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Muddy meets Melissa Hemsley

Melissa Hemsley spills the beans (then whips them up into a tasty frittata) on her new book Eat Green, wasting less food and how she always manages to look so damn glowy.

Pic credit: Sarah Malcolm

Feel like you’re forever guiltily throwing unused in the bin? Real food queen Melissa Hemsley has just published her fourth book Eat Green (Ebury Press £20) with over 100 family-friendly flexitarian recipes to help cut back on food waste in the kitchen. It’s full of ideas for using up leftovers, and has swaps for fussy eaters along with ideas to make less but better-quality meat and fish go further. Hearing on the grapevine she’s coming to River Cottage next month, Muddy tracked her down to her London kitchen where by the sounds of it she’d been cooking since dawn with her mum for a photoshoot.

Can I confess I’m not much of a cook? My husband does it all.

Ha, he’s your enabler! I think in a way it’s harder if you live with someone who’s really good as it makes you feel worse about your own. Eat Green is for… I’m not going to say you are hopeless cook but you’re my target audience! I think everyone can cook – I didn’t start till I was 20 and by 24 I had a food career. Honestly, it’s just practice.

My excuse is I’m too busy – three kids, full-time work – no time to plan what I’m buying.

My friends always say, ‘You don’t get it because you’re not a mum’ but I’ve got four god-kids and each of my recipes is tested by four different people (all my mum’s friends) who are living in households with fussy eaters, and are too busy to make special food shops so they need to get ingredients from the local places they’re likely to swing by. You can get kids more invested in their food by asking them what their fave dishes are then sneak more veg into family-friendly versions. Or by cooking lots in advance and pack it into the freezer. I always make lots of cookie dough, shape it into a sausage so I can just get it out, chop it up and put straight into the oven.

I bet you never have any really bad cooking disasters though?

I always seem to have a disaster when I’m cooking with beetroot – it stains everything. I think unless it’s burnt you can usually save it. I remember once I was cooking for journalists and I was really nervous and I put chilli in, then forgot and put more in. But it was okay because I just added loads more of everything else – more coconut milk saved the day. Even if you’ve burnt the bottom of a stew, as long as you don’t panic and don’t scrape at it you can just pour the unburnt bit into another pan and no-one need know.

What’s the idea with Eat Green?

Growing up, my dad was in the army, so we grew up on army bases, we had no money and my mum who was born in the Philippines was all about making food from what we had. The number one rule was respect food and never waste it. But according to the UN one third of food gets wasted, and it’s not just supermarkets, 85% of it is happening at home. Like at Christmas, you’re scared of not having enough and then stuff gets thrown out unused – apparently it’s one bag in every seven that gets chucked away. Now we’re all becoming more aware of the impact and want to be greener, and the kitchen is the easiest place to get started. When I was doing book tours for Eat Happy, people would ask me for more Monday night dinner recipes – basically using the leftovers from the weekend and so I persuaded my publisher to let me write this one.

What foods are we wasting most?

I did my own research into what we throw away and came up with 13 most wasted groups of ingredients, including things like salad, the parts of veg we chop off and put in the compost bin we could cook, like cauliflower leaves which are delicious. It’s like spring onions when you watch TV chefs using them they only ever use the tips but the whole thing can be used. Have you ever cooked lettuce leaves? Braised lettuce leaves and peas Chinese style is amazing. I’m an omnivore so I eat meat, but I’d rather buy less meat of a better quality. Instead of saying what shall we eat tonight – chicken or beef etc – put veg at the centre of your plate and have some meat with the dish instead. At least once a week I make a Fridge Raid Frittata with leftover veg: broccoli stalks and veg, any cheese, herbs and cover with eggs. 

You always look so damn glowy – do you think it’s all the good food you eat?

You’re too kind! Food plays a massive part in being healthy but actually I think sleep is really important. And you sleep better if your mental health is good – that’s why I love to cook, and get out and visit farms (I’d love to move to Devon). If I want to get a good night’s sleep I’ll make what I call a ‘granny dinner’ that’d done by 7pm and then get an early night.

What’s your desert island ingredient?

Have you heard of Hodmedods in Suffolk? They grow forgotten grains and pulses in the UK and have a collective of farms they source from. If I’ve been out cooking all day and am tired I will often use their fava bean umami bean paste – it’s really delicious and savoury, good for flavouring gravies, stews and Asian style cooking. Also, I recently found out Happy Ghee Butter comes from Devon – I love it.

What’s your tipple?

I’m a simple girl – I like a gin or a glass of red wine. I’m getting into English wines. I’ve just realised looking at the bottle it’s another Devon winner (Taste of the West 2019) – Thunderflower Gin.

Where do you eat out when you’re in Devon?

I love Shell Bay – I know that’s Dorset but it’s an amazing seafood restaurant you have to get to by ferry. I’ve been going to Riverford Field Kitchen for years and Geetie Singh-Watson’s new Bull Inn in Totnes is amazing. I had a sensational breakfast there – a frittata with poached eggs. They think of everything and I love anywhere that makes the effort. Stunning decor, lovely herbal teas in the room and the place smelt wonderful.

Guy Watson of Devon’s Riverford gave you a book review. Are you a fan? 

Yes, I first got a veg box from Riverford ten years ago – they’re less muddy now – it’s amazing we should mind mud when it shows how fresh the food is! I think it keeps food exciting to change it up, and food tastes better in season. I’d much rather have a tomato in summer than a tasteless bland one now just because it says to use it in the recipe. Eating seasonally reconnects you to nature too.

Best food to impress a Valentine date?

Ooh, that’s a challenge! How about my salted tahini chocolate chip cookies? I’ve been taking them with me talking to journalists all week and everyone loves them. They’re half and half tahini and nut butter, with fair-trade vanilla sprinkled with sesame seeds and you can stuff them with pistachio or dates. You can make a vegan version too.

Tell us about what you’re cooking up for River Cottage?

I’ll be coming down in the afternoon to cook with chefs Gelf and Dom and we’ll probably decide a couple of weeks before exactly whats’s cooking based on what they’re pulling up fresh from the garden. There will probably be wild garlic, and spring greens, young shoots given the time of year. I like a variety of textures so at this time of year it will be hearty and warm, pickled and fresh. Everyone arrives on the tractor for about 6pm for cocktails and canapés, then we’ll be sitting down in the yurt for a five-course dinner. I’ll be there chatting through each course as we serve it, explaining what it is and I’ll be signing books. Maybe I’ll get to drive the tractor – I like to get involved!

 

Want a taste of Melissa’s fabulous cooking without the hard work? Of course you do! Book in for her five-course dinner at River Cottage on Friday 13 March – Muddy readers can get a £20 discount on the ticket with the promo code MUDDY. And if you fancy getting your oven mitts on a signed copy of Eat Green, head over to Muddy’s instagram now.

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