Melissa Hemsley knows a thing or two about eating well. You may recognise her as one half of superfoodie duo, Hemsley + Hemsley: a wellness company she co-founded in 2010 with her sister, Jasmine. With two bestselling books, a Channel 4 cookery show, London restaurant and food-delivery service to the A-list in their name, it’s now time for the pair to go their separate ways. Set to cook up a storm with her brand new book Eat Happy, here Melissa reveals what happiness truly means to her, both in and out of the kitchen.
Have you always been into cooking?
I didn’t actually start until I left home when I was 20 but I’ve always loved watching cookery shows. I can remember rushing home after school to watch Ready, Steady, Cook. My favourite part was when the chefs were given the ‘£5 mystery bag’ and had to cook something on the spot. I think it reflects my approach now, playing with recipes and using up what I’ve got rather than following it completely step by step.
What inspired your new book, Eat Happy?
I wanted to make a collection of recipes that ticks all boxes: taste, stress-free, quick (you can make them all in 30 minutes or less) and all using feel-good, easy-to-find ingredients. Think delicious family favourites, comfort foods and the most popular takeaways – all with minimal washing up because I’ll do anything to avoid it.
Do you have a favourite meal?
When it's cold, I love a good curry; chicken katsu, a Keralan turmeric fish curry, a coconutty, sweet-potato curry – my book has it all! And if the sun’s shining and I’m on holiday, you can’t beat fresh seafood, some koftas with a Greek or tomato salad, enjoyed barefoot with someone you love.
What are your tips for keeping a positive and healthy mind-set?
A message that seems to work for me is: ‘Be kind to yourself’. I think it’s important to avoid the idea of perfection and also to get a good night’s sleep. I really notice the difference in my energy and mood when I haven’t had enough, so I prioritise it no matter how tempted I am to watch a box set in bed. I also try to exercise a few mornings a week; depending on how I feel, it could be yoga online in my living room, a HIIT class or a run in the park with my dog. Meditation really works for me too and there are so many intro sessions you can try if you’re intrigued by it, or a good app.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
I really love what I do: the process of coming up with recipes, testing them, writing books (the highs and lows and deadlines!), and there’s no better feeling than when I give cooking classes and help people’s confidence in the kitchen. I feel very lucky that I get to work all around the world with creative, fun people that are both friends and colleagues.
And finally, what makes you happy?
Any of the following: a simple feel-good meal with friends and a great bottle of wine, a long walk with my dog, Nelly, a ‘Dance like Beyonce’ class (my kind of fitness), a clean kitchen with fresh flowers and a stocked fridge – and when I remember to do it, meditation.
How to make Melissa's delicious Spanish chickpea & almond stew at home:
Using store cupboard staples and spinach from the freezer, this Seville-inspired stew comes together in under 20 minutes and is a hit with everyone. You could swap the spinach for other greens, such as chopped chard, or add extra bits and bobs, such as a few tablespoons of capers, olives or chopped sun dried tomatoes. I love this as a stew-like soup in a bowl, but you could make it thicker and serve with a side of quinoa.
1. In a large, deep frying pan, toast the almonds over a medium heat for just under a minute until golden, then set aside. Melt the butter in the hot pan, add the onion and pepper and fry for 6 minutes until starting to soften.
2. Add the garlic, spices and parsley stalks and fry for 1 minute, stirring constantly to prevent them from burning, then add the tomato purée and cook for another 30 seconds.
3. Tip the tinned tomatoes into the pan, turn up the heat to a medium simmer and cook for 15 minutes, uncovered, to thicken and reduce. Add the chickpeas and cook for another 3 minutes with a lid on. If you want the stew to be more soup-like, add the stock.
4. Turn up the heat, drop in the spinach and cook for 1 minute, covered with the lid, then add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
5. Serve each bowl with a good drizzle of olive oil and with the parsley leaves and toasted almonds scattered over.