When I set out to launch the 30-Day Gluten-Free Challenge, on this one thing I was clear:
If I couldn’t figure out a way to get a decent sandwich, on real-tasting bread, the whole effort was doomed.
I’m serious. And not just any sandwich. The Vietnamese Banh Mi which, as any foodie will attest, is the grand prix of all sandwiches, and best spin ever on the traditional sub. If you’re lucky enough to live near a good Pho Noodle House, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Forget the optional protein fillings (tofu, grilled shrimp or other fish/meat), let’s talk about the delectable layers of vegetables which are the true stars of the show. Razor-thin cucumbers. Fresh cilantro. Crunchy bean sprouts. And the sandwich topping to beat all toppings, the tangy daikon and carrot pickles (Do Chua). All lathered with a creamy, Asian-inspired mayo dressing. Friendly to vegetarians and meat-eaters alike, it’s like a street carnival in your mouth.
Even prior to this adventure, I’d been obsessed with trying to recreate an even healthier version at home. But I’d gotten stuck trying to find a commercially-available whole grain sub or hoagie roll that was up to snuff. For all you artisan bread types who may be wondering why I didn’t just use a baguette: not the same. (You can test this theory by going to South Philly and trying to open up a carryout serving cheesesteaks on “baguettes.” Best of luck, but don’t be surprised if the locals torch that place down within the week.) I must have checked every mainstream, gourmet and natural foods grocery store within a 50-mile radius of my house, as well as mom-and-pop bakeries, and was floored that I couldn’t find a flipping whole grain hoagie roll that didn’t also contain a ton of additives, chemicals and corn syrup. (I know. Ironic, isn’t it? Never dawned on me to question the primary ingredient.)
Well…new GF rules, new challenge. And Dr. Davis could have saved his breath warning me to avoid pre-packaged gluten-free breads. I’d already sampled a few, and only the threat of starvation on a deserted isle could compel me to go there. Awful-tasting stuff, with a texture barely above that of compressed wood chips. But that’s neither here nor there, since if you’ve read Wheat Belly you know they were never really on the table as an option, anyway.
So what’s a Banh Mi lover on a gluten-free challenge to do?
Ditch the grain flour in favor of coconut or almond flour (who knew?), and make my own sub rolls at home. Thank goodness for Maria Emmerich, food blogger and cookbook author, who developed and posted this great “Healthified Sub” recipe on her site. It only requires 5 core ingredients, there’s no dough rising process involved, and it took me all of 5-10 minutes to throw together (with 50 minutes of baking time). PLUS it’s got twice the protein (8 grams), and as few as 3.7 grams net carbs compared to the 41 grams of carbs in the same serving of traditional sub bread. Most important, it is darn TASTY. I’ve now tried both versions, and admit I’m partial to the almond flour, which – to me – yields a lighter, and slightly more moist, end product. I won’t lie and say it rivals those artisan bakery loaves we’ve grown accustomed to, but for my purposes it is close enough (I’m all about the fillings and condiments, anyway), and certainly leaps and bounds over any pre-packaged gluten free bread I’ve tried.
What really sold me, though, is the way my stomach felt afterwards. Light and airy, but in a solid, I-can-go-another-5-hours-without-eating-a-thing kind of way. Full…but not full. Know what I mean? This was a big deal since historically, after eating a hearty whole-grain sandwich (and once the urge to lay down on the floor and take a nap would pass), I almost always felt like I wanted “a little something more.”
Be prepared to pay more for coconut or almond flour (as you might expect, given the source ingredients). That said, you can get the price down to as low as $5.99 per pound (less shipping) if you purchase in 5lb bulk quantities from a maker like Honeyville Farms, widely thought of as having the best quality blanched almond flour on the market. Which is exactly what I did, since I want plenty in stock to start experimenting with wheat- and gluten-free makeovers of all my favorite baked goods. (You can believe a low-carb yet scrumptious chocolate chip cookie is at the top of that list.) Personally, I find the higher cost to be offset by its nutritional profile, low-glycemic properties, and the fact that it squashed my craving for more carbs after just the initial serving. That’s gold for any woman, but especially those over 40 battling a slowed metabolism. Rather than think of it as expensive, I choose to think of it as a bargain compared to the cost of replacement jeans I might otherwise be driven to buy as a result of carb-cycle-bingeing.
I should point out that these alternative-flour products are not ones I plan to consume regularly. Based on all I’ve read and researched, and my own intuition about what’s best for my body at this given time (remember, always subject to change and evolution), I intend to stick primarily to a diet centered on minimally-processed foods such as fruits, vegetables, and raw nuts/seeds, along with limited amounts of animal products like organic eggs and wild salmon or other fish. Occasionally, I might also yield to a bean, lentil or non-gluten grain such as rice, mood (and sushi venues) permitting. And, of course, there’s dark chocolate (70% cacao content or higher, please), which I have no intention of giving up under any circumstances. Amidst all that, there is always room in my “flexitarian” eating style for the occasional indulgence. And just knowing I’ve got this healthier, delicious grain-free flour option in my back pocket for almost any baking or cooking use I can dream up, is a win.
Look, there’s only so many salads one can eat. And regardless of whether you have a gluten intolerance or are just trying to cut out wheat or scale back on carbs…life without a sandwich every now and again just seems ridiculous. And since what they’re trying to pass off as bread in the gluten-free aisles is an offense to my taste buds (as well as my blood sugar levels), looks like homemade bread it is. Especially when it’s this easy.
More wheat- and gluten-free discoveries on the way, including the recipes for my grilled shrimp banh mi (see photo), and daikon and carrot pickles! While you wait, feel free to pick up a bag of good quality almond or coconut flour, and give Maria’s recipe a try. You’ll need it for all the low-carb sandwich remixes I’ve got coming, as well as your own makeover ideas…