Monday, April 27, 2009

Battle the "Big C" with Stuffed Mushrooms

I'm battling a small "c", which stands for computer. My computer fried. I think it's literal. I smelled hot plastic for several days, and the next thing I knew, my computer wouldn't turn on. Nothing. Zip. Nada. Fortunately, I have a computer guru who backed up absolutely everything including all my programs. Now I have another battle ahead of me with another "C" - and that stands for Costco. I don't have the original box, but I'm going to try and return it anyway. I haven't had any luck dealing directly with the manufacturer.

But all these battle pale in comparison to the battle with the Big C - Cancer. As an acupuncturist, I have many patients who come to me with cancer. Sometimes it's the nausea from chemotherapy that brings them to me. Sometimes they want adjunct therapy to their western medical treatments. Occasionally I'll get someone who doesn't want to do western medicine at all - just acupuncture and herbs. I never argue with my patients' choices - I just try to support them in what they are going through.

One of the things which I try to impress upon my
patients - all of them - is the benefits of eating well. I
heard an interesting interview on the radio yesterday with a man who was talking about diets. He has studied different diets of people around the world, and has discovered that there's only one which leads to obesity and disease - ours.

Couple that with the research I've been doing recently on chronic inflammation (a condition which underlies most chronic illnesses and can be a pre-cursor for cancer), and one of the things that seems to lead to a decline in health is over-consumption of red meat. Yes, there are many cultures which exist with diets high in meat, and they don't necessarily have high cancer rates, but there are too many other factors involved which come into play as well, making a direct correlation impossible. But the bottom line is that in industrialized, high-stress societies like our own, excessive meat consumption seems to lead to higher rates of disease. In many Asian countries, meat is consumed regularly, but the quantities of meat are pretty small.

Chris over at Mele Cotte knows something about cancer, and she also knows something about cooking. She's had the first one (knocked it out in the first round!) and has a passion for the second. This is her third year of hosting this event, but the first time I've actually entered it.

So what is a healthy diet? There is so much confusing information out there and it all changes so often, how do we know what to do? Here are some basics which seem to play out in the real world:

1. Don't eat processed foods. Food doesn't naturally grow in a box or a can, and definitely doesn't appear in styrofoam trays wrapped in plastic! Try to stay away from things that are sold that way.

2. Read the label. If there's anything there which you can't pronounce and don't know what it is, it probably isn't food. Don't eat it.

3. "Food" and "nutrients" are two different words with two different meanings. Eat food. Don't eat nutrients.

4. Stay away from anything with the word "Diet" on the label. You will not lose weight and it contains things which aren't food.

5. Don't consume high fructose corn syrup. You will only gain weight, increasing your risk of disease.

6. And finally, never, ever, ever microwave anything in plastic. Neither in a plastic container nor with plastic wrap over the top. The plastic will be broken down by the heat and produce a chemical which mimics estrogen in the body, but which is actually carcinogenic.

So - now that we're done with the "don'ts", what do you get to eat? One of the most amazing things on the list that I know of is mushrooms. Shitakes have gotten the press on this one, but it turns out that all mushrooms contain polysaccharides, especially Lentinan. Lentinan is a powerful compound which helps build immunity. Mushrooms are also a source of Beta Glucan and a protein called lectin which attacks cancerous cells and prevents them from multiplying. Pretty cool for a fungus!

Another wonderful food which we all know and love and which is a major cancer-fighting food is garlic. Do you love that, or what? Garlic will not only boost your immune system, but it also helps to break down cancer causing substances. There are studies which have linked garlic and onions (including leeks and chives) to decreased risk of colon and stomach cancer.

Now those of you who have read this blog for a while know that I love my chilis, but it turns out that they are also cancer fighting as well. Capsaicin neutralizes cancer causing substances and may prevent stomach cancer.

So it seems that this little dish I made last week packs a lot of cancer fighting food into one small plate. But the best part is that it tastes good!

Portobello Mushrooms Stuffed with Spinach and Goat Cheese

Marinated mushrooms
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup Marsala (optional)
  • 4 large fresh thyme sprigs
  • 6 large portobello mushrooms

  • 1 10-ounce package frozen spinach
  • 1 pound button mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped sweet onion (such as Maui or Vidalia)
  • 3 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1/4 cup plus 6 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup unseasoned dry breadcrumbs
  • 1 5-ounce package soft fresh goat cheese, crumbled


For marinated mushrooms:
Whisk first 6 ingredients and Marsala, if desired, in medium bowl for marinade. Stir in thyme sprigs. Cut stems from mushrooms and place stems in processor. Arrange mushrooms, gill side up, in 15x10x2-inch glass baking dish. Pour marinade over mushrooms and marinate 4 hours, turning to coat occasionally.

For filling:
Cook spinach according to package directions. Drain; cool. Using hands, squeeze excess water from spinach. Place in small bowl.

Add half of button mushrooms to processor with portobello mushroom stems. Using on/off turns, process until coarsely chopped. Transfer to medium bowl and repeat with remaining mushrooms. Heat oil in heavy large skillet over high heat. Add onion; sauté until beginning to brown, stirring often, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and stir 30 seconds. Add chopped mushrooms, sprinkle with salt, and increase heat to high. Cook until almost all liquid evaporates, stirring often, about 8 minutes. Season mushroom mixture with salt and pepper. Transfer to large bowl; cool to room temperature.

Add spinach, 1/4 cup Parmesan, and breadcrumbs to mushroom mixture; toss to distribute evenly. Add goat cheese and toss gently to distribute evenly. Season filling to taste with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Cover filling and let stand at room temperature.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Transfer marinated mushrooms, with some marinade still clinging, to rimmed baking sheet, gill side down. Roast until beginning to soften, about 15 minutes. Turn mushrooms over. Divide filling among mushrooms. Sprinkle remaining 6 tablespoons Parmesan cheese over and bake until heated through and cheese begins to brown, about 15 minutes.

Kitchen Notes:

I added green chili, of course. And I sprinkled some smoked Paprika over the top.

For more health information, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture


Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Lovely recipe, just the kid of thing I could serve for a vegetarian main course or dinner party appetizer.

anya said...

Toni, it's a great post!

Healthful food is by all means a must --pleasurable, if at that --when it comes to prevention of or battle with cancer. What I also believe is that cancer -- and any oher illness -- is a manifestation of a deep-rooted anger or other negative, deconstructive emotions/feelings; a signal that we have to cleanse our mind as well as our bodies.

Chris said...

This is a fantastic post! So informative. Thanks so much for always supporting me, Toni! You're the greatest. :)

Unknown said...

Lydia - Yes, you could serve this as a vegetarian main course, for sure!

Anya - I agree that healthful food must be pleasurable. Who would care about eating it if it weren't? As for the anger thing, I have heard that one before, and while I believe that it might be true for some people, I don't believe that it's true across the board. I've had many patients whose emotional life seems to be a healthy balance, but who are still cancer patients. I think we must be cautious when ascribing certain so-called negative emotions to particular diseases. It can easily lead to blaming the patient for their condition.

Chris - You, my friend, were the first person to comment on my blog when I first started this adventure. You will ALWAYS have a special place in my heart!

Terry at Blue Kitchen said...

Toni--This sounds delicious! Glad you got to take part in the Mele Cotte's Cooking to Combat Cancer round-up.

Tiina said...

Wonderful recipe for a great cause!


Unknown said...

Terry - Good to "see you" again! And yes, it was very, very tasty!

Tiina - Thanks!

Susan said...

Those look so, so good! Mushrooms are an all-time favorite of mine.
Goat cheese is a great idea.