Enjoying Food During Cancer Treatment

Welcome to our monthly recipe blog from Ryan Riley at Life Kitchen

Ryan Riley is an author, cook and food stylist. He is a co-founder of Life Kitchen, an organisation that provides free cookery classes, events and resources for people with cancer.

One of the lesser-known side-effects of treatment for cancer is a dulling or loss of taste. This can have a huge impact on the lives of people living with the disease, not only physically but also psychologically, leading to feelings of isolation and disconnection from those closest to them.

After losing his mother to lung cancer, and experiencing the impacts her change in taste had, Ryan decided to do something radical to improve the lives of people in a similar situation and this led to the creation of Life kitchen.

Life Kitchen is North-East based, their flagship cookery school is in Mowbray Park Sunderland, Ryan’s home city. However, they take classes all over the UK collaborating with charities and organisations that work with people living with cancer.

Sharing a meal with those closest to us is something often taken for granted. Many of our guests talk to us about feeling as though they are not able to join in or appreciate what someone has made for them. Working with Professor Barry Smith (founding director of the Centre for the Study of the Senses) Ryan uses the science behind taste loss and offers some twists to recipes that can achieve amazing results.

Here Ryan shares some of his tried-and-tested recipes for simple, but delicious dishes which aim to help people living with cancer find enjoyment during tough times and reconnect with the simple pleasure that good food shared can bring.

In my last post I talked about the benefits of using umami in my recipes for people experiencing taste loss as a result of cancer or treatment. This month’s recipe uses Parmesan cheese to really elevate the dish – Parmesan is known to the Life Kitchen team as the ‘king of cheeses’ as it is packed with umami, making it an excellent ingredient to really get the most out of your taste buds.

Now, I know there are many cooks out there that would say fish and cheese is a definite no-no. However, those of you who know me will appreciate that I often enjoy bending the rules, and I can honestly say that my Parmesan cod dish could definitely be described as an “exception that proves the rule”!

Think of British fish and chips with lashings of vinegar (with that acidic tang and sweetness), then turn up the flavour a few notches and you get this dish. This is a simple yet flavour-packed fish supper that replaces traditional cod and chips with a much lighter alternative.

This dish has become an absolute staple in the Life Kitchen family, it’s a really great example of how a few food-cupboard ingredients put together well can create a stunning dish. The cucumber side-dish uses basic table salt and malt vinegar to create something really refreshing for your palate, and the parmesan-crusted beautifully flaky cod brings plenty of umami.

When creating our Essential Flavour recipe collection to make great budget-friendly recipes for people living with cancer in light of the cost-of-living crisis, I adapted this dish. Something similar can be created using frozen white fish and dried Italian- style cheese if these are more convenient for you.

If you want to make this dish more substantial, you could serve it with some crushed new potatoes.

Parmesan cod with salt & vinegar cucumber

Serves: 2


75g parmesan, grated
1 tsp smoked paprika
A few sprigs of thyme leaves
A pinch of salt
A pinch of black pepper
2 small cod loins (about 140g each)
1 egg, lightly beaten
Good quality olive oil, to serve

For the salt & vinegar cucumber

1/2 cucumber, sliced into ribbons
A pinch of salt
75ml malt vinegar


Heat the oven to 180°C. Line a baking tray with baking paper.

Using a Y-shaped peeler, run it along the length of the cucumber to create ribbons.

Place the cucumber ribbons in a bowl and sprinkle liberally with the salt, making sure all of the cucumber is salted – don’t worry, you’re going to wash off most of the salt later. Set aside.

In a bowl mix the parmesan, paprika and thyme leaves with the pinches of salt and pepper.

One by one, place the cod loins into the beaten eggs and coat well. Then roll in the parmesan mixture until coated and place on the lined baking tray.

Bake for about 8-10 minutes, until the cod gently flakes when pushed with the back of a teaspoon. If you like, give the loins a final minute under a hot grill to get the parmesan coating really crispy.

While the cod is in the oven, transfer the cucumber to a sieve and wash off the excess salt under running water. Place the ribbons in a bowl with the malt vinegar and give them a good mix. Leave to lightly pickle until the cod is cooked.

Serve each cod loin with a generous portion of the salt and vinegar cucumber and drizzled with good-quality olive oil.


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