Melissa Hemsley’s easy and fun comfort food, including her deliciously nutty no-bake bars – Irish Examiner

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.” 

With this in mind, nourishing comfort food is something Hemsley constantly thinks about. For her, comfort food “means different things at different times”, she says. “A lot of it has to do with temperature, and the temperature of my mood as well. Sometimes, without even realising it, I’m missing my childhood, or that safe feeling of nostalgia, so maybe you tap into the nostalgia. Sometimes for me, I go and slice some ginger and boil it in my smallest pan, then I’m squeezing lemon or lime in and I’m having a mug of that.

“That’s my comfort – a simple ginger tea. Not just because you’ve got a sore throat, but the smell of it and the slicing of it makes me think of my mum. Sometimes I’m cooking a noodle soup – I’m doing the same process with the ginger, but I’m adding garlic and spring onions to it, and that’s really comforting to me. Sometimes cheese is the only thing that will satisfy me.” 

Filipino chicken with mango-tomato salsa from Feel Good by Melissa Hemsley. Picture: PA Photo/Lizzie Mayson
Filipino chicken with mango-tomato salsa from Feel Good by Melissa Hemsley. Picture: PA Photo/Lizzie Mayson

Even though Hemsley’s job is all about food, she says: “I can suffer with quite bad anxiety at times – I know lots of people do, or maybe haven’t before and have felt it more in the last few years. And I find sometimes I don’t really want to cook at all.” She has a trick for the days she might be feeling low. “I try to make sure I’ve always got at least one portion of something delicious in my freezer. I would probably put an emergency bolognese that I could have on a jacket potato or a mashed potato, or it could be on toast. My boyfriend’s would be a creamy chicken and mushroom something that could go in a pie.

“I think that’s really important – and it’s not just about your mental wellbeing, it could be physical. I’ve got a little old picnic bag, and in it I always have a pair of socks, a hot water bottle, a book, a pen and paper – because I find writing stuff down can be helpful, even if it’s literally writing down stuff for a minute, like a little worry dump – and normally a scarf and spray of essential oil.

“That’s what I tend to go to if I’m going to get on the sofa and watch Harry Potter, or the old BBC Pride And Prejudice. That’s my non-comfort 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.

Her mother instilled into Hemsley “the idea that you don’t just eat for pleasure and fuel, you can also really impact your mood and your feelings”.

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.

“When I was younger, I didn’t quite know what was Filipino and what was English. I didn’t know fish sauce was what made that dinner so amazing, and that it wasn’t English. Ginger is an absolutely key ingredient in my life – in drinks and curry (although Filipinos don’t really say curry) – any kind of stews or soups. It’s in drizzles over grilled chicken and beautiful sticky sweet potatoes, and barbecued broccoli. It’s in baking, it’s in breakfast muffins, it’s in my cookies – ginger is a really key Filipino ingredient.

“It’s half my heritage, and I really feel my mum’s influence in fully respecting food and all parts of an ingredient.” 

  • Feel Good by Melissa Hemsley is published by Ebury Press. Photography by Lizzie Mayson. Available now.

No-Bake Nutty Chewy Bars

recipe by:Melissa Hemsley

Crunchy and sweet, you’ll keep going back for these tasty treats. “Any nuts and seeds work in these delicious bars. I’ve made them with just hazelnuts before for a lovely praline flavour,” says Melissa Hemsley.

No-Bake Nutty Chewy Bars

Servings

16

Preparation Time

3 hours 0 mins

Cooking Time

50 mins

Total Time

3 hours 50 mins

Course

Dessert

Cuisine

Filipino

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

  1. Start by toasting the whole nuts (not the pistachios) for five minutes in a large frying pan on a medium heat until fragrant and just going golden. Toss them in the pan as they cook and watch them like a hawk after three minutes!

  2. Next, set up a bain-marie: place a heatproof bowl on top of a small saucepan of simmering water (making sure the base of the bowl does not touch the water), 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.

  3. Add the dates, ground almonds, vanilla, remaining coconut oil and salt to a food processor and pulse until combined and dough-like. Add 50 grams of the toasted nuts (roughly a third, it doesn’t need to be exact) and pulse again briefly until roughly ground but still with some slightly larger bits, and then turn off the machine and stir in the pistachios or pumpkin seeds to make a nice balance of squidgy dough and crunchy nuts and seeds.

  4. Line a rectangular tin about 25 centimetres × 20 centimetres and four centimetres deep – and transfer the mixture from the food processor to the tin. Press down really well with your hands to make a nice and flat, compact layer.

  5. To finish, pour the glossy melted chocolate mix on top to create a thick layer, using a spatula to get every last lovely drop out of the bowl. 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, which makes it easy to slice and lovely to chew.

  6. Bring the tin out of the fridge for 10 minutes before slicing into 16 squares. Keep stored in the fridge. These will last for a few weeks in a sealed container.
    From Feel Good by Melissa Hemsley (Ebury).

Fried halloumi and chickpea rainbow salad

recipe by:Melissa Hemsley

With salty cheese and crunchy chickpeas, this is far from a sad salad. “Definitely make this!” enthuses Melissa Hemsley.

Fried halloumi and chickpea rainbow salad

Preparation Time

10 mins

Cooking Time

40 mins

Total Time

50 mins

Course

Starter

Cuisine

Filipino

Ingredients

  • For the chickpea:

  • 2tbsp ghee or coconut oil

  • 400g tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

  • 4tsp garam masala

  • 2tsp ground cumin

  • 225g halloumi, cut into small cubes

  • 2tsp maple syrup

  • Sea salt and pepper

  • For the salad:

  • A little diced red onion or chopped spring onions

  • 1 large carrot, scrubbed and roughly grated

  • 1 handful of diced ripe tomatoes

  • For the cashew-coriander-mint chutney (makes double):

  • 4tbsp cashews or other nuts

  • 4 handfuls of fresh coriander

  • 2 small handful of fresh mint leaves

  • 2 fresh green chilli, deseeded if you prefer, chopped, or a good pinch of chilli flakes

  • ½tsp ground cumin

  • Juice of 3 limes

  • 4tbsp olive oil

Method

  1. Prepare the salad and arrange in two bowls.

  2. Heat up a large frying pan and toast the cashews for the chutney on a medium heat for three to four minutes, tossing halfway through, until lightly golden, then tip half of them into the small bowl of a food processor and save the rest for garnishing.

  3. Put the pan back on the heat, melt one and a half tablespoons of the ghee and fry the chickpeas (making sure they are dried well in a tea towel before so they don’t spit in the hot oil) on a medium heat for four minutes with half of the spices and a pinch of salt, stirring every now and then. Tip into a bowl, scraping out the delicious bits from the bottom of the pan as you go.

  4. While the chickpeas are frying, add all the other chutney ingredients to the food processor – saving a few herbs for garnishing, if you like – along with about three tablespoons of water, then blend together, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.

  5. Put the pan back on the heat with the rest of the ghee and, when melted, fry the halloumi on a medium heat for about two minutes on the first side on (keep the pieces of halloumi spaced out) and then turn, sprinkle over the rest of the spices and fry for about one minute on the other side until lightly golden brown and crispy at the edges. Straight away add the fried chickpeas and the maple syrup, then toss together with the halloumi and fry for 30 seconds so that the chickpeas warm through and the maple syrup bubbles and thickens.

  6. Scatter the chickpeas over the bowls of salad with the halloumi on top, drizzle over half of the chutney and top with the remaining nuts.
    From Feel Good by Melissa Hemsley (Ebury).

Filipino chicken with mango-tomato salsa recipe

recipe by:Melissa Hemsley

“My mum calls this ‘any way chicken’ because you can make the chicken any way: I like cooking it in the oven (so I can forget about it); my mum likes to make it on the hob (to keep more of the sauce); and my boyfriend, Henry, likes grilling it on the BBQ

Filipino chicken with mango-tomato salsa recipe

Preparation Time

45 mins

Cooking Time

30 mins

Total Time

1 hours 15 mins

Course

Main

Cuisine

Filipino

Ingredients

  • For the chicken:

  • 4 large chicken thighs, skin on and bone in (about 600g)

  • 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)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to fan 220°C/gas mark 9. If using a BBQ, get it going now.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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 (while the chicken is cooking).

  5. Serve the chicken scattered with the spring onions and with the salsa on the side.
    From Feel Good by Melissa Hemsley (Ebury).

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