Deliciously Ella: ‘Broccoli is great – but broccoli isn't the answer to everything'
Plant-based cook Ella Mills chats to Prudence Wade about juggling family, work and healthy living
OFTEN seen as a poster girl for wellness, Ella Mills – otherwise known as ‘Deliciously Ella’ – actually isn’t too keen on the term.
“I do think the conversation has become quite charged, quite loaded,” she says thoughtfully. “Even the word ‘wellness’ sometimes makes people think of weird and wacky things in LA, with shamans and cleanses. When you hear it, you don’t necessarily think of going for a walk and then making a bean chilli, which feels more within your remit.
“The wonderful and wacky make more interesting stories, which I so appreciate,” she adds, “but the reality is, I think in most people’s eyes, what we need is a meal that’s pretty easy to make and you can make a really big batch of, and then just chuck in the freezer.”
With her latest cookbook, Deliciously Ella Quick & Easy, Mills wants to help make wellness healthy eating feel less alienating. And the fact it’s built around speedy recipes is no coincidence – she and her husband and business partner, Matt, welcomed her first child, Skye, last year.
The book may be all about ease – but it was born out of blood, sweat and tears. Mills is honest about her struggles writing it, saying frankly: “This cookbook has actually been on a personal and emotional level, the hardest project I’ve ever done. I went back to work with it four weeks after Skye was born, so I was pretty all over the shop at that point.”
Mills loves the end result though, “because it really feels truly reflective of such an important time”.
With a baby, another on the way, and a business to run, Mills has a new appreciation for how simple wellness should – and can – be.
“It’s going on a walk or doing a five-minute meditation,” says the 29-year-old. “It’s not the big, expensive, complicated, time-consuming things, it’s the simple, everyday practices that you can have in your life to help you feel happier, calmer, healthier, more energised.”
She emphasises how cheap and easy things like chickpea stews and lentil dals can be, and her efforts to make recipes that are more accessible are admirable.
Still, some might struggle to shake their preconceptions of Mills as the granddaughter of Lord Sainsbury, and the fact her first book back in 2015 was seen as a big part of the widely criticised ‘clean eating’ movement – something she has since distanced herself from.
The majority of the recipes in this book involve affordable, hearty ingredients – but this is still Deliciously Ella; you can’t help but notice the odd thing many people probably wouldn’t be able to get at their local corner shop, like tapioca flour and tahini.
Food is obviously a big part of Mills’s ethos, but she’s started seeing it as just one part of a bigger picture. Each chapter in the new book explores a different issue, whether it’s mental health or the environment – wider interests which have been piqued by her podcast series interviewing various experts.
“The way that we eat is so linked to so many other things,” Mills explains. “We too often look at our diet and the way we eat in isolation, and actually, I’m not sure that’s helpful to any of us.
"The way we live and the way we eat is so reflective, and often when people think about getting healthier and making a change in the way they’re eating, they go first and foremost to their diet. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s what I did as well. But at the same time, there’s so much more to it. Broccoli is great, but broccoli isn’t the answer to everything.”
Instead, Mills says she’s interested in wellness (for lack of a better word) as a whole – how your mental health can affect your gut, the impact sleep has on your wellbeing, even analysing your relationship to people and the world around you as a whole.
“I think it’s increasingly important to look at all of it in context, and not get too overly focused on one thing or another,” she says.
So, if you do want to have a healthier lifestyle, it’s worth looking at all aspects of it – not just diet. Mills’s top piece of advice for making positive changes and sticking to them is finding what works for you.
“So much comes back to what you actually enjoy, because nothing lasts if you don’t enjoy it. Nothing is sustainable for the long term in your life if there’s no pleasure in it, and I think that’s the fundamental difference between trying to eat well and taking care of yourself for the long-term, and a diet.”
Ultimately, Mills is looking to the future: “Our mental and physical health isn’t something we want for the next week. It’s something that we want for decades.”
Deliciously Ella Quick & Easy: Plant-based Deliciousness by Ella Mills, recipe photography by Nassima Rothacker, is published by Yellow Kite, priced £25. Below are two recipes from the book for you to try.
SPINACH AND CHICKPEA CURRY
(Serves 4 with rice)
1tbsp coconut oil
1 onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 × 400g tin of coconut milk
A 2.5cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1tsp mustard seeds
1tsp ground coriander
1tbsp medium curry powder
1tbsp ground cumin
24 cherry tomatoes, sliced
2 × 400g tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2tbsp plain yoghurt (we use a pure coconut yoghurt)
Pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
Salt and pepper
Put the coconut oil into a large saucepan with the onion, garlic and celery, and some salt and pepper, and let them cook on a medium heat for five to 10 minutes, until the celery and onion have softened.
In a separate pan, wilt 100g of spinach with a splash of boiling water. Once wilted, add half the coconut milk and use a hand blender to blitz the spinach, so that it’s smooth.
Once the celery and onion have softened, add the ginger, mustard seeds, coriander, curry powder and cumin. Let the spices toast for a minute or so before adding the puréed spinach, cherry tomatoes, chickpeas and the rest of the coconut milk, plus a big sprinkling of salt and lots of pepper.
Turn the heat up so that it starts bubbling, then turn down to a simmer. Simmer for 15–20 minutes, adding the rest of the spinach for the final few minutes. Once the spinach has wilted, add a squeeze of lemon and the yoghurt plus a sprinkling of chilli flakes, if you’re using them, and serve.
MUSHROOM AND WALNUT RAGU
(Serves 4, with a little left over)
20g dried porcini mushrooms
250ml boiling water
1 onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
2 celery stalks, finely diced
400g chestnut or button mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 red pepper, deseeded and diced
1tsp dried thyme
1tsp dried oregano
1tsp dried rosemary
1 × 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
1tbsp tomato purée
1–2tbsp nutritional yeast
4 portions of pasta (about 80g per person)
Salt and pepper
Handful of chopped parsley, to serve
Soak the dried mushrooms in a bowl with the boiling water for 20 minutes. Drain well (but keep the liquid), then cut them into small pieces.
Meanwhile, chop the walnuts into tiny pieces – they need to look like large breadcrumbs. Place them in a large, deep frying pan over a medium heat and toast for about five minutes, until golden, stirring every now and again. Once toasted, remove from the heat and spoon into a bowl. Place the frying pan back on the heat.
Add the onion, garlic and celery to the frying pan, along with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Cook for five to 10 minutes, until soft.
Add the fresh mushrooms and red pepper, with the thyme, oregano and rosemary, and cook for about five minutes, until soft.
Stir in the chopped tomatoes, tomato purée, tamari and dried mushrooms with their water. Leave to simmer for 10–15 minutes – you want the ragu to be thick and have lost the excess liquid. Stir in the walnuts and nutritional yeast and leave them to cook in the sauce for a final five minutes.
While the ragu is simmering, cook your pasta in a pan of boiling water, following the instructions on the packet. Drain well then stir into the ragu once both are ready. Serve with a sprinkling of chopped parsley.