Waste not, want...Greens!
Melissa Hemsley is one-half of the Hemsleys, the bestselling authors of The Art of Eating Well and Good + Simple with a London café HEMSLEY + HEMSLEY at Selfridges in London. Melissa champions fuss-free, big-flavoured food and shows how anyone can enjoying cooking affordable, healthy recipes. As part of our 'Health and Wellbeing' focus, Melissa talks exclusively with Craig Maplesden about her positive memories of food growing up, how to avoid food waste as well as save money, plus substituting meat for greens
Thank you for taking the time to chat to me, I hope you are well and everyone has stayed safe. What are your earliest food memories?
Thanks Craig, hope your loved ones are well and thank you so much for asking me some lovely questions!
My Mum peeling the heads and tails off small sweet prawns then dipping them in vinegar and feeding them to me with her hands! I remember the feeling of my legs on the scratchy carpet. I still love eating with my hands, always preferred hands over knives and fork!
Do you think having positive early memories of food, and cooking, help develop a healthy relationship with food in the future?
Yes. I wish I’d had cooking classes at school and I think if people wanted too, that it would be great to have more free cookery community classes because lots of people tell me they lack the confidence in the kitchen and once they get to the end of a long tiring day, the last thing they want is to get in the kitchen and have to ‘tackle a recipe’ and risk something going wrong. And I love volunteering to cook and demo at summer holiday clubs and schools with the food waste charity The Felix Project and will be doing lots more with Chefs in Schools in 2021
So what was the first dish you remember cooking?
I think it was probably lovely soft scrambled eggs, do a lot of people say eggs!? But the first proper recipe I was taught was my sister’s best friend called Stephanie who was like a second big sister to me. She’s Italian and she taught me a proper tomato sauce, I must have still been in primary school. But I wasn’t THAT interested in cooking until I left home at 18, my Mum always ruled the kitchen and she just wanted us out the way so she could cook and I would lay the table and clear up. Even now when we cook together, me, my Mum and Jasmine all argue as everyone wants to be the boss in the kitchen. We are a very bossy family!
You are an advocate of reducing food waste. How much of a problem is food waste and how can we all play our part?
Every small step you take against food waste will make such a big difference over time. Next time you’re cooking, grab a bowl and as you cook, throw in everything that you’d normally put in the bin, from veg scraps to the leftovers at the end of the meal. Could you make stock with those peelings? Could you blitz those extra greens into a lovely pesto or a creamy sauce? Could you make extra and freeze the rest for a rainy day? Get inspired by your fridge, get more flexible with making swaps, start to use your freezer more and take a good look in your bin and see if there’s anything surprising in there! What can really go wrong? 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. Next time you’re hungry, take a good look in the fridge – can you make a soup, stir-fry, perhaps a frittata with what you’ve got? The chances are you can make one of these delicious dinners.
"Next time you’re cooking, grab a bowl and as you cook, throw in everything that you’d normally put in the bin, from veg scraps to the leftovers at the end of the meal. Could you make stock with those peelings? Could you blitz those extra greens into a lovely pesto or a creamy sauce? Could you make extra and freeze the rest for a rainy day?"
Seasonality is also important within your food philosophy. As we start a new year, what ingredients will you be introducing to your meals?
I’ll be using up leftover cheese from christmas cheeseboards in cheesy veg gratins and crumbles with leftover blitzed breadcrumbs. I’ll be making Freestyle Root Fritters and frittatas with celeriac and swede and using up any lovely dark leafy greens like kale and cavolo nero in pestos and dips and drizzles to brighten up leftovers and cheer up soups which by January and February, sometimes people get a bit bored of root veg and crave green and zinginess. But I love root veg - there’s a scene in Vicar of Dibley where Leticia says something like ‘ due to popular demand, I will be bringing out my cookbook of 101 ways with root veg’ and everyone groans! But I get excited about the challenge of sharing how versatile they are.
‘Eat Green’ was released last January and encourages reducing food waste, keeping meals affordable and celebrates vegetables as the star of each dish. The aftermath of the pandemic is going to put more stresses on finances; what tips do you have on cutting waste, making meals more affordable, preparation advice etc.
Saving your food from going in the bin is a great way to stick to a budget and make it stretch further. Do this by learning how to cook more from your fridge and cupboards, adapting recipes to what you have in the fridge (I’ve included plenty of flexi swaps and waste-cutting advice to help you do that). Be inspired by the seasons – fruit and veg are more affordable when they’re in season, plus they taste better - use my seasons guide to know what’s in season when. I’ve also included loads of tips to use up those bits and pieces that usually get thrown away, from herb stems and cheese rinds to lemon zests, to show you how to get the most flavour and most nutrition from ingredients you’d usually chuck. Your wallet will thank you in the end too!
For anyone wanting to reduced the amount of meat they eat, or turn to a plant-based diet, what advice would you give them?
For those that want to, my advice would be, it’s easier than you think and you’ll probably realise how many great options you have when it comes to the eternal question ‘ what’s for dinner?’ Instead of thinking of meat and fish at the centre of the table, I think of it as garnishes or just ‘one ingredient’ and build my plate based on veg and pulses and herbs and everything else.
Other than food, what else do you practice in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle?
I try my very best to get outside every day, even for 10 minutes. Having a dog helps with that. I try not to be strict with myself but I do try to hustle myself to bed by 10pm as a poor night’s sleep knocks me for 6 and really affects my mood and stress levels the next day. When I do get a poor night’s sleep, I make even more of an effort to get outside the next day and even more of an effort to turn to a feelgood lunch which can really perk me up for the rest of the day.
"Be inspired by the seasons – fruit and veg are more affordable when they’re in season, plus they taste better - use my seasons guide to know what’s in season when."
What have you learnt about yourself over the pandemic?
How important it is and good it feels to be of service to your neighbour and part of a community! Community is vital. Cooking for others in streets near me through apps like OLIO and also continued cooking for the food charity Felix Project has truly been of benefit to me, mentally and emotionally and given me moments of calm and purpose through this absolutely uncontrollable time. I intend to spend lots more time in the future doing more of this.
Finally, what is coming up next for you and how can readers keep in touch with all things Melissa Hemsley?
Oh thank you! If you’re on instagram, please do catch up with my ‘cook along’ videos that are all saved on my instagram - with chefs such as Sabrina Ghayour, Ixta Belfrage co author of the Ottolenghi cook book as well as Zoe Adjonyoh and Imad Alarnab cooking Syrian food, I can guarantee you’ll love my guest chef recipes and helpful tips and tricks as well as lots of small business shout outs .
If you like a good old fashion newsletter (I love a newsletter), please sign up for free on melissahemsley.com or have a browse on my website, enter any ingredient you have that neesd using up and lots of recipes will come up. I hope those of you who have Eat Green have enjoyed the seasonal guides and all the waste free tips for joyful eating in there.
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Photography by Sarah Malcolm.