Friday, April 9, 2010

Great Balls of Meat

Some days trying to maintain a gluten-free life style for my son sucks rocks! The high cost of gluten free flours and pastas means that I can't afford for us all to eat gluten-free and cooking two sets of food is such a pain. As much as I have rearranged my meals to suit my son's needs, the biggest challenge has been communicating the seriousness of his condition to others. At social gatherings, I cringe whenever some kindly person offers him a bite of something and I have to jump in like the Food Gestapo with a million questions about the ingredients.

West Indians love to feed people. We are wonderful like that. On the beach or by a river lime, just hang about close enough to a group of people on an outdoor cook and a plate of delicious food is bound to be sent your way. Imagine then in the face of such generosity giving someone a lecture about a little known medical condition and then a third degree as you seek to find out whether every single ingredient used was gluten free.

Trying to explain gluten intolerance at birthday parties does not help you win friends and influence people. Word quickly gets around about the weirdo mom with a bag of alternative snacks. (Sheepish) yeah that’s me in the corner trying to ignore the frowns of disapproval while I deflect my screaming toddler from the minefield of gluten-filled cake, cookies, ice-cream and chips that ALL the other children are eating. It’s good enough for the other kids right, so what the heck is her problem?


It would be nice to get a day off and eat out with my family once in a while without the burden of planning meal and snack replacements all the time or being the poster girl for my son’s gluten-free diet. Sometimes I just want to relax and eat with my family! A call to one of the country's premier restaurants revealed that this might not be likely for me anytime soon.

Me: Good evening. Do you offer any gluten free meal options on your menu?
Maitre d’: Uhmm gluten free. Everything in this restaurant is gluten free.
Me (rolling my eyes skyward): Would you please confirm that with the chef for me.
Maitre d’: Yes m’am please hold while I check that for you. (A few minutes later) The chef assures me that he doesn't cook with gluten and EVERYTHING is gluten free.
Me: Do you serve pasta?
Maitre d’: Yes we do.
Me: You do know that pasta contains gluten?
Maitre d’: Does it?
Me (oh boy): Thanks for your help, good evening.

A Bowl of Pasta

I wasn't upset that the restaurant in question did not have a gluten free option on their menu. However I was very angry that they proclaimed themselves to be gluten-free when in fact they didn't seem to have a clue about what gluten-free meant. Had I gone there my child could have been seriously ill! This was the situation for my friend whose night out at a different restaurant, in another country ended her up in the ER. She has a shrimp allergy. There was no shrimp in her dish but cross contamination had occurred when the cutting board used to prepare her dish had been used earlier to prep shrimp. Chefs are not dietitians but don't you think that everyone who works in a restaurant has a responsibility to be knowledgeable of food allergies in order that they might correctly inform and keep customers safe from harmful food choices?


It is becoming increasingly  difficult for my toddler as he observes others around him eating different food from what is on his plate. Now at meal times he only wants to eat the food from his brother’s plate. This is why I think that these meatballs are so great. We can all enjoy the same thing together.By swapping out the breadcrumbs with readily available and not so expensive farine I can create meatballs that we call all enjoy. Bonus – they taste better and are even more moist than my old meatballs with breadcrumbs. I always make several batches of this in one go so that I can freeze the extras. Thaw and reheat for when you want a quick meal.Serve with your favourite sauce and gluten free pasta.

MeatBalls (Gluten Free)

3lbs of minced beef
1 egg lightly beaten
1/2 cup green seasoning
1 tbs tamarind chutney
1/4 tsp anchovy paste
3/4 cup farine soaked in the same amount of water.
6 oz plain yogurt (fat free)
Salt to taste (bear in mind that the anchovy paste is already very salty)

Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large mixing bowl, add the meat, the egg,  the green seasoning, the tamarind chutney, the anchovy paste, the farine and the yogurt.
With clean hands mix everything together and shape into small balls. I got about 60 balls. It only sounds  like a lot but my family is large and I always have to factor in packed lunched for work and school the following day. Spray a baking sheet with oil. Set balls on tray and bake for 15 mins. Turn meatballs and bake for 15 minutes more.While the meatballs are baking make the marinara sauce.

2 tbsp olive oil
3 or 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large onion, diced
1 large jar gluten free spaghetti sauce
1 cup water
carrot, grated or one table spoon sugar
3 or 4 tbsp green seasoning
salt to taste
  1. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over a medium-low heat.
  2. Add the chopped garlic and onion and cook gently until light brown in colour, taking care not to burn the garlic.
  3. As the garlic just begins to brown add the spaghetti sauce and stirl.
  4. Add the water the sugar or the carrots and salt and bring to the boil, stirring frequently.If carrots are used use and immersion blender to make a smooth sauce.
  5. Once the sauce starts to boil, add the meatballs reduce the heat to low, cover the pan with the lid and simmer gently for around 15 - 20 minutes or until the sauce has thickened.
  6. Once the desired consistency has been reached, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the freshly chopped seassoning.
  7. Serve with cooked gluten-free pasta. 
COOKING NOTES: Tomato based sauces from the United States tend to be a bit too acidic for me. Our tomato sauces and ketchup are somewhat sweeter so I add a little sweet to my marinara sauce. The idea of the carrots replacing the sugar came about during my bout with gestational diabetes during my second pregnancy. It works well sometimes I may add more carrots.

This recipe has been entered into the Gluten-Free Wednesdays Blog Carnival over at  The Gluten-Free Homemaker's Blog.



  1. Nobody at home has any food allergy... I understand now that we are very lucky to be able to eat all we want... Ant to go everywhere when we go to the restaurant!

  2. Oh wow, what a surprising conversation. I would have thought more people would be aware about what gluten free means by now.

  3. Oh, I am so sorry that you and your child have to go through so much. Just remember that every time you correct someone or make adjustments to meals in front of others, you are reducing ignorance among those who don't know about a gluten-free diet. Good for you!

    These meatballs look AMAZING! That color!! I love the fork, too.

  4. this is a really wonderful recipe, and timely as well--one of my good friends was just diagnosed with celiac disease. i hope it won't be long before it becomes standard for restaurants to offer gluten-free options!

  5. Oh Wiz, that must be tough! Good on you for being strong and making a conscious choice to check....the most important thing is he stays healthy and well...regardless of whether you eat in till he's a teenager. Look, we don't have kids on a special diet but we don't go out much either :-) and i love West Indian food. It ROCKS

  6. Wizzy,
    That looks fabulous!
    I'm proud of you for waking that restaurant up.
    It's a darn good thing that you didn't take them for their word. Smart girl!
    I love your site.The pictures are beautiful.


  7. Here, in the US, they make meatballs with eggs to make sure they hold their shape. I am not a big fan of adding eggs in another dish... but you might want to try it if you ran out of your farine.
    I like meatballs made with Ricotta cheese.
    Have you checked
    They have all GF recipes but they use expensive flours.

  8. Gaelle-thanks for the recommendations. I do follow that blog and many other gluten free ones but often they call for specialty flours that just aren't available here. It's exciting to find a local ingredient that works.

    Kitchen butterfly-I've seen the stuff you cook. Eating in at your home IS like going out to a fancy restaurant:-)

    Joanna - Thanks for the encouragement

    Memoria - I'm sure it will get better and making this stuff will be easier once I get used to the routine. So good to have something like these meatballs in the freezer for those days I am off my game.

  9. I'm late to the party on this one - but yes food allergies are a true pain. I do hate having to pack everything for every outing -every birthday party invite makes me cringe!

    I need to try these -however I don't have tamarind chutney that is nut free. I need to see if I have a shellfish free anchovy paste. I do have mango chutney -I wonder what that would do -hmmm. I don't think it would be the same.

    As for the spaghetti sauce - my kids never seem to mind when I sneak in some chopped spinach into their marina sauce, so I've started doing that in addition to grated carrots.

    I'll try this in a few weeks -yumm and great pics too!

  10. What a shame that so many places are like this. I'm amazed that they don't know about it more-I know so many GF eater/coeliacs! :(

  11. I am so surprised by the response of the chef and the maitre'd, I'd have thought they would have had a better understanding of what contains gluten.

    But if you need to worry about that, and thankfully I don't your meatballs look about perfect as a way to substitute with no one feeling like they're missing out!

  12. Those meatballs look amazing, I love the ingredients in there (especially the green seasoning which I never knew about, sounds SO good).

    And you're absolutely right about restaurant staff learning about food allergies. A lot of cooks I know don't know what "gluten-free" really means, waitstaff even less so. That needs to change.

  13. I can see that eating out is a major challenge! Even for people with no allergies but who just want low sodium for instance, anyway, you have all my empathy! It must be hard for you!

    Great meatballs by the way!

  14. actually i was thinking about this topic the other day. i realize that i have many friends in my social circle that have a gluten intolerance and i do not remember it always being like this. in germany i think it's exceptional as more and more stores cater to such food intolerances, which makes it easier for those who suffer and i have to admit for people like me who love to entertain. i am able to bake and cook for my friends and feel good about it.

    mothers rock you know and you are doing an awesome job! hang in there!

  15. wow, just gorgeous photos and what great looking meatballs! We have often had similar experiences in restaurants...though surprisingly in Europe EVERYONE understands exactly what gluten free means - it's such a relief. Now if only we could get past the language barrier...

  16. Those meatballs look amazing! There are ingredients in there I never thought of adding. I'm going to try this.

  17. Your meatballs look delicious. We had spaghetti and meatballs just a few days ago. I'm so glad you joined the carnival this week. You have a terrific blog.

  18. Okay -I was making a version of these today and all I can find is Farina -which is sort of cream of wheat -so hmmm -not sure what to use here.

  19. I don't read meat but they look delicious and I love idea of adding tamarind chutney... I would never think of that :) Thank you for remind me I have some tamarind mash in my cupboard that need to be used.

    Talking about Caribbean... I always regretted I wasn't born there ;)

  20. Nice to hear from someone from the Caribbean! It's such a gorgeous place!

    Actually, I really feel bad about those having gluten intolerance. Like what I just read on Aran's (Cannelle et Vanille), it's confirmed that she now has to stay gluten-free for life. I can't imagine that happening to me. I'd think that's gonna bring me a loss of fun in life. It just sucks to see how the boy would react to others when he sees what he's eating is rather different from others. Sometimes, it's hard to explain this to children, in my opinion. What's odd, for some people, gluten intolerance and lactose intolerance just snag them out of nowhere! Agreed, gluten-free goods simply cost a lot more than gluten-laden stuff. For people with financial instability, that's not a good news either. =(

    Having said that, this situation would steer us cooks and bakers alike into venturing gluten-free cooking. At the same time, try to keep ourselves eating good food on budget. Know it ain't easy ... But we're working on it!

    Love your work! Love your site! Love your photography! Keep it up!

    Love from Malaysia

  21. You're doing an awesome job Wizzy. It's folks like you who help spread the much needed awareness. I remember working with someone who had coeliac disease abt 10 years ago and I didn't even know what that meant. Thanks to all the information available now, I managed to cater for my daughter's friend (also a coeliac sufferer) when she came over for a birthday party.

    Fab looking meatballs by the way.

  22. Your photos are really incredible and very inspirational to the budding photographer!

  23. Dealing with food allergies is such a tricky thing but if these meatballs are anything to go by, you're doing a great job!

  24. I know EXACTLY how you feel! My daughter is sensitive to artificial coloring so whenever she is offered something with coloring I have to jump in and be the food police also! She is now older (9) and can decline the offer herself but it is hard because I bring her special organic candy or homemade cake, etc. But you know in the long run it will be better for her and we have helped a few people along the way in teaching them about the side effects to artificial coloring..Pretty soon your son will understand and become his own food police! :)