At first glance, you might think making a traditional Thanksgiving meal gluten-free would be difficult or even impossible. So many of the foods that symbolize Thanksgiving involve gluten — think bread-based stuffing, gluten-thickened gravy and pumpkin pie.
But believe it or not, it's possible to make just about everything on the typical Thanksgiving table gluten-free — you just need to know where the gluten lurks and what to substitute to avoid it.
There are actually plenty of convenient gluten-free foods and ingredients for Thanksgiving you can use as shortcuts, or you can decide to make everything on your menu from scratch — your choice. But once you're done, your guests might not even realize everything on the table is safe for those who follow the gluten-free diet.
Here's a rundown of traditional Thanksgiving dishes, and what you need to do to make them gluten-free:
• The turkey. You can't go wrong with a fresh turkey. Fresh, plain turkeys — those without any added broth, spices or other ingredients — are always gluten-free. Don't open any gravy packet that's included with a turkey, though — those almost certainly contain gluten. If you prefer smoked or pre-flavored turkey, don't buy it unless you can verify it's gluten-free (About.com's Expert on Gluten-Free Cooking maintains a list of gluten-free turkey products and manufacturer contact information). One caveat: Whatever you do, don't ever eat gluten-stuffed turkey!
• Stuffing. You don't need to mourn your favorite stuffing — it's actually pretty easy to make gluten-free stuffing, and once you add spices and other ingredients, it's likely to taste almost exactly the way you remember it. You can use a mix or simply use gluten-free bread crumbs (either packaged or from your own stale bread) in your own traditional recipe — you shouldn't even need to alter the recipe. If you add spices, make sure they're from a safe source — I typically use the fresh herbs you find in the produce section of the supermarket, but McCormick's single-ingredient dried herbs and spices represent a decent gluten-free alternative. Here's my guide to this part of the traditional Thanksgiving meal: Gluten-Free Stuffing for Thanksgiving
• Cranberry sauce. There's no reason for cranberry sauce to contain gluten, so this should be an easy item to check off your list — there are multiple options available. If you're feeling ambitious, you can make your own from fresh cranberries in the grocery store ... or you can purchase a store-bought cranberry sauce. My gluten-free cranberry sauce list explains what's safe and what's questionable.
• Mashed potatoes. Like cranberry sauce, there's no reason for mashed potatoes to contain gluten. I usually make mine with fresh potatoes, butter and some milk — I skin and boil the potatoes, mash them, add the butter and a little milk, and whip them with a hand mixer until they reach the right consistency. Some brands of instant mashed potatoes are gluten-free, as well, but it's not difficult to make your own, and I think they taste better that way. For more information on other potato dishes and whether or not they're gluten-free, check out my article Are Potatoes Gluten-Free (or, When Do They Have Gluten?)
• Sweet potatoes. You might find a recipe for candied sweet potatoes that includes flour as an ingredient, but I think it would be more the exception than the rule — the vast majority I've seen are naturally gluten-free. Therefore, you can use your old family recipe, or try something new. This recipe from About.com's Expert on Southern Cooking should be simple to make and elegant to serve.
• Gravy. Many of us grew up watching our mothers make Thanksgiving gravy using the turkey pan drippings, plus wheat flour. Fortunately, it's incredibly easy to make gluten-free gravy — just substitute corn starch for the flour. You can find an easy recipe for gluten-free gravy here. Again, make sure you don't use any of the packets of gravy mix that come with certain turkeys, since they do contain gluten. Gravy mix that's labeled gluten-free is safe.
• Dinner rolls. If you're trying to make your gluten-free Thanksgiving meal indistinguishable from a traditional, gluten-filled meal, dinner rolls are the one item that may trip you up. We all know how difficult it can be to make decent gluten-free bread, and rolls are no exception. However, gluten-free bread products definitely have gotten much better over the past few years, and now there are dinner rolls your guests might mistake for gluten-filled — my guide to gluten-free dinner rolls explains what's possible. Also, instead of rolls, you might consider deviating a little from the traditional menu and trying a gluten-free cornbread recipe — I like this recipe for gluten-free skillet cornbread.
• Pumpkin pie. The trick to making a decent gluten-free pie is placing the emphasis on the filling, not on the crust. That being said, though, it's not difficult to make a decent gluten-free pie crust, or you can purchase one pre-made and frozen at many high-end grocery stores. Libby's 100% Pure Pumpkin is gluten-free, so that can serve as the base for your filling. Most pumpkin pie filling recipes already are naturally gluten-free, as well, so if you have a favorite, you should be able to use it. You also can try one of these gluten-free pumpkin recipes, which include ideas for pies and more. Just make sure that all your other ingredients — spices, mainly — are from safe sources.