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Bean chilli and babies: At home with cookbook queen Deliciously Ella

© Sophia Spring / PAElla Mills, creator of the Deliciously Ella food                         blog, with husband Matthew and one-year-old daughter Skye
Ella Mills, creator of the Deliciously Ella food blog, with husband Matthew and one-year-old daughter Skye

Often seen as a poster girl for wellness, Ella Mills – aka Deliciously Ella – actually isn’t so keen on the term.

“The word ‘wellness’ makes people think of weird and wacky things in LA, with shamans and cleanses,” says the food writer. “When you hear it, you don’t necessarily think of going for a walk and then making a bean chilli, which feels more within your remit. The wonderful and wacky make more interesting stories, which I so appreciate, but the reality is, in most people’s eyes, what we need is a meal that’s pretty easy to make and you can make a really big batch of, and then just chuck in the freezer.”

With her latest cookbook, Deliciously Ella Quick & Easy, Mills wants to help make healthy eating feel less alienating. And the fact it’s built around speedy recipes is no coincidence – she and her husband and business partner, Matt, welcomed their first child, Skye, last year.

The book may be all about ease – but it was born out of blood, sweat and tears. Ella says: “This cookbook has actually been, on a personal and emotional level, the hardest project I’ve ever done. I went back to work with it four weeks after Skye was born, so I was pretty all over the shop at that point. She came on to the shoots with us and I had her in a sling and was feeding her on set – so I was breastfeeding and food styling at the same time.”

With a baby, another on the way, and a business to run, Ella has a new appreciation for how simple wellness should – and could – be. “It’s going on a walk or doing a five-minute meditation,” says the 29-year-old. “It’s not the big, expensive, complicated, time-consuming things, it’s the simple, everyday practices that you can have in your life to help you feel happier, calmer, healthier, more energised.”

She emphasises how cheap and easy things like chickpea stews and lentil daals can be, and her efforts to make recipes that are more accessible are admirable.

Still, some might struggle to shake their preconceptions of Ella as the granddaughter of Lord Sainsbury, and the fact her first book in 2015 was seen as a big part of the widely-criticised “clean eating” movement which she has since distanced herself from.

The majority of the recipes in the book involve affordable, hearty ingredients – but this is still Deliciously Ella; you can’t help but notice the odd thing many people probably wouldn’t be able to get at their local corner shop, like tapioca flour and tahini.

Food is a big part of Ella’s ethos, but she’s started seeing it as just one part of a bigger picture. Each chapter in the new book explores a different issue, from mental health to the environment.

“We too often look at our diet and the way we eat in isolation, and actually, I’m not sure that’s helpful to any of us,” says Ella. “The way we live and the way we eat is so reflective, and often when people think about getting healthier and making a change in the way they’re eating, they go first and foremost to their diet. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s what I did as well. But at the same time, there’s so much more to it. Broccoli is great, but broccoli isn’t the answer to everything.”

Instead, Mills says she’s interested in wellness (for lack of a better word) as a whole – how your mental health can affect your gut, the impact sleep has on your wellbeing, even analysing your relationship to people and the world around you as a whole.

“It’s increasingly important to look at all of it in context, and not get too overly focused on one thing or another,” she says.

So, if you do want to have a healthier lifestyle, it’s worth looking at all aspects of it – not just diet. Mills’ top piece of advice for making positive changes and sticking to them is finding what works for you.

“So much comes back to what you actually enjoy, because nothing lasts if you don’t enjoy it,” she adds.

“Nothing is sustainable for the long term in your life if there’s no pleasure in it, and I think that’s the fundamental difference between trying to eat well and taking care of yourself for the long-term, and a diet.”

On a personal level, Mills thinks “eating well is more important than it’s ever been before”, since becoming a parent.

“Because we want to cook with, and encourage our baby to enjoy home-cooked food and make that a part of what she knows and what she does, but also to have the energy to juggle 7,000 things at any one day! The only way to do that consistently is to make it quick and easy – it has to be genuinely doable on a day-to-day basis.”

So what else can you expect from her latest book? Deliciously Ella fans will see all her signatures – comforting vegan food taking inspiration from a variety of cuisines, but with more of an emphasis on batch-cooking and quick recipes.

Ultimately, Ella is looking to the future. “Our mental and physical health isn’t something we want for the next week. It’s something that we want for decades.”

Deliciously Ella Quick & Easy: Plant-based Deliciousness by Ella Mills, published by Yellow Kite, £25


Mushroom and walnut ragu recipe

© Nassima Rothacker/PA
Mushroom and walnut ragu from Deliciously Ella

As a new mum, these days Ella Mills is all about meals that won’t be ruined if you turn your back for a moment, like this mushroom and walnut ragu.

Ingredients:

  • 20g dried porcini mushrooms
  • 250ml boiling water
  • 100g walnuts
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 2 celery stalks, finely diced
  • Olive oil
  • 400g chestnut or button mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 red pepper, deseeded and diced
  • 1tsp dried thyme
  • 1tsp dried oregano
  • 1tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 × 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1tbsp tomato purée
  • 2tbsp tamari
  • 1–2tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 4 portions of pasta
  • Salt and pepper
  • Handful of chopped parsley, to serve

Method

Soak the dried mushrooms. Put them into a bowl with the boiling water and leave for 20 minutes. Once soaked, drain well (but keep the liquid), then cut the mushrooms into small pieces.

Chop the walnuts into tiny pieces – they need to look like large breadcrumbs. Place them in a large, deep frying pan over a medium heat and toast for about five minutes, until golden, stirring every now and again. Once toasted, remove from the heat and spoon into a bowl. Place the frying pan back on the heat.

Add the onion, garlic and celery to the frying pan, along with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Cook for five to 10 minutes, until soft.

Add the fresh mushrooms and red pepper, with the thyme, oregano and rosemary, and cook for about five minutes, until soft.

Stir in the chopped tomatoes, tomato purée, tamari and dried mushrooms with their water. Leave to simmer for 10–15 minutes – you want the ragu to be thick and have lost the excess liquid. Stir in the walnuts and nutritional yeast and leave them to cook in the sauce for a final five minutes.

While the ragu is simmering, cook your pasta in a pan of boiling water. Drain well then stir into the ragu once both are ready. Serve with a sprinkling of chopped parsley.