Melissa Hemsley on new book Eat Green, tackling food waste and her favourite London restaurants

Anna Barnett
Philippa Langley

Melissa Hemsely's new book, Eat Green, guides the reader through a more flexitarian approach to cooking with quick, seasonal, mouthwateringly good recipes.

Beyond the dishes are lifestyle hacks and green living tips, like where to shop, advice on bulk buying and places in London that provide refills. There’s even a page dedicated to her mum’s tips which encourage a no-waste approach to cooking, plus an A-Z of what to do with ‘Odds, Ends and Leftovers'.

It's a charming handbook of great recipes with minimal environmental impact. Filled with all day breakfasts, family favourites and decadent puddings alongside meals that can be made in 30 minutes or less and some inventive small plate ideas.

At its core, Eat Green is a guide to culinary success and is a must have for anyone keen to nourish themselves and those around them with sustainability in mind.

Here, Hemsley chats to us about building a career in food

Where do you spend the most of your time?

I live in Leytonstone in East London where I’m still renovating a home with my boyfriend Henry (3.5 years and counting). We live with our dog Nelly and our place is always full of hungry friends and family squeezed around the kitchen table. I write my cookbooks at the kitchen table and give cookery classes here, which are always very fun, quite Ready Steady Cook as we cook what needs eating up and what’s in season. I love leftovers and love to freestyle!

Was there a lightbulb moment when you knew you wanted to work with food?

I totally fell into it as a job. I’ve always enjoyed feeding friends and I only started cooking thanks to friends letting me stay on their sofas when I started working full time age 18. On my first day of private cheffing for a band, I realised how much I loved it and for me, nothing beats cooking a meal from scratch and seeing people light up after a feel-good meal.

Why have you written this book?

Eat Green is a book that is years in the making and I’m really thrilled with it. Most of us know by now that what and how we eat has an impact on our environment and our health, right? But it can feel very daunting to know how to eat in a way that is better for our planet and our bodies. I realise that living a lifestyle that is 100 per cent zero waste or 100 per cent sustainable is unrealistic, so I wanted to write a book that is a helping hand in the first steps to a more sustainable way of eating.

It's a practical cookbook that is stuffed with delicious, joyful, easy, everyday recipes for absolutely everyone, whether you eat meat, you’re vegetarian or something in between. I want to promote a relaxed way of cooking that teaches you how to be flexible in how you buy, cook and use up food so that you put a wider variety of UK-grown, seasonal vegetables (which tends to be more affordable and tastier) at the centre of your plate, eat less meat and cut right down on food waste. All while prioritising flavour at the top of the list. These, I think, are the ingredients to a more planet-friendly way of eating that we can all enjoy and sustain.

(Philippa Langley )

What ingredient could you not live without?

I’m all about having trusty store cupboard staples to make regular home cooking easier and more enjoyable. Convenient tins of cooked beans and pulses are great and I turn to them regularly. It’s all too easy to turn to chickpeas or the same type of bean for every meal, but variety is the spice of life so take a chance on a new bean! Check out HODMEDODS (the British pulse pioneers who are growing forgotten grains and pulses like Carlin Peas which make a great sub for chickpeas). I’ve got a red lentil hummus in my book which is so delicious, easy to make and is as frugal and tasty as chickpeas. Lentils are also brilliant to use in a meat-free bolognese, in curries and soups, or added to veg balls or fritters and packed lunch salads.

What’s your ultimate cooking hack?

I’m a big fan of cauliflower at this time of year. My favourite way to eat it in the winter months is in this zero-waste golden cauliflower soup. It uses all the bits you might throw away, with fried cauliflower leaves giving a lovely crunch. The whole cauli is used in all its glory and goes in along with turmeric, ginger and some beans to make a creamy hearty base. Perfect for making a big batch and freezing for a rainy day.

What's your favourite quick midweek/no fuss meal?

I always look to my fridge for inspiration when I’m busy or if I haven’t had time to go shopping and need something quick, nourishing and tasty. Some of the best and tastiest dinners I’ve ever made have been ‘fridge raids’ and lots of the recipes in Eat Green have come from this. One of my favourites is my Fridge Raid Frittata.

The beauty of a frittata is that anything goes – really it does! In Eat Green, I’ve used broccoli in all its glory, stems and stalks and all, with garlic and a couple of handfuls of cheese, but you can let whatever is in your fridge take the lead. I sometimes throw in fresh herbs, wild garlic when it’s in season or chilli. It’s also divine with cauliflower and tastes a bit like cauliflower cheese.

Tell us your ultimate dinner party dish?


The best celebrations are the ones that are unfussy and relaxed. One of my favourites from the book is my Dosa-style Pancakes and Veg Masala with chilli herb chutney. It’s colourful, easy to adapt depending on the seasons, and the spices fill your kitchen with delicious smells and it very much has an element of help yourself and pass it along, which I love when I’ve got people around the table. Or I’d make chermoula cauliflower on a green bean dip with a beautiful red cabbage slaw. I’d definitely follow up with the tahini choc chip cookies (recipe below).

(Philippa Langley )

Who is exciting you in the world of food right now?

Seeing food waste being celebrated on menus around London. SILO London is trail blazing this. I’d really recommend everyone checking out Doug McMaster and his restaurant SILO (previously Brighton for five years).

Who has influenced you and your approach to food the most?

I’ve always been an adventurous eater. I have an eclectic way of cooking thanks to the way my Filipino mum cooked (often a hybrid of Asian and British dishes), growing up in England and Germany where I fell in love with sauerkraut and greens, and having access to the huge diversity of foods London has to offer.

When I left home at age 18, I missed mum’s home-cooking so much I taught myself to cook, asking mum for advice and seeking out recipes to cook for friends who were letting me stay with them in London while I was working my first job and I’d thank them by making them their dinner.

I’m lucky that my mum taught me the value of food. Growing up her mantra was ‘every grain of rice’ whether it was on the plate, fallen onto the table or stuck onto the spoon. She always cooked thriftily. Often on a Sunday, the fridge was emptied into the soup pot – to this day soup is my favourite of comfort dishes – and she always got it to taste delicious. From the time I started cooking for myself, I’ve taken on her waste-free approach, reinventing leftovers, raiding my fridge and seeking out in-season foods, which have dictated how I cook – simple and seasonal, feel-good and delicious. Mum’s always right!

Top 3 favourite restaurants?

Native, Southwark

I love their menu that champions zero-waste and foraged foods, as well as wild game and biodynamic wines. The menu changes regularly with the seasons but if it’s on, you should also try the South Downs venison and any - actually all - of their desserts.

Stoney Street, Borough Market.

From the team behind 26 Grains and with head chef and master baker Henrietta Inman, this is one of my favourite veg-centric restaurants to go. A real emphasis on seasonal, local veg.

Plates, Shoreditch

A creative food studio and restaurant, Plates opens to the public on Saturdays. They’ve got a beautiful space, which is so worth the visit and Chef Kirk Haworth makes plant-based food that is so tasty beautifully presented.

Spring, Soho

Another all time favourite is Skye Gyngell’s Spring and specifically her early evening scratch menu.

Tahini Choc Chip Cookies

(Philippa Langley )

Makes 16 cookies, takes 25 mins.

The vegan version of these are just as delicious, none of us can decide which we love the most. Store these cakey cookies in an airtight container for 5 days.

You could warm them briefly in the oven to give them a little crispening boost.

The dough freezes well so double up and save half for a rainy day. Just defrost, then slice into portions before putting in the oven.

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 4 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 150g light tahini
  • 110g smooth nut butter
  • 100g good-quality dark chocolate, broken up into squares, or chips
  • 30g black and white sesame seeds
  • pinch of sea salt

Flexi Swap: for vegans, replace the two eggs with one large mashed ripe banana. You can also swap the nut butter for the same amount of a seed butter or tahini for a nut-free alternative.and/or white sesame seeds.

Method

Preheat the oven to fan 170°C/gas mark 5. Line a large baking tray with reusable baking paper.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs then mix in the baking powder, maple syrup and vanilla extract. Add the tahini and nut butter and mix together until very well combined.

Roughly chop the chocolate (if not using chips) and fold through the batter along with the sesame seeds.

Measure out 16 balls of the cookie batter, roughly 1 tablespoon each, and bake for 10–15 minutes on the lined baking tray (making sure to leave a little room between each one) until the cookies are just set. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with a little sea salt and allow to cool on a wire rack before serving.

This recipe is an extract from Eat Green by Melissa Hemsley (Ebury Press, £22), buy it here. Photography by Philippa Langley. Follow Melissa on Instagram @Melissa.Hemsley.

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