Recently my sister figured out in order to manage her various autoimmune problems, she needed to be on a mostly paleo diet, and it’s done her wonders.  Then I figured out I needed to cut out sugar and grains, which has done me wonders.  :-)

As a result, I’ve been learning to cook a new diet!  :-)  It’s early days still, of course, but here’s a general reference page for unusual paleo ingredients so you guys don’t have to, say, read about how to separate coconut milk over and over and over (and I don’t have to write it over and over and over); if you want to know more, you can just click the link over here.

I’m not even going to try to explain the paleo diet here; not only are there lots of great blogs for that already, but everyone seems to do it a little differently, so unlike the gluten-free diet, our rules will probably be a little different from everyone else’s.  My sister can’t tolerate sugar, fatty meats, fatty oils, high-sugar fruits, dairy, grains, or legumes, so that’s what we’re working around right now.

But hey, time to list.  :-)

Ingredients:

  • Agar-agar powder.  Basically powdered seaweed, but it works great as a replacement for gelatin or xanthan or guar gums.
  • Almond Meal/Flour.  This is a great substitute for bread crumbs when you’re breading meat to either bake or fry.  It doesn’t need refrigeration to store, though it would probably last longer if you did — we go through it fast enough that it hasn’t really come up yet.
  • Arrowroot Flour/Starch.  A pretty good paleo thickener.  You want to buy it in big bags, though, not little jars from the spice aisle — you’ll need lots of this if you want to, say, thicken soups, or make some paleo breading.
  • Carob Powder.  This is a sweet-tasting powder often used a substitute for cocoa powder, but I prefer to use about 1 part to carob powder to 3 parts cocoa powder to sweeten and complexify the chocolatey taste.
  • Caramel Extract.  This does great job of making something taste like it has sugar or brown sugar in it, without adding any glycemic value at all.  Combine it with stevia extract for full effect.
  • Cashew Butter.  An excellent replacement for peanut butter.  No link for this one — you’re best off making it fresh yourself.  Just put some salted cashews in the food processor, and process them for a good 15+ minutes, until they turn into a lovely spreadable butter.  Be patient with it and miracles will happen.  I grind 2 cups of cashews at a time and store the butter in a jar in the pantry, and we haven’t had to worry about it going bad yet; one batch lasts four people about a week.
  • Cashew Milk.  I’ve started using this as a dairy replacement in baking and cooking.  It has a mild nutty flavor, which I like much better than sweet (and often uncooperative) coconut milk in things like bread and soup that aren’t supposed to taste sweet.  Cashew milk is easy to make:  Just soak your cashews in water overnight, rinse until the water runs clear, then blend the cashews together with some fresh water until wholly smooth, and store it in the fridge.  I blend 1 cup cashews in 3 cups water to make a thin “cashew milk,” and 1 cup cashews to 2 cups water to make a thicker “cashew cream.”  (These are the thicknesses that my recipes will refer to as “cashew milk” and “cashew cream” specifically.)  Some sites say you really want raw cashews, but I’ve done fine with roasted.  It stores fine, but make sure to shake up the container when you get it out, since it has a tendency to separate a little — don’t worry, a quick shake reintegrates it just fine.
  • Coconut Flour.  I haven’t used this too much yet but it’s a sweet flour, which is always, always handy.
  • Coconut Milk/Cream.  This stuff makes the non-dairy world go round.  I mean really.  :-)  You want to buy full-fat coconut milk, preferably with no stabilizers added (like guar gum, which is a paleo no-no).  Though you don’t have to refrigerate the cans, you want to:  This will cause the coconut milk to separate into a watery layer I call thin coconut milk, and a very thick layer I call coconut cream.  Every time you open a can, scoop out the cream from the thin milk and save them both!  They’ll keep in the fridge a few days at the very least and they both have lots of uses.
  • Coconut Oil.  This lovely oil is solid at room temperature, which makes it extra useful for things like making candy, and it’s useful in batters too.
  • Flax Seed Meal.  I’ve been trying this out as a textural replacement for quick oats.
  • Pear juice.  I’ve started using pear juice in place of apple juice (which is too sugary for us), and in place of water in order to sweeten batter sometimes.
  • Stevia.  Stevia is a wonderful sweetener.  I love it so much I am actually growing stevia plants of my own now.  I use stevia in two forms (both of which my very paleo sister tolerates just fine):  liquid stevia extract and powdered green stevia .  You don’t want to use too much stevia in any given recipe because the taste just gets way too strong, but a little goes a very long way.
  • Extra virgin olive oil.  We actually use olive oil to deep-fry foods!  You don’t want to fry at or above 375 degrees Farenheit because of its low smoking point, and the oil breaks down a little faster than other oils would, but since this and coconut oil are basically our only oil options we just run with it.  :-)
  • Palm shortening.  Zero trans fats — a very good thing.  So far it’s a pretty good substitute for butter or vegetable shortening, and can help especially rolled doughs bind together.
  • Plantains!  These are a lower-sugar relative of bananas that taste like the love child of the banana and the potato.  Slice ‘em thin and fry ‘em, and you’ve replaced potato chips; puree them green and you have a pretty good binder for batters.  They’re more expensive than bananas but still cheap.  We buy them by the dozen and still run out way too fast.  The riper they are, the sweeter they get.  (You can also make your own plantain flour from green plantains:  Just slice them thin, dehydrate them in the oven on low for 2-3 hours, then put them through the blender or food processor, and — last but not least! — sift the flour!)
  • Tapioca Starch/Flour.  A nice neutral starch that for whatever reason we can still have when all other starches have left us.  Don’t ask me, ask nature.  So far I mostly use this to make fry breading.
  • Locust bean gum.  You can use this as a binder in baking, but also to make homemade ice cream much better behaved.

Mixes:

  • Paleo dough mix.  This mix is two parts tapioca starch/flour, one part plantain flour, and one part coconut flour.  I’ve started using this mix fairly regularly when trying to make dough.
  • Paleo breading mix.  This mix is one part arrowroot starch/flour to five parts tapioca starch/flour.  It’s a good mix for making breading stick to something you want to fry.
  • Paleo baking powder.  Since regular baking powder has cornstarch, we get to make our own; thankfully, it’s pretty easy.  This mix is one part tapioca starch, two parts baking soda, and four parts cream of tartar.

Tools:

  • Food processor.  A good one.  You’ll want it.
  • Immersion Blender.  Because sometimes, it’s just easier to bring the blender to the food, than the food to the blender.  :-)