Muddy meets… Melissa Hemsley
It turns out the healthy cooking queen has culinary disasters too! Melissa spills the beans (then whips them up into a tasty frittata) on burnt pans, how to waste less food and keeping an endless supply of cookie dough in the freezer.
Feel like you’re forever guiltily bunging unused food in the bin? Melissa Hemsley has just published her fourth cook 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 tricks to make good quality meat and fish go further. We found her in her London kitchen where she’d been slaving over a hot stove since dawn 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 they’re people who 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 favourite dishes are then sneak more veg into family-friendly versions. Or by cooking lots in advance and packing 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 OK 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?
When I was growing up, my dad was in the army, so we lived 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 per cent 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 the 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, say – 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.
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.