Waste warrior, food writer and cheerleader for sustainability, Melissa Hemsley talks to Ella Walker about her new veg-led cookbook.

Wherever you stand on the plastic straw debate, food writer Melissa Hemsley is right: "You don't get two in your mojito on a Friday night now!"

Things are undoubtedly changing. Call it the Blue Planet II effect, or simply an inevitable waking up to the demands we put on the planet, but more than ever before, the choices we make daily - and especially at dinnertime - come with a side of: is this environmentally justifiable?

It's an idea that threads its way through Hemsley's lively new cookbook, Eat Green. Veg-heavy (but not fully vegetarian), it focuses on all the little ways we can cut waste and get dinner on the table without feeling like quite such dreadful, energy-sapping humans.

The London-based 34-year-old, of sister double act Hemsley+Hemsley - best known for popularising the spiralizer, bone broth and cauliflower rice - calls it a guide on how to "get the most out of food, be frugal, be thrifty - but in a positive way".

"[For] my Roman catholic Filipino mum, throwing food away was a sin," says Hemsley of her upbringing, "which can make you feel guilty and is a bit preachy and scary. But I've really realised that for those of us who care about the planet, [the stats around food waste are] something we could all probably do with addressing."

She is well aware how easy it can be to succumb to the panic and despair those food waste statistics can induce; a third of all food produced is wasted somewhere along the line, and according to charity WRAP, 85% of that waste happens at home.

"There is this deep sadness about what's going on in the world, but also, you go to marches and you talk to people about it, and there's also a very, 'We're all in this, let's get on with it' optimism. A, 'Let's share what we know and do the best we can' [attitude]," muses Hemsley, who cooked for Extinction Rebellion during several of the group's 2019 climate protests.

"But I agree that sometimes it can be so incredibly overwhelming that you don't know where to start. You might freeze, you might give up, or you just think, 'Ugh, I'll deal with it another day', and I understand that."

However, she adds: "I really feel lots of us can get behind food waste. It can tick so many boxes - saving money, doing your part for the planet. We mustn't, mustn't listen to this idea that what we do won't have an effect.

"Life happens," she continues, "things do end up in the bin, but what can we do to stop that happening as much as possible?"

Eat Green presents some of those possibilities. Packed with tips for using up some of the most binned fruit and veg items (looking at you, carrot tops and cauliflower leaves), it's positively boisterous, teeming with feelgood ways to stretch your food, fill your belly with good stuff and greenery, and make your cooking life a little easier.

Self-taught chef Hemsley encourages batch-cooking, cooking from scratch, avoiding plastic (wherever possible), not overusing the same ingredients (poor beloved avocados and chickpeas), eating seasonally, making a judgement on eating certain items past their sell-by-date, and being flexible ("My mum basically taught me: be flexible, use what you've got").

And that's not even mentioning her favourite thing; filling up the freezer, so all you have to do is defrost dinner in culinary Blue Peter style - here's one I made earlier. Ta-dah!

"I only feel good when I've got food in the freezer," she says with a laugh, describing how she recently had a nasty fall down the stairs and "genuinely had the thought in my head, 'At least the freezer is full'. Of all the things to cross my mind!"

She also hopes to help override that feeling we all get upon opening the fridge, that there's nothing to eat. That dinner can't be rustled up. "There is always something," says Hemsley. "So why waste your energy trekking out in the rain and the cold to the shops, to just go and spend more money?"

It's simpler if you have well-stocked cupboards and a chest-freezer of buried, edible treasure, of course. But Hemsley is clear - she just wants her recipes to be helpful and useful: "I don't want to tell anyone how to live their lives."

But if she does manage to help you cut waste and align better with the seasons ("I don't want to offer people cherry tomato recipes in December"), that can only be a good thing.

"What I do know is that every single one of us can play a part," she says, adamant. "With no judgement or guilt tripping, what can you, I, do, that feels sustainable in terms of, can we repeat it every day? And if so, let's do it, and let's keep on doing it."

Eat Green by Melissa Hemsley, photography by Philippa Langley, is published by Ebury Press, priced £22. Available now.


Ultimate bowl food.

"This is ideal to make at the end of the weekend with any leftover root veg that didn't make it into the Sunday roast," says food writer Melissa Hemsley.

"It will set you up nicely for Monday's dinner - just reheat and top with the onions and yoghurt, and either freeze the rest or enjoy later in the week with dosa-style pancakes, buckwheat sesame wraps or with fresh leaves and a crispy fried egg on top."


(Serves 6)

4tbsp ghee or oil

5 large parsnips (about 900g)

1tbsp maple syrup

2 large onions, thinly sliced

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 thumb of ginger, finely grated

400g split red lentils, rinsed

2 large handfuls of fresh coriander, leaves and stems finely chopped separately

3tbsp tomato puree

1 x 400ml tin of full-fat coconut milk

200g leafy greens, like chard, leaves and stems finely chopped

Yoghurt, to serve (optional)

For the spice mix:

1.5tsp ground turmeric

2tbsp ground cumin or 1.5tbsp cumin seeds, roughly ground

2tbsp ground coriander or 1.5tbsp coriander seeds

2tbsp black mustard seeds, roughly ground

A pinch of chilli flakes or chilli powder

A big pinch of sea salt and black pepper

For the pink pickled onions:

2 large red onions, thinly sliced

Juice of 2 limes or 4tbsp vinegar

A big pinch of sea salt

2tsp maple syrup (optional)


1. Preheat the oven to fan 220°C/Gas mark 9 and melt two tablespoons of the ghee or oil on a large baking tray in the oven.

2. Meanwhile, mix the spice mix in a small bowl and slice up three of the parsnips into about 18 wedges, say 5cm x 1.5cm, then toss the parsnip wedges in the oil on the tray with half of the spice mix. Pop in the oven for about 30-35 minutes, tossing halfway through with the maple syrup, until golden and going crispy at the edges.

3. In a large pan, fry the onion in the remaining two tablespoons of ghee over a medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occassionally, while you get on with everything else.

4. Add the remaining half of the spice mix, plus the garlic and ginger and fry for three minutes.

5. Add the diced parsnips and lentils, the chopped coriander stems and the tomato puree and let fry. After a minute, add the coconut milk, then fill up the tin four times with hot water (1.6 litres) and pour in, stirring well. Pop the lid on, bring to the boil and immediately turn down to a medium heat and let simmer for 20 minutes. Stir a few times throughout to make sure the lentils don't stick. Add more liquid if you think it needs it or if you like your dahl soupier, like I do.

6. Meanwhile, scrunch and massage the red onion in a bowl with the lime juice, salt and maple syrup, if using, for 30 seconds, then leave to bathe in the salty lime juice.

7. Once the lentils and parsnips in the pan are cooked, add the chopped greens, pop the lid on so they steam for three to five minutes until just tender, then taste for seasoning. Serve up each bowl, topped with the roasted parsnips, coriander leaves, pink pickled onions and their juices and a dollop of yoghurt, if you like.

Eat Green by Melissa Hemsley, photography by Philippa Langley, is published by Ebury Press, priced £22. Available now.