Whole Grain Gluten-Free Sourdough Bread

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This summer, myself and a group of fellow nutrition students and alums are reading Deep Nutrition for a book club we’ve started. The theme of the book is about the benefits of traditional diets, somewhat in the Weston Price tradition, for optimal health. I cannot yet comment on what I think of the book as I haven’t read enough to have a strong opinion, but the idea of eating more in the traditional style with its emphasis on whole foods as close to the source and as untouched as possible from chemicals and the like has been a major theme in my nutritional courses over the past two years. It is also a viewpoint I adopted years ago when figuring out how to truly recover from the diet culture I was immersed in and which was contributing to my eating disorder behaviors around foods. In my classes, we’ve also delved a lot into the need for promoting gut health, since a healthy, happily functioning gut can be thought of as the foundation to health in the body and mind far beyond our digestive region. This also happens to be a topic that is near and dear to me because it’s one of my main health struggles.

As I’ve mentioned before, The three major nutritional practices that promote gut health are eating more fiber, eating more fermented foods, and reducing sugar and refined carbohydrate intake.

 

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Last summer, after a particularly rocky winter and an autoimmune lab marker coming back positive, I began a very focused fine-tuning of my diet and lifestyle, in relation to improving gut health and my reaction to stress, since both strongly contribute to autoimmune conditions. As part of that process, I began a return to making sourdough.

Sourdough, as the name suggests, is a traditional fermentation process where wild yeasts ferment the flours, making them easier to digest because the yeasts create lactic acid, and which then break down anti-nutrients that plants make to protect themselves, such as phytates and lectins. These anti-nutrients block mineral absorption and the resulting sourdough can contain a lot more readily absorbable nutrients than the original unfermented flours or grains. Additionally, the process of fermentation more generally makes all the proteins in the bread easier to digest, and it is the protein that is usually causing an inflammatory reaction for those with GI issues like intestinal permeability, malabsorption, celiac disease, and other autoimmune conditions. Due to our hectic lifestyles and often very non-whole-foods diets, many, many of us have at least some of these symptoms and/or diagnoses that could be improved by adding more fermented foods, in addition to the other two gut health promoting practices of eating more fiber and reducing sugar and refined carbohydrates.

 

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For someone that is very sensitive to gluten like me, there’s also good news from eating gluten-free sourdough, as there are research indications that the fermentation process involved in making traditionally fermented gluten-free bread reduces the release of inflammatory compounds within the gut for someone who has recently adopted a gluten-free diet due to a celiac diagnosis, whereas consuming other types of gluten-free bread did not reduce these inflammatory responses1.

 

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Maybe it’s the tea-drinking, sweater-garbed, sourdough-baking wise grandmother in me, but I can’t help but think, of course, to that news. It simply seems that our systems recognize and respond better to the more traditionally made foods like sourdough. Whenever I have a GI flare-up these days, I definitely try to put extra focus on avoiding those refined gluten-free products and even whole grains that weren’t cooked really well, and emphasize sourdough for my grain consumption. I’m finding this helps me return to balance more quickly. For someone that doesn’t react so strongly to gluten, consuming sourdough instead of regularly-baked bread still contributes all the positive benefits I mentioned above about keeping the gut happy and increasing nutrient absorption.

So now, after more than a year of refining my gluten-free sourdough method, I have a recipe I feel good about sharing!

 

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Whole Grain Gluten Free Sourdough Bread, makes 1 sandwich/toast loaf
– Adapted from Baking MagiqueWholehearted Eats, and with tips from Bad Hunter Stories.
– I have a 100% buckwheat starter that I began using this formula. I did not add any outside culture, but simply created it from the wild yeasts in my home. This meant it took a little longer for the starter to get good and active initially.
– For the buckwheat and oats, I often start with whole grains which I grind in my coffee/spice grinder each time I bake and feed the starter.
– I only make this using a kitchen scale rather than measuring cups, and I’ve found I can interchange the flours, by weight, using this method.
– Using slightly different flours along with the the outside weather will result in needing to change the amount of water. Err on the side of having a fairly moist dough that still comes together. 

80 g brown rice flour
140 g cold buckwheat sourdough starter
110 g water
————–
350 g water at room temperature + more as necessary to reach the desired consistency
20 g psyllium husk
10 g ground flax seeds
————–
60 g of each
– sorghum flour
– oat flour
– buckwheat flour
– millet flour
– teff flour
24 g / 2 Tbs. sugar or honey
1 tsp. sea salt

  • In the evening: Mix brown rice flour, sourdough starter and water in a bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let sit overnight (about 8-12 hours) in a warm and non-drafty place.
  • In the morning: Mix water, psyllium husk and ground flaxseeds in a bowl and whisk until a thick gel forms. Set aside.
  • In a separate bowl mix all of the dry ingredients.
  • Add the sourdough starter that you made the night before to the wet ingredients and mix.
  • Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until the flour is fully incorporated. Add a small amount of filtered water, if needed, to arrive at a moist ball of dough.
  • Line a loaf pan with parchment and dump the dough into the pan, smoothing it out into a loaf shape and leveling it into all the corners. Cover with the clean kitchen towel or plastic bag and put in a warm place away from drafts. Allow to rise for 4-6 hours. This will depend on your kitchen warmth. Mine tends to stay cool so I err on the side of 6 to even 6 1/2 hours usually.
  • Preheat the oven to 500°F/260°C. Once the oven’s hot, remove the towel or bag from the loaf, and score the top with one or two good slashes with a sharp knife.
  • Put the loaf in the oven and turn the temperature down to 450°F/230°C. Bake for 50 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches a little over 200°F/90°C.
  • Let the loaf cool on a wire rack for at least an hour, before slicing.

 

1. Calasso, M., Vincentini, O., Valitutti, F., Felli, C., Gobbetti, M., and Di Cagno, R. (2012). The sourdough fermentation may enhance the recovery from intestinal inflammation of coeliac patients at the early stage of the gluten-free diet. European Journal of Nutrition,51(4). 507-12. doi: 10.1007/s00394-012-0303-y.

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Sweet Beet + Elderberry Oatmeal

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Happy Easter Friends!

Today I have a recipe I’ve been making on repeat for the last couple months, and one I’ve been meaning to share for weeks. But in truth, I’ve been busy. And stressed.

In what I knew would be a packed late-winter season, my class schedule was on overload for what ended up being six weeks. When I signed up for them, I thought it would be three to four, and knew I could get through for one jam-packed month. But then a job opportunity landed that I decided to take, my running coach decided I could handle more miles (and thus time), and one of those classes was taught by a professor that was amazing, but intense. Even for grad school.

So in light of all the action happening at once, I took a class extension. I dropped creative projects and unproductive activities like social media, I spent all my waking hours working or running save a precious few in the early mornings and evenings, and I just got through.

I’m still recovering, trying to prioritize down time, read some good books, bake (currently experimenting with gluten-free/vegan hot cross buns!!), and run with joy and gratitude. And also, feed myself well.

And while it’s spring break for many, I’ve a couple more weeks before I get there.

 

So today, let’s talk a little more about stress, overwork, and the nutrients that are necessary always, but even more so when we’re trying to bulldoze forward at full speed. The first are the entire friendly group of B Vitamins. 

The essential B vitamins are necessary in every step along the pathway of converting food into energy. When the body undergoes any kind of stress, whether it is physical or emotional, and feels depleted, the B vitamins are likely needed to restore balance and energy. In addition to converting food into energy and helping to cope with stress, many of the B vitamins can also help alleviate symptoms of insomnia, nervousness, PMS, and mood swings.

Each of the B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12, and their friend Choline) have their own specific roles, but they function quite well as a group. They are found abundantly in whole foods, particularly in whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts, fruits, and vegetables–except for B12 and Choline, which each deserve their own discussion another day. In order to incorporate the spectrum of all of these essential nutrients into your diet, it is important to eat a wide variety of fresh, colorful, whole foods.

Most of us are actually getting sub-optimal levels of these nutrients, especially when we are overworked and very active.

 

Next up in importance in times of stress is Magnesium

Magnesium is a key player in over 300 biochemical reactions and is essential for creating and maintaining healthy bones, energy production, nervous system balance, and blood sugar control. And it is anti-inflammatory. Magnesium is required for DNA and RNA synthesis as well as the synthesis of glutathione, which is a powerhouse antioxidant that combats free radicals and cellular damage.

Like the B-vitamins, Magnesium is often lacking in the modern diet, our needs are more when we are stressed either physically or mentally, and it’s abundant in whole foods like leafy greens, beans, nuts, and seeds, and whole grains.

 

Finally, when we are overworked, our immune system takes a hit, and it’s during these times that we often fall victim to colds and flus. While winter flu season theoretically should be winding down, the mega virus(s) that’s been hitting hard these past few months is still going strong. Enter my favorite immune booster, elderberries.

Elderberries have strong antiviral properties and have been shown to shorten the duration of cold and flu outbreaks in research. They also have a very long history of use in traditional medicine. Made into a delicious syrup and combined with anti-inflammatory ginger (which I’m now making and selling in my shop), a daily small dose during times of increased stress gives a good immune boost*. I’ve been taking it all winter and especially these last few weeks, and even with exposure to a whole lot of sick kids, have been staying healthy.

 

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Sweet Beet + Elderberry Oatmeal, serves 1-2
Due to all the aforementioned whole foods I’ve packed into this delicious breakfast bowl including oats, beets, flax seeds, sunflower seed butter, as well as a little drizzle of elderberry syrup, this makes for a really nice start to the day. It’s one of my favorite breakfasts lately, and definitely feels like a meal that brings to life the meaning of self-care and stress reduction. For busy mornings, I like to prep all the ingredients, save the oatmeal and toppings in a saucepan the night before, and then store it in the fridge. In the morning, bring the pan to a boil, add the oats, cook until done, and then add toppings and serve. 

1 1/2 cups water
1 medium-ish beet, finely grated
3/4 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1/8 tsp. sea salt
1-2 Tbs. raisins
1/2 Tbs. sunflower butter
1 tsp. elderberry syrup
a dash of cinnamon, optional
1 tsp. ground flax seed, optional
additional sunflower seeds to top

  • Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the finely grated beet, salt, raisins, and oatmeal. Turn down to medium-low and cook until soft and to desired consistency, about 8-10 minutes. You might need to add more water, as needed.
  • Then stir through the sunflower butter, remove from heat, and add the syrup and any additional desired toppings. Enjoy, ideally in a non-distracted setting for the ultimate self-care.

 

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product does not intend to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

Gluten Free + Vegan Irish Soda Bread

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For a few weeks in the late winter or early spring, I inevitably begin cooking more simply, or more simply than I usually do, and turn my meat and potatoes-snubbing nose towards the flavors of home, or of home in the old country. It’s been nearly nine years now since I lived in Ireland, a place that some deep ancestral vein in me recognized as home from the first moment I stepped out for an exceptionally early morning run there, in the late summer of 2008. I rarely talk so much about my time in Ireland any longer, but on rare days I find myself especially longing for that feeling I recognized there immediately, that of truly having an origin and belonging to a place in a way that goes beyond this lifetime.

Rather than dwell on the past, I instead tend to celebrate the memories I have. And just when I especially long for spring, it comes, and I invite it in all the more because the earliest spring vegetables here are the exact same as from the Irish countryside and farms, what with nettles, watercress, overwintered cabbage, sprouting kale, parsnips, potatoes, and the like. And then of course, I bake brown bread.

I read recently that Myrtle Allen of the esteemed Ballymaloe House in County Cork once said, I was many years married before I first triumphantly put a really good brown soda loaf on the tea table. I smiled when I read it because Myrtle’s Brown Soda Bread recipe was the one I baked on repeat before making major dietary changes. And it just so happens that six years after I first began experimenting with a gluten and dairy-free version, and incidentally nearly six years married, I baked a really, really good loaf.

 

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Gluten-Free + Vegan Brown Soda Bread
Brown bread is dense, craggy, and in the traditional recipes, contains no more than wholemeal flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk. It’s the best bread for afternoon tea, with thick vegetable-heavy chowders, or simply to provide some extra nourishment to your Irish-themed march meal(s). When I lived in Ireland, it’s the item I’d always order when out for a midday meal, along with whatever pureed vegetable soup was on for the day. If you choose to make this, know that I’ve begun baking almost exclusively by weight these days, which makes the flours a little more interchangeable, if you’ve a kitchen scale. Amaranth and/or teff provide a good dose of nutrition and hearty flavor while the millet and brown rice flours lighten it up a little. I milled my own millet flour from fresh, as it’s a grain that tends to go rancid fairly quickly, but feel free to substitute with store bought millet flour. 

1 cup amaranth or teff flour (120 g)
1 cup millet (140 g), milled into a course flour
2/3 cup brown rice flour (110 g)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1 Tbs. ground flax seed + 3 Tbs. warm water
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) plain non-dairy milk
A splash of apple cider vinegar

  • Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and prepare a baking pan with a piece of parchment paper on top; set aside.
  • Combine the ground flax with water to form a slurry, and then measure out the milk and add a splash of cider vinegar in a separate dish and allow it to thicken a little. Set aside.
  • In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients.
  • Pour the flax slurry and milk into the bowl with the flours, and then mix, stirring gently until the ingredients come together and form a ball (sticky but not too wet). Work quickly and do not overwork the dough as it will make the end result more dense.
  • Flour your hands and work the dough gently to shape it into a round. Using a sharp knife or a pair of scissors, make a cross on top of the bread. (This as you may know, lets the fairies out). Transfer the round to the baking pan and bake for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the top of the bread is golden in color and a thermometer comes out at 190-200 degrees F.
  • Let cool on a rack. Like all true soda breads, this bread is dense, and it’s best eaten within a day or so.