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Celebrity Health – Melissa Hemsley

Melissa Hemsley talks to Liz Parry about her new book, which celebrates the joy and comfort of cooking

Images of Melissa Hemsley © Sarah Malcolm

Chef and cookbook author Melissa Hemsley began her career as a private chef for international actors and bands along with her sister Jasmine. The pair went on to present their own TV cookery show, Hemsley & Hemsley: Healthy and Delicious, and published two bestselling books. Melissa’s latest book, Feel Good, is a collection of easy and uplifting recipes to help you feel your best.

Q Tell us about your new book

Melissa: My aim was to come up with recipes that feel as good as a feast but don’t involve a lot of stress and hard work. I wanted to explore all the ways that you can feel good around food, from planning meals to the act of cooking and preparing, and then the way you feel afterwards. There are recipes for those days when you’re running in the door and you need to pull something together in 15 minutes. So they will be simple to make but absolutely delicious and satisfying. And then I have meals for those days where you have an hour spare and you can do some batch cooking or meal planning. I want to encourage people to enjoy cooking, to really feel good about it, and to increase their confidence.

Q Do you think that many people lack confidence when it comes to cooking?

Melissa: In my experience, yes. I do a lot of cooking classes and tutorials and I meet a lot of people who lack confidence in their cookery skills. It’s amazing how I can spend a couple of hours cooking with somebody and watch their confidence bloom. I feel that it’s my job to help people realise that cooking can be easy, delicious, hearty and satisfying. I take it very seriously. Every recipe has got to be very tasty. It’s got to hit the spot.

Q Can you give us an example of a quick but healthy and hearty recipe?

Melissa: There’s one called Store Cupboard Soup with five different toppings. It’s based on cupboard ingredients like tinned tomatoes, chickpeas or beans, and pasta. It’s so hearty and comforting. You make up a big batch, which takes half an hour, and freeze it into portions. Then every time you reheat your portion, you add different things. So you might add some harissa-spiced sticky nuts, or a pesto swirl and a big handful of rocket. Another day you could fry up some mushrooms with sage or add a soft-boiled egg. It’s mix and match. You could take it into work in a thermos for lunch or it could be the basis of a delicious supper.

Q Do you have any favourite ingredients that you simply can’t live without?

Melissa: Oh yes! I’m going to say ginger. I normally brew up a big pan of ginger about twice a week and then I use it in cooking. I’ll add a ladleful to a soup and I’ll drink it as hot tea with honey and lemon. On a warm day I’ll chill it and have it with a little bit of gin and some sparkling water. Or I might add some lime juice and make a little lime gingerade. I’ve got a really nice ginger-tahini dressing in the book. I think that ginger is such a fantastic, versatile ingredient.

Q Any other favourites?

Melissa: I also love leafy greens. They’re good for our physical health, mental health and brain health. A lot of leafy greens go off quickly and they can be expensive. So they’re the ones that I try and include at every meal. That could be whizzing a handful into a smoothie, or chopping some into a frittata for a grab-and-go frittata muffin. At lunchtime I might blitz some into a soup or chop them through a quinoa salad. I do try to add some greens to every meal.

Q Can you give us an idea of what you might eat during a typical day?

Melissa: Well, last night I had salmon which I baked in a tray with half a jar of cannellini beans. I did another tray of roasted vegetables and I used whatever was left in the fridge. So I had some peppers, broccoli and kale. And then I cooked up some tricolore quinoa because I like the nuttiness from the red and black quinoa. For lunch today I had the cannellini beans that I didn’t cook, and I blitzed them with some watercress, mint and frozen peas. I made a quick five-minute green soup. I was in a bit of a rush so I drank it out of a mug. For dinner tonight I’ll probably use the leftover roast veg which I’ll fry up with the leftover quinoa and I’ll add in some scrambled egg.

Q You certainly don’t waste anything when you’re cooking! Is that something that’s important to you?

Melissa: Yes, it’s really important to me. I feel lucky that my mum brought me up with an awareness about it. My mum is from the Philippines and she came from quite a poor family with a lot of kids and you just didn’t waste a thing. My dad is from an army background where every paperclip is saved because it’s got another purpose. Everything is saved. And with my mum, everything is cherished. When I was a kid, it was a little bit annoying because I wanted to eat fish fingers or cereal and my mum would be giving us smoked mackerel on rye toast for breakfast because it’s good for our brains. And we didn’t get fish fingers for dinner because we’d have leftover vegetables. So when I was a kid, I was annoyed, but now I thank my lucky stars that my mum instilled that in me because I think it’s a great value to have. As a family we probably saved so much money from not wasting food and she was a great cook, so the food was always delicious.

Q It’s clearly a passion of yours.

Melissa: I think it’s so important because we’ve got to watch our pennies and we’ve got to look after the planet. Wasting food just wastes resources. A third of the food grown in this country is wasted and that is just tragic. We now have a hunger epidemic and we’ve never had so many people at food banks urgently requesting help. So, the thought of wasting food makes me really sad. I’d love to see more TV chefs and more cookery shows talking about the amazing things you can do with leftovers. Once you do one meal you’ll feel so confident with what you’ve created from just leftovers that you’ll want to try it again.

Feel Good: Quick and Easy Recipes for Comfort and Joy by Melissa Hemsley is published by Ebury Press, priced at £22 for hardback.

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