Small Kitchen, Gluten-Free: Sandwiches, Without the Wheat

There’s nothing that irks me more as a cook, or as an innocent dining bystander, than picky eaters.

I’ve gotten pretty used to and tolerant of varied tastes and constraints at my table. My mother has always been a problem child. She’s been dairy and gluten-free, and at times also sugar and acid free, for most of my life. My dad has now been meat-free for two years. At restaurants, this leads to many questions and substitutions and leaves significantly less on the menu to pick from.

Fruit phobias aside, I’ve always prided myself on being fairly easy to please. But over the last few years, my stomach has been a less reliable ally in the quest to remain a member of the clean plate club. A year or so ago, I self-diagnosed lactose intolerance. But my tummy’s mood swings have been a little bit less predictable than creamy soups alone. It’s gotten in the way of romance, and finally, after noticing that it was rare that I felt good after a meal, Josh made me take a New Year’s resolution vow that I would go to a doctor.

Being an expert on the subject, I turned to my mother, and in turn, she sent me to her favorite doctor. When on my second visit he told me I was definitively and highly allergic to gluten, I tried not to cry. Both lactose tests came back negative.

Looking back, I realize it was probably not the whole stick of butter in the Cast Iron Chicken at Vinegar Hill House that nearly thwarted my first date with Josh, but rather the dairy-free papardelle we had shared as a first course.

I also realize that in addition to coping with a new food allergy, I am facing a more profound condition that many women can relate to: the fear of becoming my mother.

The first few weeks of going gluten-free were brutal. But after the initial hump, when Josh was convinced Dr. Morrison was a sadist and a hack, I felt great. I realized that while emotionally I had felt awesome after coffee for breakfast and a bowl of pasta for lunch, my body did not. I wasn’t processing food properly. I wasn’t absorbing nutrients. And no matter how free I felt to indulge in my cravings, I was hurting myself, even if it wasn’t apparent to anyone else but the person running my blood tests.

A few months later, my stomach reacts like a normal person’s after eating. That is, by not reacting at all. My lips are pinker. My skin is less teenage-y. I most of the time I don’t feel like crying when I see pasta on a menu. More importantly, I’m excited to get into the kitchen and find solutions to my everyday cravings.

Luckily, gluten-free life is rather on trend at the moment, especially if you ask the New York Time. I also have my mother’s habits and know-how of palatable supermarket alternatives to guide me. When I look at a menu, instead of scanning ingredients, my initial approach is to think about what my mother would order if she were in my shoes and get that. But it’s really the in-between meals, the snacks, and the bites on the go that present greater difficulty. The main one being: the sandwich.

Early into the diagnosis, Cara suggested I buy a big bag of masa harina and go to town–she’s long loved these arepas for pretty much any meal. Variations on corn meal have already been my savior: grits for breakfast, polenta for dinner, and pre-made arepas every day for lunch.

I have been using store bought gluten-free bread for breadcrumbs and other quick fixes, but not yet for actual sandwiches. For one, it’s expensive. But it also just doesn’t taste the same. Instead, I’ve let the arepa be my at-home sandwich savior. Arepas are corn cakes, they’re quick and easy to make, and they keep relatively well in the fridge for the week, perhaps even better than my old go-to sandwich bread.

I could go on and on with the lessons I’ve learned thus far—it’s been an eye-opening, very different way of eating. But you can expect more nuggets of gluten-free wisdom and recipes as I continue avoiding wheat. Unfortunately, there’s no rush. My allergy’s not going anywhere.

I’ll be experimenting with more complicated ingredients—amaranth and millet flour—but also cooking simpler food again, food that reminds me of mom, since she’s the one who taught me how to make it in the first place.

From my kitchen, now gluten-free, to yours,



Shrimp & Snap Pea Salad Arepas with Avocado and Lime
Makes 2 (very stuffed) sandwiches

To speed up the recipe, you can also buy pre-cooked shrimp–then all that needs to be done is assembly!

½ pound shrimp, peeled and deveined ¼ cup mayonaisse
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lime juice
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup roughly chopped sugar snap pea pods
½ avocado, thinly sliced
2 Arepas (recipe follows)

Bring a medium saucepan filled with salted water to a boil. Add the shrimp and turn off the heat. Let the shrimp rest in the water for 3-5 minutes, until cooked through. Drain and rinse the shrimp under cold water. Roughly chop. Meanwhile, in a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the mayo, mustard, lemon juice, and salt. Mix in the chopped shrimp and snap peas.

Slice the arepas in half widthwise, leaving just the end still attached. Stuff the arepas with a spoonful of shrimp salad and a few slices of avocado on top. Serve with hot sauce on the side and a wedge of lime.


Makes 4 Medium-Sized Arepas

The arepas can keep a few days in the fridge. Pop them in the oven at 400 to reheat until crisp on the outside.

Ingredients 1 1/2 cup masa harina (fine corn flour)
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the masa harina and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Add 1 1/2 cups of room temperature water. Stir well to combine, then let sit for 5 minutes. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large, well-seasoned cast iron or nonstick pan. Divide the arepa dough into four balls. Flatten each into a 4-inch disk. Add to the pan.

Cook on each side for 7-8 minutes, until the arepa has formed a crust and is quite golden, adjusting the heat if it starts to burn on the bottom. Finish in the oven for 5 minutes. If not using an oven-proof skillet, you can place the arepas directly on the racks or on a baking sheet.

Cool enough to handle, then serve. Or save the arepas for another night.

  • Lisa @ Sunny Seed Stories

    I’ve never heard of Arepas, but they sure look delicious. Recipe is bookmarked. Thanks! And glad you are feeling better!!

  • Frankie

    I’m scared of becoming my mom too. And she could eat anything.

  • Debra Hofland

    Wow–what an amazing story!   My mother-in-law and your mother would be good friends!    Anyway, just wanted to pass along another good idea for those of us with gluten issues…..the HimalaSalt pink salt from Sustainable Sourcing is GLUTEN FREE!!!    (Here’s their website: ).    HimalaSalt is made in their own facility, so no cross-contamination either!    Gotta love that!!

    • BGSK

      sounds delish! thanks for the tip!

  • Jamie Johnston

    yum, this looks so good! i can’t wait to make them!

  • Ellie

    while I would never wish a gluten allergy upon anyone, I am very excited that you will be experimenting with gluten free recipes. I have had to be gf for over a year now and while I do miss many gluten-full things dearly, it’s worth it. good luck and i’m excited to keep reading. thanks!  

    • BGSK

      Thanks, Ellie. You’ll have to share some of your tips–you’ve got a whole
      year on me in GF land! xo

  • Emily Esch

    I have resisted the reality that I, too, am a happier, healthier person when gluten isn’t a part of my diet. But after a few months of going gluten free last year and feeling fantastic, and now a few months of pretending that I can eat whatever I want, it’s time to just woman up and accept that my days of pasta and bread are behind me. This recipe will help ease me back into the GF fold. Thanks, Phoebe!

    • BGSK

      I totally feel you on how difficult it is to “woman up.” Love that phrase. I
      couldn’t even bring myself to go to the doctor for years because I was so
      afraid of having to change my habits. Hope you enjoy the arepas, and stay
      tuned for more GF cooking! xo

  • Emily

    Dear Pheobe,

    Welcome to the GF club! It’s kind of a scary/tricky one at first, but you get used to it. Are you just gluten intolerant, or do you think you might have Celiac? I was diagnosed the same way as you, and self-diagnosed lactose intolerance…though I’m not sure that was the problem either.

    I have tons of delicious GF restaurants in NYC I can suggest too, so you can have pasta/pizza again. Good luck! (And thanks for the arepa recipe!)

  • Emily

    Dear Pheobe,

    Welcome to the GF club! It’s kind of a scary/tricky one at first, but you get used to it. Are you just gluten intolerant, or do you think you might have Celiac? I was diagnosed the same way as you, and self-diagnosed lactose intolerance…though I’m not sure that was the problem either.

    I have tons of delicious GF restaurants in NYC I can suggest too, so you can have pasta/pizza again. Good luck! (And thanks for the arepa recipe!)

    • BGSK

      Emily–I’d love any and all suggestions for GF places in NYC! My boyfriend
      discovered 5 napkin burger has a ton of GF options, and I’m really excited
      to go theret. I’m not CD, just allergic to wheat (same as my mom). But I
      have to be pretty careful these next few months to make up for a few years
      of being malnourished–not a good finding for someone who’s been eating as
      much great food as I have! Let me know your tips! xo

  • Erinwellin

    What a great thing to read that there is someone else out there going through what I have been going through. It’s definitely a mental and physical change. Can you tell me what type of doctor pinpointed this? if you’re just allergic and not Celiac, did you go to an Allergist? Thank you!

    • BGSK

      Hi Erin, thank you so much for your support! I went to a doctor that
      practices “integrative medicine” and uses a lot of nutritional approaches
      and homeopathic remedies. Here’s his website:

      I don’t have celiac, but I do have a wheat allergy, and this was discovered
      via blood tests. I’m not sure what other doctors do these tests, but I
      assume the right kind of allergist would.

      Good luck, and keep leaving feedback on the GF recipes to come!

  • Marshafinney

    My dad had Celiac the last 5 or 6 years and it was quite a challenge for my mom. Thankfully Whole Foods started carrying tons of really decent choices. But the best thing happened when this bakery opened in Dallas. I still don’t like the bread, but the muffins are better than others I can buy that have wheat! I love them. Many of the other products are good as well!!
    I can’t wait to try the arepa and shrimp sandwich!!

  • Erica Murriel

    hi Pheobe!
    I just tried to makes these…yours look WONDERFUL. my dough didn’t turn out at all. it is super watery and not dough like at all. i tried it twice, the second time using warmer water. i’m thinking it was the kind of corn flour i used. i used Bob’s Red Mill Corn Flour. just wondering if you know if there is a difference in something like that and an authentic mexican kind that says “instant corn flour”? those were the two types i debated between at the store, but obviously chose wrong. just don’t want others to make that mistake too : ) 
    erica : )

    • BGSK

      Hi Erica,

      SO sorry to hear this! My guess is that you are probably buying the right
      thing. Masa Harina is technically corn flour, but whether or not it is
      interchangeable with something that is deemed corn flour in this country is
      beyond me. Given you experience, i would say no. You can usually find Masa
      in the mexican or latin foods isle. Here’s an example:

      Bob’s Red Mill also makes Masa Harina:

      So the other product must be something different.

      Sorry again, and hope this helps!!


      • Erica Murriel

        Thanks! I’ll definitely try again. Thanks for the recipe!

    • BGSK

      sorry, i meant *you are probably buying the WRONG thing :)

  • Nikki

    I was diagnosed with Celiac disease 2 years ago, and it threw me for a loop. It’s definitely a fun and crazy adventure but I wouldn’t change it for the world… I’ve found a new passion because of it (baking!). Unfortunately I’m the only one in my family with this fun gluten issue. It’s great that you have your mom for support :)

    Anyways- My bf is from Venezuela so we frequently makes me arepas (or arepitas as he calls them). My favorite is arepitas stuffed with eggs and served with tajadas (fried plantain).

    Stop by my website if you’d like to peruse some recipes and GOOD LUCK :)


  • Emily

    My mom was diagnosed with Celiacs when I was three, I also live in fear of having to become GF. On the plus side about 25 years after the initial diagnosis the allergy went away, something her doctor said could happen to people with later onset celiacs so there is hope that one day you will be able to eat gluten again :)

    • BGSK

      Emily, that is so great to know! fingers crossed! Thank you for sharing, and hope you’ll visit us again soon! xo

  • Fifth Floor Kitchen

    Great recipe!  I did make some changes- more shrimp but kept the mayo the same.  And I think I might have made my aripas a bit smaller- we had many more.  This would be delicious for a dinner party where everyone can make their own!

  • Coquetin

    Those arepas look so easy and so much better than rubbishy dry gf bread. Definitely trying this recipe: thank you! Xx

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