Life

Melissa Hemsley's happy meals

Ella Walker talks to food writer Melissa Hemsley about borrowing her mum's recipes and removing the pressure and guilt from cooking

Melissa Hemsley has just published her debut solo recipe collection, Eat Happy

MELISSA Hemsley is quite probably the reason your kitchen contains a spiralizer.

She and her elder sister Jasmine, food caterers-turned-Vogue bloggers and cookbook writers Hemsley + Hemsley (The Art Of Eating Well, Good + Simple), pioneered the thing.

Now, London-based Hemsley is branching out alone, with her debut solo recipe collection, Eat Happy. "Every time I say it I have to do jazz hands," says the 32-year-old with a laugh.

The crux of the book is to make cooking as simple and stress-free as possible.

"What are people's main objections to cooking?" she considers.

"It takes too long: OK, I can make it take 30 minutes – and with a lot of the recipes, you can do the work then go hang up the laundry or have a shower, then sit on the sofa and eat it when you're relaxed."

She's also tackling mountains of washing up ("There's only one pan!"), soggy leftovers for packed lunches, having to shop around ("I use store cupboard ingredients you can get in a corner shop") and getting more veg in "without putting on another pan to boil a bit of broccoli".

Ease aside, the book is underpinned by an acute awareness of food waste and its implications.

She reckons taking responsibility for wasting food is something we're more conscious of than ever.

"Back in the day, if you were good about waste, you were quite angelic, now it's terrible to throw away food and, quite rightly, you feel awful doing it. On the positive side, you feel amazing using stuff up. It's really satisfying.

"I hate taking the bin out, so if I can put even less in it and avoid taking it out as much as possible, I'm up for that."

She's always looking for nifty ways to transform leftovers into dishes that are as "special" as their original incarnation.

"Say you have leftover sweet potato wedges or roast squash, you might be like, 'Oh, this is quite boring', but fry them up with some butter and harissa spice and suddenly they're incredible," she buzzes.

It's part of what makes Eat Happy a Melissa book, not a Hemsley + Hemsley book, as well as the fact Melissa's taste buds are firmly in charge.

"For instance, I haven't got a massive sweet tooth (although she does recommend her banoffee pie in a glass)," she explains.

"I LOVE a takeaway. I don't often feel great when I eat one; they don't quite hit the spot, so I have recipes for a chicken katsu curry, a pad Thai, a buckwheat pizza."

Despite criticism the Hemsleys have received for being aligned with the clean-eating movement, and lacking cheffing and nutritional qualifications, she is utterly opposed to the current culture of guilt around food.

"I love a positive goal and things that make me feel happy – like, 'Clear that cupboard out', but I don't say, 'I'm going to change everything about myself'."

Instead of going on a crash diet, or bullying yourself into a month without alcohol or meat, she says, why not make an effort to fill up your freezer with home-cooked meals once a month instead?

Use your ingredients in a different way, or buy less to begin with and meal-plan – "and then go spend that money you've saved on a dress – that's what I'd do!"

:: Eat Happy: 30-minute Feelgood Food by Melissa Hemsley, photography by Issy Croker, is published by Ebury Press, priced £20.

:: How to make Melissa Hemsley's Spanish chickpea and almond stew

Ingredients (Serves 4):

3tbsp chopped or flaked almonds

1 1/2tbsp butter or ghee

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 large red or orange pepper, deseeded and chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2tsp ground cumin

2tsp smoked paprika

1/4tsp cayenne pepper

1 large handful of fresh parsley, stalks finely chopped and leaves roughly chopped

1tbsp tomato puree

2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes

2 x 400g tins of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

100ml stock or water (optional)

250g spinach

1tbsp lemon juice

Sea salt and black pepper

Extra-virgin olive oil, to serve

Method:

1. In a large, deep frying pan, toast the almonds over a medium heat for just under a minute until golden, then set aside. Melt the butter in the hot pan, add the onion and pepper and fry for six minutes until starting to soften.

2. Add the garlic, spices and parsley stalks and fry for one minute, stirring constantly to prevent them from burning, then add the tomato puree and cook for another 30 seconds.

3. Tip the tinned tomatoes into the pan, turn up the heat to a medium simmer and cook for 15 minutes, uncovered, to thicken and reduce. Add the chickpeas and cook for another three minutes with a lid on. If you want the stew to be more soup-like, add the stock.

4. Turn up the heat, drop in the spinach and cook for one minute, covered with the lid, then add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

5. Serve each bowl with a good drizzle of olive oil and with the parsley leaves and toasted almonds scattered over.

:: How to make Melissa Hemsley's little chocolate pots

Ingredients (Serves 4):

180ml any milk

140g dark (70 – 85%) chocolate, broken into squares

3tbsp maple syrup

1 egg

1tsp vanilla extract

To serve:

Sea salt flakes

1 handful of fresh raspberries or cherries or a mixture

Method:

1. Gently heat the milk in a saucepan for about 45 seconds until hot all the way through.

2. Place 120g of the chocolate in a high-powered blender or food processor with the maple syrup, egg and vanilla extract.

3. Very carefully pour a quarter of the hot milk into the blender or food processor (or use a ladle, if you prefer) and blend until smooth, then repeat, adding a quarter of the milk at a time, until all the milk is combined and the mixture is silky smooth. You need to add the hot milk slowly so that it doesn't scramble the egg.

4. Pour into four small ramekins or glasses and leave in the fridge for a minimum of one-and-a-half hours, or one hour in the freezer, to set.

5. When you're ready to serve, grate over the remaining dark chocolate or top with a sprinkling of sea salt flakes or a few fresh raspberries or cherries.

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