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Fighting cancer with cooking (with recipe!)


At a recent cooking class on 32nd Street and 7th Avenue, the apron-clad participants chopped onions and kabocha pumpkins on plastic cutting boards and traded stories about the one thing they all had in common—cancer.

The class was run by Cook For Your Life!, an organization founded in 2006 by two-time cancer survivor Ann Ogden Gafney, to bring the health benefits and camaraderie of cooking whole foods to cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers. “I started CFYL when I realized that most patients don’t cook,” says Gafney. “This created a huge gap between getting nutritional info from the hospital and being able to put it into action.”

While definitive links between specific foods and cancer prevention are difficult to definitively confirm, many foods have been shown to have possible cancer-fighting properties. Nutrition can also be a powerful tool for combating the harsh side effects of chemotherapy and other treatments.

In addition to kale and sweet potatoes, baked chicken with adobo, and quinoa salad, the class prepared this delicious pumpkin miso soup—a warming fall meal stocked with beta-carotene, iron, vitamin C, and potassium.

Chopped kabocha pumpkin
Chopped kabocha pumpkin ready for it's role in the soup

Pumpkin Miso Soup (Serves 6)

1 small Kabocha pumpkin, washed, halved, and seeds scraped out

1 large Spanish onion, thinly sliced

2 Tbsp grapeseed or peanut oil

8-10 cups vegetable or chicken stock (or water)

2-3 Tbsp yellow miso paste

Sea salt, black pepper, and soy sauce (optional)

1. With a peeler, take off little patches of skin all over the pumpkin halves until they look polka-dotted. This is purely decorative and can be left out if you don’t have a lot of time. Cut the halves into 1/2″ pieces. Set aside.

2. Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. When it ripples, add the onion and saute, stirring until it starts to soften and turn transparent. Add the pumpkin cubes, sprinkle with sea salt, mix well, and cover. Reduce the heat to medium-low and saute the vegetables for about 10 minutes, or until the pumpkin has started to soften and the onion is really soft. The onion should not brown, so stir occasionally to make sure it doesn’t stick.

3. Add enough stock to the pot to cover the vegetables + 1″. Raise the heat and bring to a boil. Cover, lower the heat, and simmer until the pumpkin is soft but not mushy, about 10 minutes. While the soup is cooking, measure the miso into a bowl. Using a small balloon whisk or a fork, gradually whisk in 1/2 cup of warm stock or cool water until you have a thinnish creamy liquid with no lumps.

4. When the pumpkin is tender, add a grind or two of black pepper, turn off the heat, and let the soup come off the boil. Add the miso cream little by little into the soup, stirring gently to mix. Taste as you go until you know how much you like. Serve immediately.