Features / 22 May, 2018 / My Baba

Melissa Hemsley on 30-minute meals, loving leftovers, and food cupboard essentials

Melissa Hemsley is a key player in the wellness movement. As one half of the HEMSLEY + HEMSLEY, she’s been working on food health and wellness for over eight years. In 2010, the Hemsley sisters launched their bespoke service teaching people, including many high profile clients, about healthy eating, digestion and gut health. In 2014, the sibling duo released their debut book The Art of Eating Well. The book recieved worldwide recognition and suddenly the HEMSLEY + HEMSLEY brand exploded into several books, a TV show and a regular column in Vogue. Now, Melissa Hemsley has gone solo. Her book Eat Happy: 30-Minute Feel Good Food hit the shops earlier this year, so we caught up with the London foodie to find out her latest release and how we can get cooking up some simple and healthy treats all the family will enjoy.

The premise behind Eat Happy is that all recipes can be prepped and cooked within 30 minutes (and many only use one pan), which is a godsend for busy parents. What would be your favourite recipe to cook for a big family meal that even fussy children would enjoy?

Every recipe is designed to be fuss-free, quick and easy so take your pick! Interestingly, people often tell me their partners and more fussy than their kids! For me, I often make a decision based on what needs using up in the fridge and cupboards. My Chinese egg fried quinoa is perfect for the whole family and great for fridge flexibility too. Chop any leftover veg up throw into the pan with garlic and leftover quinoa and, while it gets crispy and hot through, mix up a spicy sesame oil to drizzle over the top for those that want a chilli hit. Then, because a fried egg is always a good idea, fry one up in the same pan, season with a bit of tamari. You could add some leftover chicken from a roast or flake in some fish too.

Almost every recipe can be doubled and frozen so that good-food is always accessible when you’re in a hurry and time can be spent enjoying the food rather than cooking it.

I’ve got four god children and they love the one-pan chicken veg pesto as well the Spanish chickpea & almond stew. Normally people say soups and stews are boring but everyone likes this. I put out a bowl of crumbled feta and the toasted almonds and everyone likes to help themselves to those.

How did the recipes in Eat Happy come about? Did you start with breakfast recipes and work from there?

My friends and loved ones inspired my Eat Happy recipes. They would come to me for quick and easy meals that they didn’t need to really pre-plan or think about after a long day at work.

I’ve learnt that the things that put people off home cooking are not enough time and too much washing up, so I made a cookbook that banished both of those things and made cooking good food accessible, exciting and fuss-free!

Eat Happy is feel-good food and that’s different for everyone so I had great fun taking inspo from lots of people, putting my spin on the most popular takeaways and comfort foods too with attention for fast breakfasts but also much requested packed lunches and then speedy suppers too.

In terms of your takes on the classics, including Pad Thai noodles and cottage pie, what thought process went into putting your own spin on these?

So often people choose to get a takeaway because they can’t be faffed with cooking when they get home and they want something comforting and easy with no washing up. I wanted to recreate that ease for people but with the enjoyment of cooking it yourself with minimal ingredients. I’ve got pad thais, curries, pizzas, fish & chips, the works…

I crowdsource too: I ask my friends what they’re cooking tonight or craving and what their kids ask for. I look on social media to see what recipes from my other books (with Jas) that they make the most!

Bowl food, soups and stews, are a big section of the book. We’re particular fans of the ‘waste not want not bowl’ that ensures we get a good balance of protein, vitamins and carbs. What are you best tips for getting the healthy balance right in day-to-day life?

Eat a variety of foods. Home cook regularly so you know what you’re eating and listen to your body. Gravitate towards foods that make you feel good, not everyone likes kale!

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When it comes to waste and efficiency (and not just in the washing up department), we’re all guilty of throwing away food. What are some good practices to break these bad habits?

My love for leftovers is also reflected in the book as I really wanted to share my own ethos. The recipes incorporate the parts of the vegetables you would normally throw away and instead show you how to celebrate and make the most of every part!

Almost every recipe can be doubled and frozen so that good-food is always accessible when you’re in a hurry and time can be spent enjoying the food rather than cooking it. Batch cooking, especially when you’re time poor or are feeding a big family can be really helpful in cutting down on food waste as well as of course, time in the kitchen.

My mum used to make a big soup every Sunday to use up any odds and ends and this is something I still do.

The book’s photography and your Instagram make Eat Happy’s recipes look beautiful. Do you have any advice on making food look enticing and presentable?

Go for colour, eat the rainbow! Your plate looks more enticing and you’ll lean towards eating more variety. Often, I eat delicious but not particularly attractive brown lentil soups but a flash of colour and flavour from a one-minute chopped or blitzed herb pesto makes all the difference.

The book is very relaxed in terms of swapping ingredients in and out. For us novices, are there any key ingredients we should always have in for trying to recreate your recipes?

I’m not precious with my recipes; if you don’t have all of the ingredients, play around and use what you’ve got!

Key ingredients: I keep a ‘flavour station’ close to hand so that I don’t have to go searching in cupboards every time I cook. It contains

  • sea salt
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • coconut oil
  • apple cider vinegar
  • chilli flakes
  • pepper
  • tamari
  • my favourite spice mixes – a good curry powder and a harissa spice mix for instant flavour
  • lemons
  • garlic
  • ginger (the ultimate all rounder – from juices and smoothies, to porridge and crumbles and cakes,  dips, salad dressings, salsas through to cocktails!)

Then in the fridge I’ve got miso and tomato puree and leafy greens. In the freezer I keep broccoli, cauliflower, peas, spinach, green beans so I’ve always got veg on hand.

The basic ‘how tos’ towards the end of the book are super helpful. Where did you pick up the basics? How much of it was trial and error?

Much of it trial and error as I’m not a trained cook.  Thinking about what my friends Whatsapp me inspired by ‘kitchen saves’. They’d message me ‘help! my curry is too spicy! ’ or ‘ my stew is too thin’ or ‘it’s too salty’, so I collated those tips for them.

Almost every recipe in the book has a helpful tip: either a ‘use it up’ to help you avoid food waste or a ‘time saver tip’.

Upon the release of Eat Happy, you’re probably in need of a well-earned rest. What’s next for you? Does 2018 have a clear direction in what you’d like to achieve next?

As it’s my third book now, I promised myself to slow down a bit! So I’ve spaced out my book touring and I now make sure I make time for fun and extra days in cities when I visit!

I’ve been presenting a podcast since January called Live. Life. Better. with Penguin Books and the seven episodes cover topics like self care, empathy, sleep, relationships, I really recommend it. I’ve had some fascinating inspiring guests including Dolly Alderton, Judy Murray and a Japanese Monk called Shoukei Matsumoto talking about his guide to a clean home & clean mind!

I love giving cooking classes and have recently renovated a old Victorian wreck in east London ,so looking forward to hosting lots of people there and cooking up a storm. I’ll be busy for the rest of the year carrying on my book tour internationally, enjoying lots of food & literary festivals, and cooking up a storm!

To buy the book, click here

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