How to cook sustainably with great Essex produce
PUBLISHED: 10:17 31 March 2020
Melissa Hemsley is known for celebrating sustainable and feel-good food with minimal waste. Here she talks to Holly Louise Eells about Essex produce, living a green lifestyle and her vibrant new cook book
First things first, Melissa Hemsley is a food hero. Why? Perhaps because she is a bestselling cook book author, a food columnist, half of the Hemsley and Hemsley sister power duo, and a food activist and sustainability champion – and that’s just for starters.
Already this year, as one of the country’s top home cooks, she has released her fourth highly-anticipated, mouth-watering book, Eat Green – described as a cook book for everyone who wants to enjoy delicious food which is good for you, simple to make and affordable to cook every day, but that also helps cut back on food waste in the kitchen.
In this super practical book, every one of the 100+ flexitarian recipes in Eat Green celebrates vegetables as the star ingredient and, where meat and fish are used, easy swaps are included so vegetarians can enjoy every recipe.
‘I’ve wanted to write this book for a long time,’ she says. ‘My mum was born in the Philippines and she and my army dad bought the family up on military bases, so between them one of the number one house rules was that food was always to be respected and never ever wasted!
‘We would hear, don’t waste, don’t waste and don’t waste, which is a lot to take in as a child, even when you are old,’ she laughs.
‘I didn’t like this at all. I just wanted a takeaway or pizza like other children, but my parents always said we eat what’s in the house. However, I understand and appreciate how lucky I am now, that is how I was brought up.’
With an emphasis on UK grown ingredients and eliminating wastage, Melissa’s delicious vegetarian cook book is the perfect accompaniment to adopting a greener lifestyle.
She explains: ‘I am a cook and not an environmental expert, but we don’t need to be experts to help make the world a better place.
‘I am far from perfectly sustainable or self-sufficient – that would be impossible for most of us – but I try a little every day to be that bit more responsible for my impact. Collectively, all our positive adjustments and habits will make a real difference.’
Eat Green focuses on the most popular fruit and vegetables that fill our fridges and our bins – the ones that are most bought, and most thrown away, in the UK.
These affordable and easy to shop for recipes show respect to seasonal ingredients in all their glory and are straightforward to make, giving families, hard-working couples and individuals real food for every busy night of the week.
Plus, the A-Z of odds, ends and leftovers puts an end to the headache of working out what to do with the contents of your fridge.
For example, from all-day breakfast ideas like Fridge-Raid Frittata to 30 minute suppers like turmeric noodle and chicken soup, or from teatime treats like grilled golden fish and sweet sesame spinach to favourites for friends like shawarma spiced chickpeas and celeriac hummus, you will have plenty of crowd-pleasing recipes for a whole range of taste buds.
Melissa hopes that with Eat Green you can reap the bonuses of being savvy and sustainable in the kitchen at the same time as putting something delicious on the table for your friends and family to enjoy.
She continues: ‘When I left home and learned to cook for myself, it was my mum’s waste-free approach that I took on − reinventing leftovers, raiding my fridge and seeking out in-season foods.
‘This has dictated how I cook – simple and seasonal, feel-good and delicious. At the back of my book I have a section of mum’s thrifty tips. My mum literally taught me everything, she is an inspiration. The best advice she gave me was to eat well, sleep well and don’t waste anything.’
In 2019 Melissa launched her first series of community events around people and the planet called The Sustainability Sessions, live events with panels including Fearne Cotton, Grace Dent, Skye Gyngell and Bryony Gordon.
Melissa is also a proud supporter and volunteer for the food waste charity The Felix Project, The Prince’s Trust, Mental Health Mates, Future Dreams, Women Supporting Women, Cook for Syria (Unicef) and Headtalks.com.
She is a huge supporter for buying locally and eating more seasonally. ‘We are so lucky we have such fantastic produce in Britain, particularly Essex,’ she says.
‘We have so many amazing places to go and source our produce, including food markets such as Leytonstone High Street Market and other local suppliers.’
Melissa, who moved to Leytonstone three years ago with her boyfriend Henry and dog Nelly, explains how she is slowly building up her knowledge of local suppliers, but admits: ‘I still have a lot of research to do and I’m always open to recommendations’.
She is a big fan of local producers including Sarah Green Organics, who grows seasonal organic vegetables in Tillingham on the east coast of Essex.
Melissa also raves about Peter and Andrew Fairs, owners of Fairking in Colchester. ‘They are an amazing father and son duo. I visited the farm before I even lived around here,’ Melissa adds.
‘For me, 2020 is going to be about knowing more about friendly local hubs and enjoying a really lovely, thoughtfully-sourced roast dinner after you have had a big walk with the dog.’ s