Talking to the Experts: Marlisa Brown on Gluten-Free Dining

Going gluten-free is becoming very popular these days and not just for those who have a gluten intolerance. Interested in making the gluten-free switch? We caught up with chef and registered dietitian Marlisa Brown and she some important beginner tips from her new book Gluten-Free Hassle Free.
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Going gluten-free is popular these days and not just for those who have a gluten intolerance. Interested in making the switch? We caught up with chef and registered dietitian Marlisa Brown, who shared beginner tips from her new book Gluten-Free Hassle Free.

Q: What prompted you to write your book?

I have worked for years helping people to follow a gluten-free diet. They needed help because most of current information available was difficult and confusing. As I researched health problems, I discovered many of my patients who were suffering from celiac-related problems hadn't been tested for the disease. Those who were tested often were told they did not have celiac disease but they did. When a dietary change helped my patients so much, gluten-free living really caught my attention.

Q: Today, we hear about many folks eliminating gluten because they think they are allergic. How can someone be sure that it’s really gluten that is bothering them?

Although celiac disease is not an allergy, it does create a range of auto-immune issues, which require the same type of avoidance as an allergy. If you suspect a gluten-intolerance, first try to be tested for celiac disease -- you can do this by having a blood work screening done.

If any of the blood tests are positive, you should follow up with a gastroenterologist who specializes in celiac to have an endoscopy (an internal exam that utilizes a camera at the end of a long, flexible tube). If the blood work is negative and you have a family history of celiac disease or have several symptoms, consider further testing.

There are some individuals who do not get diagnosed with celiac disease, but their health still improves on a gluten-free diet. They're classified as non-celiac gluten-sensitive. In order to get the best direction, work with a registered dietitian who specializes in celiac.

Q: The first few months of going gluten-free can get very frustrating and confusing. Are there any tips you can share with folks who have just started?

This is why I developed the three meal plans in my book: one that uses just supermarket choices, one that covers looking for more extensive choices and one on how to use what's in your fridge. To make it simple when getting started, try sticking with fresh fruit and veggies, 100% dairy products, and meat, chicken and fish that aren't marinated in anything. Pick up a few specialized products -- rice pasta and snacks, bars and cereals that are labeled gluten-free. Get a gluten-free grocery guide to help you with label reading and calling manufacturers.

Q: I’m not following a gluten-free diet, but let’s say someone in my family suffers from celiac disease and I need to adapt my cooking to suit them. Are there easy suggestions for cooking without having to make two types of dishes at every meal?

If you are not familiar with a gluten-free diet and you are feeding others, the best way to go is to:

  • Only use marinades and sauces on main dishes and sides that are labeled gluten-free.
  • Don’t use flour, croutons or breading in your recipes.
  • Make sure you include gluten-free appetizers and desserts.
Q: My sister-in-law, who has celiac disease, has a tough time eating at restaurants. Any tips for dining out?

As someone who personally follows a gluten-free diet, I find that it can be particularly difficult when dining out -- especially when I try to explain all the foods I can and cannot have to a busy waitstaff. To make this easier, I developed gluten-free instructions in 14 different languages for my book. These reproducible dining out sheets take into account ethnic foods and safe substitutes.

Q: Could you share a favorite gluten-free recipe?

Socca is a type of chickpea crepe that comes from southeastern France and northern Italy. The dish, which is included in my book, is quick and easy to make.


Serves 4 (Makes 2 crepes)
1 cup chickpea flour
1 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup onion or shallots, sliced thin (optional)
Gluten-free cooking spray (or olive oil)

Optional toppings: Parmesan cheese, shredded mozzarella, chopped sun dried tomatoes, roasted or fried garlic

Mix together chickpea flour, water, 1 tablespoon olive oil, rosemary, salt, pepper and shallots.  Let it sit for about 30 minutes, covered, at room temperature. (The mixture will resemble a thick cream.)

Preheat oven to broil. Spray a 91/2-inch round nonstick skillet with cooking spray (or coat with vegetable oil) and heat on a low flame until hot.

Pour about 1/2 cup batter into pan and swirl around to coat pan like a crepe in a nice round shape (use a rubber spatula to loosen up sides).

Cook the socca until crispy on one side, slide onto a cookie sheet or a pizza pan, drizzle with 1/4 tablespoon olive oil and desired optional toppings. Brown under the broiler until crispy. (Note: You can prepare this in a saute pan only at higher heat.)

Cut the crepe into two large pieces or four smaller pieces. Repeat above with rest of the batter.

Nutrition Information:

153 calories, 5.2 grams protein, 14.3 grams carbohydrates, 8.3 grams fat, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 306 milligrams sodium, 2.7 grams fiber, 14.3 milligrams calcium, 1.2 milligrams iron

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