By Prudence Wade
What does it really mean to feel good?
It’s a personal thing, but a big part of it for Melissa Hemsley is “about savouring the actual meal”, she says. “Not cooking for 45 minutes, washing up for 15 minutes, and only eating for 10 minutes.”
The 36-year-old – who first rose to fame as half of the food and wellness duo Hemsley + Hemsley, alongside her sister Jasmine – continues: “Feeling good is about feeling confident in your kitchen, with your own cooking – because nothing’s more important than making a delicious, nourishing meal for you or the people you love.”
She’s extended this ethos to entertaining as well, making a pledge to herself a few years ago to only host if it was easy and fun. “What’s the point of inviting people over if you don’t enjoy it?” she asks. “And people don’t enjoy a stressed host – then you get resentful if you’re stressed.” So she now only cooks food “I can feel kitchen confident about, that I’ll enjoy eating”.
It makes sense she’s named her latest book Feel Good – it’s her fifth, and things have changed since Hemsley + Hemsley’s first book The Art Of Eating Well was published in 2014. The sisters brought spiralisers into the public consciousness, and championed bone broth for overall wellness. Her new cookbook feels a lot simpler and more approachable, with Hemsley saying: “I still stand by my recipes being easy five books ago – but I think now it’s all about ease, ease, ease. It’s one pan cooking, one tray cooking, it’s less ingredients, less time. I think feel-good cooking is so much about the enjoyment of the way you approach food.”
Listening to your body and fuelling it properly has been drilled into Hemsley from childhood – something she appreciates a lot more now. “My mum has always been about eating for your brain health, ever since I can remember,” Hemsley reflects. “I’d be like, ‘I’m hungry, mum’, [and she’d reply] ‘Have some smoked mackerel’. It’s really annoying when you’re younger” – particularly when you want a packet of Wotsits, but are being offered walnuts instead.
This isn’t the only way Hemsley’s mother has influenced her life and cooking. Her mum is Filipino, and you can feel the country’s influence throughout Feel Good – in dishes like her interpretation of adobo, and the Filipino-style veg kebabs.
“It’s half my heritage, and I really feel my mum’s influence in fully respecting food and all parts of an ingredient.”
Filipino Chicken with Mango-Tomato Salsa
4 large chicken thighs, skin on and bone in
Sea salt and black pepper
2 spring onions, finely sliced at an angle, to serve
For the Filipino-style sauce
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4tbsp apple cider vinegar
2tbsp tamari or soy sauce
2tsp–1tbsp fish sauce or 2tsp extra tamari or soy sauce
2tbsp (coconut) sugar or maple syrup
2 star anise
¼tsp chilli flakes (or to taste)
For the mango-tomato salsa
1 big handful of fresh coriander
100g cherry tomatoes, quartered
100g peeled ripe mango, pineapple or stone fruit, diced
2cm fresh ginger, finely grated
½ garlic clove, finely grated
1 jalapeño or other chilli, deseeded and diced
Juice of 1½ limes
4 spring onions or 1 small red onion, finely diced
2tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
A dash of hot sauce (optional)
Preheat the oven to fan 220C.
Mix all the sauce ingredients together. Place the chicken thighs in an ovenproof dish big enough to arrange the pieces about two centimetres apart (but not so big that you lose all the sauce as it cooks off in the oven), then add the sauce, coating each piece of chicken well in the mixture and leave for a few minutes, if you like.
Place the chicken thighs skin-side up in the dish, sprinkle a little salt and pepper over each one and roast for 25 minutes or until well cooked and the juices run clear when pierced with a knife.
Meanwhile, make the salsa. Roughly chop the leaves of the coriander and finely chop the stalks, then add to a serving bowl with all the other ingredients, mix together well and leave to sit for 20 minutes.
Serve the chicken scattered with the spring onions and with the salsa on the side.
No-Bake Chewy Nutty Bars
150g mixed whole walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds, roughly chopped
200g dark (50%-70%) chocolate, broken into squares
5tbsp coconut oil
240g pitted Medjool dates
200g ground almonds
2tsp vanilla extract
½tsp sea salt
80g roughly chopped pistachios (or pumpkin seeds), for topping
Start by toasting the whole nuts (not the pistachios) for five minutes on a medium heat.
Next, set up a bain-marie: add the chocolate and two tablespoons of the coconut oil and leave to melt until smooth, stirring from time to time. Once melted, set aside to cool slightly.
Add the dates, ground almonds, vanilla, remaining coconut oil and salt to a food processor and pulse until combined and dough-like. Add 50g of the toasted nuts and pulse again briefly until roughly ground but still with some slightly larger bits, and then turn stir in the pistachios or pumpkin seeds to make a nice balance of squidgy dough and crunchy nuts and seeds.
Line a rectangular tin about 25 centimetres × 20 centimetres and transfer the mixture from the food processor to the tin. Press down really well with your hands.
To finish, pour the melted chocolate mix on top to create a thick layer. Scatter with the rest of the toasted nuts and the chopped pistachios and pop in the fridge for three hours, until the chocolate layer is nice and hard.
Feel Good by Melissa Hemsley is available now