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.

This month’s dish is a personal favourite of mine using cauliflower, which is coming into high season in the UK this month. Comforting Korean chicken was my inspiration behind this dish, but this version uses cauliflower rather than meat.

Once introduced to high heat causing a caramelisation Cauliflower- which can often seem quite bland – becomes a beautiful, sweet base to carry the other flavours in the dish. The roasted cauliflower has crispy little dimples and bumps which are perfect for catching all of the sticky, spicy sauce and creates an easy, irresistible light bite.

Gochujang is a spicy, Korean red pepper paste, which can be used in the likes of stews, soups and stir-fries, it adds depth to dishes and a sweet heat with salty flavour. Gochujang is a perfect ingredient for adding a punchy heat to dishes in one spoonful!

This recipe also calls for maple syrup which is one of my favourite ingredients for dishes that need a hint of sweetness. It takes the edge over using honey for me because, as well as being suitable for vegan diets, it contains an aroma molecule called Sotolon which increases the richness and depth of the other flavours in the dish.

Both gochujang and maple syrup are widely available in good supermarkets nowadays and are great staple ingredients to buy as they are so versatile; last a long time once opened and a little of each goes a long way.

Finishing the dish with nigella seeds which have a mild sweet-onion flavour, adds some texture to the dish and are a beautiful way to garnish.

This is a perfect dish for a small bite to eat, or as a tasting dish to share. If you want to create a more substantial meal, this dish also goes perfectly with fluffy rice or warmed flatbreads.

Sticky gochujang cauliflower

Serves 2

1 cauliflower, separated into florets
Olive oil
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

For the Sauce
4 tbsp gochujang
4 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp light soy sauce
4 tbsp rice vinegar (white wine vinegar or sherry vinegar would work too)
1 lemon, zest and juice

To Serve
1 tsp nigella seeds
¼ tsp sesame oil
Lemon wedges (optional)

Heat the oven to 240°C

Place the cauliflower florets on a baking tray and rub the with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.

Roast for about 25 minutes or until the florets have taken on a golden colour

Towards the end of the cooking time for the cauliflower, put all the sauce ingredients along with 6 tablespoons of water into a small saucepan over a medium heat.

Bring the mixture to a boil, and then reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 2-3 minutes until the sauce is thickened. Then remove from the heat and set aside.

Once the cauliflower florets are beautifully golden, add them to the pan with the sauce and toss until they are coated generously.

Transfer to a serving dish, drizzle with a little sesame oil and sprinkle with nigella seeds. Serve with lemon wedges on the side for squeezing over.


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