At some point, cancer invades the life of someone we know and love. Like most people, I want to help friends and family who are undergoing treatment. I want to cook something irresistible, but I am often at a loss as to what would be nourishing and appealing to the patient.
A couple of years ago I wrote about a book that has been a big help in this regard, “The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen: Nourishing, Big Flavor Recipes for Cancer Treatment and Recovery” by Rebecca Katz with Mat Edelson (Celestial Arts, $32.50).
“The book contains a lot of information – it’s like a toolbox to entice people to eat,” author Rebecca Katz told me. “I think in many treatment phases, patients lose a connection to food. It is the connection to life, and when someone is vulnerable, food can be a life raft.”
She said to think about their taste buds as an electric board with some of the circuits flickering on and off. Some foods can taste weird. Maybe even the patient’s favorite foods taste peculiar.
“One of the things that is a great tool, an old culinary trick, is FASS – fat, acid, salt and sweet,” she said, making clear that fat often means olive oil, lemons are the acid, sea salt is the salt and organic maple syrup or agave syrup is the sweet.
Having these “fantastic four of seasoning” available can be a way for the cook (or the patient) to pump up the flavors to deal with taste bud changes. If a dish tastes like cardboard, the patient might add a little sea salt. A little lemon juice can also make flavors pop. If a dish tastes metallic, a little maple syrup or agave nectar can help.
The Chicken Vegetable Soup with Ginger Meatballs is my favorite recipe from the book. I often substitute sugar snap peas for the English peas, cutting each sugar snap into two or three pieces before adding them to the mix.
Chicken Vegetable Soup with Ginger Meatballs
For the meatballs:
1 pound ground organic dark-meat turkey or chicken
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Pinch of cayenne
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup uncooked white basmati or jasmine rice
For the soup:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced small
1 large carrot, peeled, diced small
1 large celery stalk, diced small
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
8 cups store-bought organic chicken broth
1/2 cup fresh or frozen sweet peas
1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
1 lime, cut into quarters
For meatballs: Line rimmed baking sheet with wax paper. Combine turkey, ginger, garlic, parsley, salt, cayenne, egg and rice in bowl and mix with your hands or a spatula until well combined. Don’t overwork the mixture or the meatballs will be tough. Wet palms of hands so the mixture doesn’t stick, roll into 1-inch balls and place on prepared pan.
For soup: Heat oil in soup pot over medium heat; add onion and pinch of salt and cook until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add carrots, celery, garlic, ginger and 1/4 teaspoon salt; continue cooking for about 3 minutes.
Pour in 1/2 cup broth to deglaze pot and cook until liquid is reduced by half. Add remaining 7 1/2 cups broth and another 1/4 teaspoon salt; bring to boil on high heat. Reduce heat to maintain a vigorous simmer, then gently transfer half of the meatballs into the simmering broth (refrigerate or freeze the remainder to use later). Cover and allow the meatballs to simmer for 15 minutes.
Add peas and cook 3 minutes more, then stir in parsley and basil. Serve each bowl garnished with a wedge of lime.
Storage: Store in airtight container in the refrigerator up to 5 days, or freeze up to 2 months.
Nutritional information (per serving): 191 calories (52 percent from fat), 12 g fat, 4.7 grams saturated fat, 37 milligrams cholesterol, 15 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams protein, 890 milligrams sodium, 1.4 grams fiber
Yield: 4 servings