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.

As a recipe writer and cook I am constantly thinking about how my dishes work in a holistic sense. This means paying great attention not only to how a dish tastes, but also how readily ingredients are available; how easy it is to prepare; how it appeals to us visually and how we respond to it emotionally. When devising and refining recipes I think in terms of brightness, boldness, comfort, punch and zing! I consider how different textures and temperatures can enhance someone’s eating experience when their taste and smell is diminished.

This month’s recipe is a great example of all these considerations coming together in one simple, but delicious dish. My hot and cold pickled tomatoes are a revelation: The sweet tanginess of the vinegar pairs incredibly well with the savouriness of the tomatoes, creating something beautifully balanced. The chilli yoghurt helps the tomatoes to sing, and really rounds off the dish with a wonderfully light freshness.

This recipe includes the instructions for homemade chilli oil, which you can make very easily. It may well become a staple in your home as it can be stored in a sealed jar in the fridge for a week to ten days and used as a drizzle on a variety of other dishes.

For the oil I have used red chilli flakes which add an intense and fragrant heat; and chipotle chillies which are dried, smoked jalapeños and have a great depth of flavour. If chipotle isn’t your favourite dried chilli then swap it for any other dried chilli – for example guajillo will give a milder, sweeter flavour whilst pasilla gives sweetness, smokiness and fire all in one!

These hot and cold pickled tomatoes are testament to a number of the Life Kitchen principles: they have umami, acidity, texture and heat all in one delicious dish. Once you have made the chilli oil, you can put the whole dish together in minutes with just a few ingredients.

Hot & cold pickled tomatoes with chilli yoghurt

Serves 3-5


For the Chilli Oil:
(makes 200ml so you’ll have plenty left over)

200ml rapeseed oil
40g dried chipotle chilli flakes
20g red chilli flakes

For the tomatoes:
150ml red wine vinegar
1/4tsp fennel seeds
6 coriander seeds
2 bay leaves
12 mixed-colour cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
2tbsp full-fat Greek yoghurt
1tsp Chilli Oil (see above)

To serve:
Warmed flatbreads or naan breads
A small handful of mint leaves


Begin in advance by making the chilli oil:

Place a saucepan on a medium heat and add the oil. Bring to a simmer – be very careful as the oil will be extremely hot.

After a few moments, drop in a chilli flake: if the oil is hot enough, the flake will sizzle slightly. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in both types of chilli flake.

Set aside and allow to cool completely. Once cooled, pour into a sterilised jar and seal with a lid.

To complete the dish:

Stir together the vinegar, both seeds and the bay leaves in a bowl. Place a saucepan on a high heat and pour in half the liquid (with half the aromatics). Bring to the boil, then turn off the heat.

Divide the tomatoes between two bowls and pour the hot liquid into one bowl and the cold into the other. Leave for five minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the yoghurt and chilli oil in a bowl.

To serve, spread the warmed breads with the chilli yoghurt, top with both hot and cold tomatoes (discarding the bay) and scatter over the mint.


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