Gluten-free ethnic foods
Ethnic foods often come to the rescue when eating a gluten-free diet. Many cultures around the world get their starches from tubers and very little from grains and we can draw on their culinary traditions to get wonderful and totally safe treats!
One such recipe is the Brazilian pao de queijo (cheese bread), an extremely simple and forgiving recipe that even your non gluten-free friends will find very yummy. The main ingredient is tapioca flour, a gluten-free and grain-free flour derived from the cassava root. Its consistency is similar to potato starch and is often used as a thickening agent in sauces and desserts. Native of South America, cassava is particularly rich in minerals, especially iron and calcium. But, most importantly, it combines very well with cheese to make these spongy and irresistible little bread balls.
The following ingredients will fill a muffin tin or two mini muffin tins:
1/4 cup olive oil
2/3 cup milk
1 and ½ cups tapioca flour
1 cup grated cheese – I use goat cheese (such as pecorino), but many other cheeses work equally well, from the Mexican queso fresco to parmesan.
1 teaspoon of salt
1-2 tablespoons of sparkling (non-flavored) water (optional)
If you have a small food processor, combine all the ingredients together and pulse until you get a liquid and creamy consistency – pay attention that the cheese is well blended: I often put the cheese first, before adding all the other ingredients, and pulse for 10 seconds to be sure there are no big pieces left. Then grease a muffin or mini muffin tin and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bake it for 20-25 minutes, until the bread balls have risen and are barely golden. Same thing if you do not use a food processor: combine all the ingredients in a bowl and grate the cheese so it can be mixed more easily with a spoon. The consistency is pretty liquid, but do not worry: it will turn into soft little balls once in the oven. Adding mineral water is a trick I learned from a pizza-making master to give extra puffiness to the texture of the bread.
I enjoy them when still warm but not hot and I usually eat them as a snack any time I want to have something bread-like. When they cool down they sink a bit in the middle – which is perfectly normal and does not affect the taste at all. I have not figured out a way to prevent them from sinking down in the center – I tried removing them from the oven right away, leaving them there for a bit longer and anything in between, but the souffle laws do not seem to apply here!
This is a perfect treat to add to your Thanksgiving table. Feel free to experiment with additional ingredients (spices like turmeric or herbs like rosemary) and if you want a dairy-free version you can use dairy-free cheese (rice/almond/soy-based cheese) and coconut milk or simply replace the milk with water.