paper and pork-pistachio pate.
In her pasta chapter, Kafka includes tasting notes on a variety of commercially made gluten-free pastas, with the Schar brand ranking highest. Her soups include varieties thickened into a creamy state with potato starch (Broccoli-Ginger Soup) and pureed chickpeas (The Basic Best Soup).
Rice bran substituted for flour makes her basic sauteed fish fillets crisp, and coconut milk provides creaminess to the sauce in her whole fish with silky celery root puree.
Meats include chicken with quinoa made in the manner of forbidden couscous, and three variations on soy-marinated pork shoulder, all relying on gluten-free soy sauce.
Vegetables, including sauteed zucchini with dill, do well with olive oil instead of butter, as do Kafka's garlic mashed potatoes.
With each recipe, Kafka's art is using all her cooking experience to avoid gluten and lactose on purpose, not by artifice.
The Intolerant Gourmet: Glorious Food Without Gluten & Lactose
By Barbara Kafka
240 pages, $29.95