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I just came across this interesting resource for us celiacs. It’s a searchable database of restaurants around the country who have participated in a Celiac Awareness program run by the Gluten-Free Certification Organization. I just searched Chicago and there are only a few restaurants listed. To make this resource really shine, I think we should band together and whenever we find a restaurant with a gluten-free menu, suggest that they visit this site and get their restaurant listed! Here’s how:

Directions for getting your restaurant listed in the Gluten-Free Restaurant Awareness Program

Quick! Groupon is offering $40 of gluten-free goodness for $20 at Lincolnshire Gourmet in Highland Park, IL. Go, go, go!

Gluten-Free Cold Noodles & Sesame Sauce

Gluten-Free Cold Noodles & Sesame Sauce

As a kid, I adored Stouffer’s frozen mac and cheese. I would pull up a stool in front of the toaster oven and watch it bake, anticipating the melted cheesy goodness that would ensue if only I could hold out for the 25 minutes it instructed me to wait. So naturally, when I got out of college and went wheeling down the grocery aisles like a kid in a candy store (woohooo! I can get anything I want!) I picked up a couple of packages. Brought home, immediately stuck in oven. Waited excruciating 25 minutes til done. Pulled out and took in a triumphant whiff. Fork dove in from 3 feet high. First taste of a childhood comfort food in 10ish years… could it be happening? Oh so delightfff-uhh-glauuuuuugh!? Gross! What the? This shite is pasty narsty mushiness! How did I eat this crap?

There are many childhood treatsies that have similarly fallen from grace: McDonald’s chicken nuggets, fruit loops, bubblegum ice cream, lunchables. Cold Noodles and Sesame Sauce was another one I luh-uh-uhved, but it might be the only such dish that has managed to maintain its allure into adulthood (ok, ramen noodles and kraft mac & cheese are survivors, too). There seem to be several ideas of what constitutes CNSS (given my experience ordering it at restaurants over the last 20-odd years), but in my mind, the gold standard is set by Empire Szechuan in Manhattan. Most restaurants make a sesame-oily imposter. I’ve tested it out at enough spots to know it’s not worth ordering. But Empire Szechuan’s noodles are divine and remain so to this day.

Sadly, Empire Szechuan doesn’t deliver to Chicago, so I have had to search for recipes that could recreate their magic. Where did I hit gold? Madhur Jaffrey’s cookbook empire. Her recipes, if you’re not already familiar with them, are not watered down for whiteys (as far as I can tell, of course, being a whitey myself) and obviously, that’s a good thing. And does she have a recipe for cold noodles? YES! And hubba is it tasty. Just like I remember good old Empire Szechuan’s. I don’t have all the wacky ingredients she calls for… plus, like most Chinese food, t’ain’t gluten-free. Sew-hew-hew, here is my take on Madhur’s masterful mimicry of Empire Szechuan’s delight. To make it slightly more nutritious so it can stand as a main course and provide some vitamins for this veghead, I’ve added extra veggies. If you’re a purist or could care less about the nutrition (power to ya), stick to noodles, the sauce, and julienned cucumbers. If you’re interested in her original recipe, it’s on page 246 of World of the East Vegetarian Cooking.

Cold Noodles with Sesame Sauce

  • 1 package of rice noodles
  • veggie oil
  • sesame oil
  • 1 grated zucchini
  • 5ish scallions
  • 5ish leaves of napa cabbage, shredded
  • 1 tub of extra firm tofu
  • julienned cucumber (1 pickling cuke works best b/c you don’t have to seed it and it’s the perfect size. Plus, they’re super crunchy)
  • 1 T sesame seeds
  • 1 T black sesame seeds (for fun, if you have them)
    For the sauce:

  • 1/2 c. tahini
  • 1/4 c. tamari
  • 2 T Chinese black vinegar* (sub. balsamic if you can’t find GF black vinegar)
  • 1 tsp sugar (omit if using balsamic vinegar)
  • 2 T veggie oil
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp chili oil
  • 2 T water
  • salt to taste
  • 1/8 tsp white pepper

Diiiiirec-shons: Cook the noodles according to the directions on the package. Drain and rinse with cold water. Put noodles in a large serving bowl and drizzle with 1-2 T of sesame oil and toss to coat. Set aside.

Grate the zucchini and saute in a pan with a tablespoon each of sesame oil and veggie oil. Add the chopped scallions and saute until wilted. Dump on top of the noodles. Add napa cabbage. Mix von mix. Cut the tofu into 1/4-inch thick rectangles. Cut the rectangles in half diagonally so you end up with large triangles. Brown the triangles on both sides with a couple tablespoons of sesame oil in a fry pan. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix the ingredients for the sesame sauce until smooth and pasty. The sauce will seem too thick, but have faith – it’ll be buttah. Pour the sauce onto the veggies and noodles and toss. Top with tofu, julienned cuke, and sesame seeds. Serve at room temp.

Gluten-free brand of Chinese Black Vinegar

Gluten-free brand of Chinese Black Vinegar

*A note on this wacky ingredient: The first bottle of Chinese black vinegar I picked up at the Asian food mart and used for years was sadly not gluten-free. I was devastated when I actually read the label. But, since then I have found that there are many brands that do not use barley (the offending ingredient) in their recipe. This brand of Chinkiang Vinegar is one of them. And hey, according to Wikipedia, this is considered the best. What a deal.

Fantastic.

The End.

Kidding! But for any celiacs in Chicago, Venus is a hot destination. A little visited restaurant in Greektown (little visited b/c it’s off the main strip on Halsted, but only by a half block), they serve Greek-Cypriot food. And, I just discovered they have an extensive gluten-free menu (two full pages!). Woo!

I first discovered their menu online and was skeptical because it did have some suspicious listings. For example, they had patates tiganites (french fries) listed which any savvy gf diner knows is bad news b/c it is fried in the same oil as the breaded Everything, etc. But, when the waiter handed me the gf menu, all of the suspicious items were blacked out – evidently someone showed them the errors in their ways. Being familiar with Greek food, however, I must say that they left off some great gluten-free dishes that do appear on their regular menu, so it’s worth a shot to look at the regular menu and ask. Two great vegetarian dishes to ask for are the pantzarosalata (marinated beets served cold with olive oil and herbs) which goes great with skordalia and talatouri, and lahanika scharas (grilled veggies served with balsamic vinegar and oil). On that happy note, I leave you to dream of gluten-free Greek food. I need my zzzs.

Many restaurants are getting hip to their gluten-free customers and printing special gluten-free menus, just for us. I guess enough people are spending 20 minutes grilling the waiters and waitresses about hidden sources of the wheat-beast that the big chains are thinking about ways to preempt our long line of questioning… That’s ducky, and I fully plan on sampling these places, although, truth be told, I’m more of a small mom-&-pop restaurant kind of gal… BUT-T-T! This is not the reason for this post! The reason for this post is because I have found Mecca. A mom&pop restaurant that has a gf menu like no other. And it is in my very own city, the City of Big Shoulders: Chicago.

Ok, fine. It’s not technically in Chicago. Bravo, you called my bluff. It’s in River Grove, IL, but it’s oh so close to Chicago that I’m taking the liberty of adopting it. It’s almost too good to be true. Their story? A family-run biz running an Italian ‘straunt. Four of six kids are suddenly diagnosed with celiac. Not deterred, they adapt their traditional wheat-filled recipes to work with our world of wacky flours. The result? A FULL menu of normally depressing-for-the-celiac dishes (fried calamari, tiramisu, eggplant parmigiana, pasta and pizza) that are 100% risk-free for wheat-tards like you and me.

It’s called DaLuciano’s. I dined there last night and let me tell you, it took some getting used to – to have an entire menu not only labeled gluten-free, but made by celiacs who understand the insidious nature of gluten? B L I S S ! They also offer a selection of their fresh pastas, desserts, breads, etc. frozen so you can take the bliss home with you. Hot dig von dog!

I was too overwhelmed with joy to have the sense to photograph the cannoli we ordered for dessert, but let me tell you, I will be dreaming about it for years to come. There is a special place in heaven for you (and your gluten-free cannolis), Libreri family!