Fighting cancer dish by dish

Ballroom Cooking, Mediterranean-Style

Red-pepper hummus

I just spent the past three days in at the Society for Integrative Oncology’s annual conference, mingling with everyone who's anyone in this rapidly growing sector of cancer care that weaves together conventional approaches—such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy—with complementary treatments.

It was a fantastic event featuring presentations by leading experts from a wide range of disciplines. In addition to conventional oncologists there were Chinese medicine practitioners, naturopaths, ayurvedic doctors, body-mind practitioners, healing-touch therapists, health educators, psychotherapists, herbalists, researchers and even a nutritionist who teaches anti-cancer cooking classes.

Yes, yours truly hosted a workshop called “Let’s Get Cooking” at which I gave a talk about the Mediterranean diet’s anti-cancer benefits that was followed by a small demonstration of two healthy whole-food recipes: the red-pepper hummus pictured above and the avocado-chocolate pudding I posted a few days ago.

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In a relaxed and convivial atmosphere — as befits a Mediterranean food event — and ignoring the fact that we were trying to “cook” in a Marriott ballroom, we donned our aprons and milled around a hastily assembled island of side-tables as everybody chipped in: one person peeling a mound of garlic cloves, the next juicing the lemons, a third spooning tahini into the blender whilst yet another added the grilled peppers and mixed everything into a fine puree.

Yet more “sous-chefs” doled the hummus into bowls, drizzled it with extra-virgin olive oil and pine kernels, and finally everyone dug in, scooping up hummus with carrot and celery sticks and gluten-free falafel chips. More fun teamwork ensued as we prepared — and then wolfed down — the avocado-chocolate pudding.

All of which just goes to show: in extremis you don’t even need a kitchen to prepare a Mediterranean meal! And: too many cooks don’t necessarily spoil the broth. (There were 30 of us!)

For those of you who wish they could have been there, here's a consolation prize: the recipe.

Hummus – a tasty Eastern-Mediterranean chickpea and sesame puree – is a powerhouse of nutrition, supplying protein, fiber, phytoestrogens, garlic and healthy oils. By adding red peppers, you’re also throwing in powerful antioxidants such as lycopene, a member of the carotenoid family thought to protect against prostate cancer, among others.

Hummus makes a delicious dip for raw vegetables, a succulent sandwich filling (topped, for example, with broccoli sprouts or grilled bell peppers) or a speedy hors d’oeuvre served in an avocado half. It’s best to use chick peas that you have prepared from scratch (ideally, sprouted first to boost nutrient content and make them easier to digest). Alternatively, you can use pre-cooked chickpeas from a glass jar. Try to avoid canned chickpeas; as I have written about previously, some of the chemicals used to make the plastic linings of food cans (such as bisphenol-A) are thought to disrupt our bodies’ natural hormones because of their estrogen-like chemical structure.

Red-pepper hummus (makes about 1.1lb/500g)

15oz/400g cooked chickpeas, drained

2 tbsp olive oil

juice of 1 lemon

pinch of lemon zest (untreated)

1 clove garlic, crushed

2-3 slices roasted red peppers form a jar (packe din olive oil or water) - about 3.5 oz / 100g, drained

5 fl oz/⅔ cup/150 ml water or garbanzo cooking liquid

3oz/1/3 cup/80g tahini (unsalted sesame paste)

olive oil and red pepper flakes, paprika powder or ground cumin as garnish

salt & freshly ground black pepper

Drain the softened chickpeas but reserve cooking liquid. Place chickpeas in a food processor with olive oil, lemon juice and zest, garlic, red pepper slices and water (if you’ve soaked and cooked the chickpeas from scratch, use the cooking liquid). Start blending and gradually add tahini. The consistency should be like thick cream; if it seems too dry, add more cooking liquid or water.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with red pepper flakes or paprika powder or ground cumin.

Copyright Conner Middelmann-Whitney. Conner is a nutrition coach, cooking instructor (check out her anti-cancer cooking videos on YouTube) and author of Zest for Life, The Mediterranean Anti-Cancer Diet, a cancer-prevention nutrition guide and cookbook anchored in the traditional Mediterranean diet.

Conner Middelmann Whitney is a nutritionist, journalist, chef, and former cancer patient.


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