Angela Coleby is gluten's bane

A UAE food website has become the go-to resource for all things gluten-free.

Angela Coleby with her gluten-free baking. She says the ingredients are not hard to find ’if one is armed with a bit of information’. Jaime Puebla / The National
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Angela Coleby, 43, has decided that 2012 is going to be her year. "I feel full of energy, positivity and optimism with a lot of hope for 2012. The fact that I easily got a taxi on New Year's Day at 2am on the traffic gridlocked Jumeirah Beach road was a sign of good things to come," she says as we dig into her homemade savoury treats at her home in the Springs, Dubai.

The year 2011 was quite an eventful one for this British domestic goddess. The company she was working for downsized and her job as an accountant ceased to challenge her. "Earlier, I was doing 1,001 things at the same time, which I perversely enjoyed," she recalls. "I am one of those people who relish having lots to do. It was boredom at work that led me to find even more satisfaction in the kitchen." But it did not come easily.

"Both my husband and I were in desperate need of a healthy lifestyle," she says. "We were overweight and our doctor had scolded us enough about it." As someone whose passion for cooking had developed in childhood with her family's Sunday ritual of making sweets and cakes, Coleby could not think of herself as a soups-and-salads person. Anxious though as they were about potential health problems, the Colebys did not want to succumb to diet fads either.

Last year, Coleby paid a long-overdue visit to her nutritionist in the UK. Armed with pamphlets rich in information, she applied her accountant's mind to health-food books and nutrition guides. "With all that I was learning and absorbing, somehow gluten stayed with me. As I researched more and connected with various support groups - the Gluten-Free UAE group, for example - I realised how it affects us and how many of us are allergic to it." She then decided to make a voluntary shift in her diet.

"After years of eating pasta, bread and potatoes, I started to notice that when we ate rice and bread, even the supposedly healthy wholemeal types, it left us feeling bloated and full," she says. "As I discovered more about the effects of gluten, I decided to cut it out of our diet." Given that it was only she and her husband, it was easier to make the shift. Between them, they lost around 20kg last year.

Coleby dedicated her free time to researching recipes and browsing supermarket aisles for foods that respected her diet intent. To her surprise, she found that it was not hard to find gluten-free ingredients "if one is armed with a bit of information and knows how to read the packaging".

She discovered her favourite ingredient, coconut flour, on Amazon and did not look back. Made from the flesh of a coconut after it has been drained, coconut flour is said to help regulate blood sugar, improve digestive health and aid in shedding excess weight. Best of all, it works exactly like normal flour: "This gluten-free miracle flour - containing double the fibre found in wheat bran - is perfect for your guilty pleasures: bread, cakes, even gnocchi," says Coleby. You can buy it at the Organic Food Shop, though it quickly sells out.

As her repertoire of gluten-free treats grew, Coleby decided to file her recipes electronically. "I am not one to deprive myself for looks, even health. When I discovered that I could eat well, get healthier and lose weight - without giving up on my guilty treats - I felt compelled to share it with the world!" And so was born.

Dedicated to healthy, organic, gluten-free vegetarian food, holistic beauty and home remedies, the website is the go-to destination for UAE residents when they need a guilt-free fix. Since it went live last August, it has had more than 16,000 hits. With visitors from all over the world and more than 250 subscribed followers via Twitter and Facebook, the site gets an average of 200 hits a day and was recently linked to an article in the Huffington Post beauty and health section.

Coleby's website is all about sharing the recipes she loves so others can enjoy them too. "She doesn't list the nutrition in them or try to convince anyone that hers is the right way," says Claire Grayston, an administration manager for Salik and a fan of the site. "She's simply invited us to be part of her journey as she experiments with food, how to cook gluten-free, how to make a face mask or what wonders you can come up with for skincare/household cleaners based purely on what is in her kitchen at the time."

Linda Forster, the founder of Gluten-Free UAE, recognises a kindred spirit in Coleby. "Gluten intolerance and coeliac disease are more common than people realise. Any blog that has gluten-free recipes is helping to spread awareness," says Forster. "Many people who enter a gluten-free diet feel lost at first as they find they have to make everything from scratch, so good recipes really help." Impressed by Coleby's recipes, she asked her to contribute to her site.

Jane Ayaduray, a New Zealand expatriate, likes the way the site fits into her life. "There are a couple of recipes that I have adopted as my own, so I use them regularly. I never feel I'm giving something up to try one of her dishes and I definitely think I've been eating better because her approach is so fun and engaging."

Recently, Coleby also started selling homemade, savoury gluten-free products at the Ripe Organic Food Market at the Garden Centre in Dubai. "To have my own stall there and my food well-received is a huge accomplishment. Many customers couldn't believe my quiches and cookies were gluten-free," she says.

Next on the agenda for 2012 is branching out into catering, with the focus on healthy, nutritious options. "Follow your passion - it's the only advice I'd give now," she says. "The best thing about it is that it opens up avenues one may never have thought of."

Try this one: Cherry Tomato and Basil Quiche (glutenfree)

225g Gluten Free Flour (for example, Red Bobs all-purpose or Doves Farm flour)

100g butter

1 egg

1-2 tbsp cold water

For the filling

10-15 cherry tomatoes

4 eggs

1/4 cup crème fraîche

10-15 leaves fresh basil

Salt and pepper

Put the flour and a pinch of salt in a food processor and add the butter. Blitz gently until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.

Add the egg and cold water to form a soft dough.

Remove the dough, wrap in cling film and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200¿C.

Roll out the pastry between two sheets of cling film and gently press it into a 20cm loose-bottomed flan tin.

Put the flan tin on a baking sheet and bake the pastry blind for five minutes. Remove from oven.

Reduce the oven to 180¿C.

Cut the cherry tomatoes into halves and press into the pastry case. Add tearings of basil.

Beat the eggs and crème fraîche and season to taste

Pour the filling into the pastry case and bake for 25-30 minutes or until lightly set.