The Edgy Veggie

Pumpkins lead patch of seasonal produce for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Ellen Kanner
Ellen Kanner

With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Vegetarian Awareness Month, honor both at once with — wait for it — seasonal produce.

What, you thought I’d say pink cupcakes?

Has there ever been a scientific study linking processed white flour, sugar and artificial color to wellness? None that I’ve seen.

On the other hand, there’s nothing but evidence that the best cancer fighters out there are the usual suspects — fresh produce, rich spices, satisfying beans and nuts and whole grains. Some are the very flavors of fall: turmeric, winter squash, kale and beans.

▪ Turmeric, a rhizome kin to ginger, gilds everything it touches, including you. Science alone can’t explain the magical way it reduces inflammation, increases circulation and arrests cancer cell growth.

Skip the turmeric capsules. Enjoy turmeric the way they have in Asia and India for centuries — in your food. Curry isn’t curry without it. This mellow-flavored spice is available fresh from local farms and sometimes at Whole Foods, or find powdered turmeric in your supermarket spice aisle — you’ll know it from its golden hue.

▪ Pumpkins aren’t just for carving, they’re for eating. Pumpkin, acorn squash, calabaza and other gold-fleshed gourds are rich in immunity-supporting omega-3s and beta-carotene.

Looking for local? Seminole pumpkin is a sweet heirloom native to Florida, and it’s getting on to planting season, folks. Grow your own.

▪ Kale and its fellow brassicas — cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts — are fall and winter vegetables and are rich in sulfur. Not the whiffy rotten egg kind; the detoxing, healing essential mineral kind.

▪ Beans — chickpeas, lentils, limas, any kind, every kind — are high in protein, that thing many people still think vegans don’t get. Beans also offer fiber, which you need (animal protein has none).

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition links increased fiber intake with reduced risk of breast cancer. Beans are also the backbone to sumptuous, soulful stews and soups — the foods that call to us in the fall, even when the temperature’s still in the 80s.

No single food is cancer’s magic bullet, but you gotta eat, right? During Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Vegetarian Awareness Month, live it up.

Go for the pink cupcakes if you must, but treat yourself to the seasonal produce and sultry spices that support and strengthen you holistically, naturally, deliciously.

P.S.: Coffee’s a proven cancer-fighter, too. Cheers.

Ellen Kanner:, @edgyveggie1

Spiced Lentils and Pumpkin

Four autumnal cancer fighters — pumpkin, lentils, turmeric and kale — team up for good in this warmly spiced, deeply nourishing recipe with Tunisian influences. Baked in a hollowed-out pumpkin shell, it makes for a presentation worthy of Halloween or Thanksgiving, and the serving bowl becomes part of the meal. You may also bake it in a casserole. Recipe by Ellen Kanner.

1 cup lentils, picked over and rinsed

2 cups vegetable broth or water

4 teaspoons olive oil

1 cup onion, chopped (about 1 small onion)

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups winter squash or pumpkin, chopped small (from a 3-pound winter squash or pumpkin)

1 cup tomato, chopped small (from 1 medium tomato or from a 15-ounce can)

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon allspice

3/4 cup vegetable broth or water

3 cups kale, chopped small (about half a bunch)

1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped, plus more for garnish, if desired

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring 2 cups of vegetable broth or water to a rolling boil in a large saucepan. Add lentils. Allow them to cook on high for three to five minutes, skimming off any foam, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 25 minutes. Lentils should be plump, just tender and will have absorbed all the liquid. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly. Lentils may be made a day ahead and kept covered and refrigerated, if desired.

If you’re using a whole winter squash or pumpkin, slice away the top, a few inches below the stem, and reserve it as your lid. Scoop out all the interior seeds and membranes — expect a lot. Then pare away the golden inner flesh and chop the squash. The pumpkin seeds — rinsed, dried and toasted — make a nice snack.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a 6-cup casserole or have your hollowed pumpkin ready.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet, over medium-high heat. When it starts to shimmer, add the chopped onion and cook, stirring, four to five minutes, or until it starts to turn translucent. Then add the minced garlic, and continue cooking, giving an occasional stir, for another minute or two, or until garlic becomes golden and tender.

Add the turmeric, cinnamon, allspice and paprika, and stir for a moment, until the spices begin to darken and you can enjoy their fragrance. Add the chopped squash, stirring to coat in the spiced oil, cooking for about five minutes. Stir in the lentils, the 3/4 cup of vegetable broth or water, the tomato and stir well.

Add chopped kale by the handful, stirring gently until it just wilts. Mix in the chopped parsley and season everything generously with sea salt and pepper.

Pour contents into prepared casserole or hollowed pumpkin. Cover and bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until the lentils are bubbling. If you’ve baked it in a pumpkin, the pumpkin shell should remain solid but be tender enough to be pierced with a fork.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings