What did our ancestors use before wheat was ubiquitous?

Not dead yet!

Well-Known Member
In my Gluten Free travels I'm finding some fascinating things. Like, Northern India and Ireland have the highest rates of Celiac. Finally on one run of GF cooking shows on youtube, I stumbled on an Indian man making Uttapam. And bingo! The missing link!

I'm getting ahead of myself. I was looking for a link because I suspected that in the past you didn't always have wheat, and even the Bible mentions bread made with several kinds of seeds, pulse and grains (including but not exclusively wheat). Also, I can't tolerate very much xanthan gum. Not in the amounts used in many GF packaged foods. And my first experiments in making things without it aren't total flops, but they're not stellar. So there had to be something else. People didn't just say, "Oh well, no bread until we get pure wheat flour."

So here is the bible quote: http://biblehub.com/ezekiel/4-9.htm

Technically spelt and wheat are duplication, so they explain down lower that it could also mean fitches, but that's controversial. Fitches are cumin and a type of wild fennel Nigella sativa which were used to flavor bread.

Interestingly, India also uses cumin to flavor flatbreads. And many of the recipes that survive to this day are very much on the pattern we see in the Bible. (Just a disclaimer, this isn't about religion, it's about historical uses of foods.) So I had this insight when I looked up Uttapam, what if the missing element is carefully milled lentils? I happen to be a lentil fanatic anyway, and will eat them despite any gut reactions (which I know how to minimize).

It does seem to be the mystery ingredient in rough comfort food flatbreads of India. However the word "dal" refers to either one of several pulses, or to a pulse that has been stripped of its hull. In either case, the purpose is to make it easy enough for water to penetrate so that you only have to do a bit of grinding at home to turn it into dough, or thick stew.

I've had the same thought over Thanksgiving.... gee, I have this wonderful mashed potato here... how about if I add some rice flour and see if it turns into a dough? That does work, but it's probably because of the milk as much as anything. Casein is sticky and ropey, so any ornery bread product gets a dose of milk or milk powder. I've gotten that far. :)

And that's not all! I'm looking at idli and thinking... hmm, what is mochi again, I forget? I look up mochi (a Japanese smooth rice cake that today is more like a sweet treat) and another puzzle piece fits into place. Mochi is made with glutinous rice (gluten free, glutinous means "sticky" in this case). There are few recipes for making it at home because the rice must be steamed and then mashed until it forms a dough, which takes a long time. There are quick mochi recipes that use glutinous rice flour. Here's one:


Tonight, a recipe of dosa/idli/uttapam is nestled in my oven so it can rise overnight. The differences seem to be how you cook it and when you cook it. The batter is a rice, lentil, and spices mix. I cheated with a tiny dash of yeast, full disclosure.

So here are some links in case you're interested in tasty Indian flatbreads. Just google anything with an odd name. And remember, you can substitute one dal for another, except for urad dal, which forms a mucilaginous mass. There are some ways to get around that too... like flax powder forms a gel, but if you buy only one, buy urad dal - or Moong dal (mung beans without the green outer shell). Pay attention to when they use cooked flour and water and when they use cold water, or hot water. Youtube often has videos of these things too, and they really help.

Dosa how-to: http://foodviva.com/andhra-recipes/pesarattu/

Idli how-to: https://simmertoslimmer.com/how-to-make-soft-idlis/ (compare with mochi, above)

Uttapam how-to: http://www.veganricha.com/2012/06/uttapam-lentil-and-rice-pancake-with.html

If you love Indian foods as much as I do and are also GF, this is a gold mine: http://www.vegrecipesofindia.com/recipe/gluten-free/

Since I've sworn off any restaurant that uses wheat flour in the kitchen, I'm pretty much down to making my own Indian food treats, and my only totally safe restaurants are Primal/Paleo, because no grains are used. If you're not that strict, then you can now use these words to make special requests, but tell them, not to use any semolina, that is wheat and is often used to "improve" the texture of Indian flatbreads today.

Speaking of improvement, I'm going to try the "heated" rice flour method to see if adding some of this completed "dosa batter" improves the texture of GF breads without the problematic psylliums and xanthans.

A bonus, a pure-rice flour rotli: http://indiaphile.info/rice-flour-flat-bread-chokha-ni-rotli/
I'm definitely trying that next!
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Not dead yet!

Well-Known Member
So now that I've made a batch, I have more advice for those willing to try this. This would be using typical things you find in an American kitchen.

1. The batter is similar, but how you use it is different.

2. If you are making dosa, you MUST have a grinder like this: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B007T0CIVS Otherwise, for thicker flatbreads, you can get away with pulsing many times in the food processor. Since I don't have one, I gave up on that idea. I'm thinking about ways to make dosa so that I can press it like a tortilla and it will be flat and thin. Dosa is more of a challenge.

3. Uttapam would be called "savory pancakes" in the USA, and many American families make similar ones, but not necessarily of rice and pulse. So it's not that strange.

My husband's comment was that it was better than many GF baked foods since the texture of them tends to be powdery even if it contains xanthan gum. The "pancakes" had a lot of body and you couldn't eat more than one or two, extremely filling, but without a "lead" or heavy feeling. I ate mine with sour cream and Himalayan salt. He ate his with butter and no salt. I really missed the flavor of black pepper in it, so next time I'm adding a lot more.​

4. When making idli, you can use custard cups or a muffin pan, test it like this before you get a special idli maker.
Just don't fill the muffin tins too deep. Let the batter rise in the container for 1-2 hours and bake so they don't "fall" before baking. Idli is usually made that morning. I'm not sure about leaving it to rise overnight, mine fell so make it the night before or don"t cheat with yeast like I did​

4. I'm not sure if it's traditional or just a modern fear of fat, but there is no fat in the batter. This is a problem because of sticking, and because any fat you do put in the pan will be instantly soaked up. My advice is, add a tablespoon of fat per two cups of dry rice/pulse used.

5. It will stick less if you top it with something that has some fat to release. So you put the batter in the pan, top with bacon or cheese plus whatever you like... vegetarians can use thin sliced avocado this way.... and when the bottom releases from the pan, you flip it onto the toppings. When you take the bread out of the pan, now you have the perfect amount of fat for the next batch to not stick. Melted cheese on one side looks very nice also.

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