Melissa Hemsley launched her new book ‘Eat Happy’ on 25 January, and to celebrate, we’ve got an exclusive insight into her world, as she brings us the ultimate three recipes to keep you happy and healthy all year round…
Closely associated with the ‘wellness movement,’ hugely popular sisters Melissa and Jasmine are the foodies to know. Melissa has a passion for good food like no other, and it’s that vibrant energy that gives each of her creations a deliciously unique touch. Melissa’s new book Eat Happy: 30 minute feel good food celebrates 120 brand new healthy and delicious recipes that are packed with flavour, quick to make and produce minimal waste. In our exclusive Q&A, Melissa shares a few of her secrets.
Melissa Hemsley Q&A
How did cooking become such a big part of your life?
My mum has played a huge part in my love for food and cooking. She was always teaching me to respect food and not waste it and how to conjure up an entire meal out of almost nothing! I cook food that makes me happy feel comforted and that’s why I think I love it so much and how it has become my passion, my job, I love what I do, I love sharing food with old friends and new ones.
Why is eating happy important to you?
I have always cooked to make my mind, body and soul feel good and that changes seasonally! If my body is craving soup in Winter, I cook endless pots of brothy soups and hearty stews, then in the summer I look for more fresh cool or warm salads. I’m also a home cooked and not a trained chef, so I like the entire experience of cooking and eating to be relaxed and a simple and happy experience which is why I and most of us prefer a short but sweet method, no fancy skills and recipes with minimal washing up.
Could you tell us your favourite/ go-to recipe in your new book?
Oooh there’s too many to choose from! But I absolutely love my Spanish Chickpea and Almond Stew- it’s the perfect dish for curling up with and relies on store cupboard ingredients.
Do you have any tips on staying healthy and eating well for the new year?
Cook once and eat twice! Batch cook your favourite dishes for dinner so that you have lunch for the next day or even freeze them for good food that’s always on hand. Same for baking, if you’re making a quinoa bread loaf or a batch of muffins, make double. Plus find a colleague, or a friend or neighbour and swap with them. Swap some extra portions of your stew for some of their cake!
What’s your favourite thing about what you do?
Sharing my recipes with people and watching them come together over feel-good food! There’s nothing more rewarding. I also have loved presenting a podcast series this year called Live Life Better. I’m a real bookworm and I get to interview authors and curious minds from all genres. So interesting
Tell us something not many people know about you.
I wanted to be a doctor since I was 8 years old. I studied chemistry, biology and physics at A level with the hope of studying Medicine and did my work experience with a paediatrician! I realised i wasn’t cut out for hospitals! But I am pleased to meet so many doctors who say they like my recipes as they’re delicious, healthy and convenience to make!
When you’re not cooking, what do you like to do?
Go on long gallivanting walks with my dog Nelly and then have an extra long bubble bath before snuggling into bed early with a good book. I love to travel and feel lucky to get to visit my wish list of cities with work.
If you could host a dinner party and invite anyone, who would your dream guests be and what would you cook?
Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet as I love them both individually and then together in Sense & Sensibility, one of my fave films. I’d invite JK Rowling too as I’m a massive fan of HP and then all her books since. I’m a huge Kirsty Young & Desert Island Discs fans so she’d have to come. Oprah at the head of the table alongside Malala Yousafzai and Beyonce too please. What would I cook? I’d tell them to arrive early, give them a ginger lemongrass cocktail and rope them into some chopping so we could put the finishing touches together, always a great icebreaker! I’d make a family style feast – platters of roasted spiced cauliflower, carrot ribbon salad with carrot top pesto and halloumi, my za’atar chicken, my anchovy broccoli always goes down well, maybe some mini mexican burgers too and to finish, some little chocolate pots. Then we’d go dancing
What ingredient can you not live without?
You can’t just give me one, that’s too strict! I’ve got a few essentials – sea salt, olive oil and garlic. Those are my 3 must haves! A few extras to add into the mix – lemon or lime and I adore ginger – it’s a great all rounder for flavour and warmth – I have it in dressings, sauces, dips, soups, stews, juices, smoothies, curries, cakes, crumbles, galore! And my favourite herb is mint as it goes beautifully in middle eastern and asian recipes as well as tea and cocktails!
Grilled Mackerel with Tamarind Ginger Greens
- 1 teaspoon coconut oil or ghee
- 8 mackerel fillets (total 700g)
- Sea salt and black pepper
Filipino-Style Tamarind Sauce
- 3 tablespoons tamarind paste
- 1 teaspoon chilli flakes, (or to taste)
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons tamari
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 1/2 tablespoon coconut oil or ghee
- 4 spring onions, sliced (green parts saved to garnish)
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 3cm piece of ginger, finely chopped
- 1 head of broccoli (about 300g), cut into small florets
- 250g green beans, trimmed
- 250g sugar snap peas or mangetout, chopped
- 1 large handful of mixed fresh herbs (such as coriander, basil or mint), finely chopped
- 1 large handful of cashews, toasted and roughly chopped
- Preheat the grill to high. Add the oil to a baking tray and pop under the grill for a few minutes to melt.
- Whisk the sauce ingredients in a bowl and set aside. Toast the nuts in a dry saucepan and then set aside.
- For the greens, melt the 1 tablespoon of oil in the saucepan, add the white parts of the spring onions, garlic and ginger and fry over a medium heat for 30 seconds. Tip in all the green vegetables and stir-fry for 5 minutes until just tender. Add a splash of water if the greens are getting too dry and sticking to the pan.
- Meanwhile, place the mackerel fillets on the greased baking tray, skin side up, season with salt and pepper then grill for 4–5 minutes until just cooked through.
- When the greens are just tender, pour in the tamarind sauce and stir in. Increase the heat and simmer for about 30 seconds to heat through. Taste for seasoning, adding a little more tamari if you’d like it to be saltier.
- Serve the greens with the fish, scattered with the green parts of the spring onions and the fresh herbs and toasted nuts.
Hoisin Duck Pancakes
- 4 duck breasts (skin on; total 600g)
- 1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
- A good pinch of sea salt
- 6 tablespoons tamari
- 3 tablespoons tahini or smooth nut/seed butter (p. 276)
- 1½ tablespoons maple syrup
- 3 tablespoons orange juice
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1½ teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 1½ teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder
- 12 small Chickpea Wraps
- (p. 190 – made plain, with no additions, and warmed through), or any wraps of your choice
- Chilli flakes, to taste
- 1 cucumber, sliced into matchsticks
- 6 spring onions, sliced into matchsticks
- Preheat the oven to fan 200°C/Gas mark 7.
- With a sharp knife, score the fat of each duck breast in a criss- cross pattern, then sprinkle over half the five-spice powder and salt and rub.
- Make the hoisin sauce by whisking all the ingredients together in a bowl, then taste for seasoning and set. Heat up a wide, ovenproof frying pan to a high heat (no oil needed) and place the duck breasts, skin side down, in the pan. Sprinkle over the rest of the spice and salt.
- Cook for 3 minutes or until most of the fat has rendered, and the duck skin is golden. Turn the duck breasts over and cook for a further 30 seconds to seal the other side.
- Place the pan in the oven for the duck to finish cooking – 8 minutes for rare or 10 minutes for medium rare – then remove the duck and leave to rest on a chopping board for 10 minutes.
- Use this time to make the chickpea batter and, while the duck is resting, use the same pan to make the wraps. Pour any excess duck fat from the pan into a bow.
- Cut the duck breasts into thin slices, sprinkle with chilli flakes and place on a serving plate with the hoisin sauce in a bowl. Put the chickpea wraps on another plate and place the sliced cucumber and spring onions in a separate bowl.
- Let everyone assemble their own pancakes, pouring or spooning the hoisin sauce over the duck before adding the other ingredients.
Little Chocolate Pots
- 180ml any milk
- 140g dark (70%–85%) chocolate, broken into squares
- 3 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
To Serve (optional)
- Sea salt flakes
- 1 handful of fresh raspberries or cherries or a mixture
- Gently heat the milk in a saucepan for about 45 seconds until hot all the way through.
- Place 120g of the chocolate in a high-powered blender or food processor with the maple syrup, egg and vanilla. Very carefully pour a quarter of the hot milk into the blender or food processor (or use a ladle, if you prefer) and blend until smooth, then repeat, adding a quarter of the milk at a time, until all the milk is combined and the mixture is silky smooth. (You need to add the hot milk slowly so that it doesn’t scramble the egg.)
- Pour into four small ramekins or glasses and leave in the fridge for a minimum of 1½ hours, or 1 hour in the freezer, to set.
- When you’re ready to serve, grate over the remaining dark chocolate or top with a sprinkling of sea salt flakes or a few fresh raspberries or cherries.
Eat Happy by Melissa Hemsley (Ebury Press, £20) Photography by Issy Croker