Melissa and Jasmine Hemsley Photograph: Phil Fisk for Observer Food MonthlyFrom sweet potato brownies and sesame chicken salad to old-fashioned bone broth – you don’t have to sacrifice taste to eat well.
Jasmine & Melissa Hemsley
Who: The Hemsley sisters – Jasmine, 35, and Melissa, 29, with the fringe – are the only ones of our healthy cooks who eat meat and they don’t do it by halves. Their first cookbook, The Art of Eating Well, features roasted bone marrow, osso buco and a hunking great steak, fried in ghee or duck fat and served with a mustard leek sauce. In fact, you have to read many of their recipes very closely to realise they have any connection with eating virtuously. Hemsley & Hemsley do fried chicken, just with almonds in place of breadcrumbs and oven-baked; their shepherd’s pie is topped with cauliflower mash.
At the heart of many of their dishes is “bone broth” – stock, really, but cooked slower and longer than many of us have the patience for. It’s an old-fashioned idea, but the Hemsleys are bringing it back into fashion. “Bone broth is one of the oldest foods: it’s a food for the sick and the weak, it’s a food for the old and the young, anyone who’s got digestive issues,” says Jasmine. Their secret is a long, slow cook: a chicken carcass gets at least six hours; beef bones bubble away for up to a full day. “It has to gel,” adds Melissa, “like a wobbly thigh.”
Since 2012, the sisters have blogged for the Vogue website; The Art of Eating Well, published last summer, has scarcely left the top 10 lists. “We’re really meat and two veg,” explains Jasmine, a former model, with a smile – it’s just the veg is likely to be rainbow coleslaw or carrots twirled through a spiraliser.
What’s their ethos: “People are now like: ‘Why can’t I have it all? Why can’t food be delicious and good for me,’” says Melissa. “And the proof is in the pudding – literally. If the food didn’t taste good, people would stop making it, stop buying it and they’d move on. But because there’s fat in it, this is the food they want to eat. It’s the food I want to eat, anyway.”
How they got started: Their mother is Filipino and has inspired a number of their recipes; their father was a lieutenant colonel in the British army. The sisters remember at least eight houses and seven schools across England and in Germany. But the biggest influence was when Jasmine started modelling after school. “Counting calories wasn’t really my era,” she recalls. “It was more like skipping meals. So I started bringing my own food to shoots because you don’t know what you’re going to get. People would always make fun: ‘Are you eating butter? That’s not allowed, is it?”
Word, however, of her exotic packed lunches spread, and in 2010 Jasmine began to prepare meals for private clients, mainly in fashion and entertainment. She soon had so much work that she brought in Melissa, who was then working in marketing for a chain of gastropubs. They share all duties now, although Jasmine likes to bake while Melissa takes the lead on curries.
Hemsley and Hemsley’s sesame chicken salad with cucumber noodles
This is a refreshing summer salad with cucumber noodles and Asian flavours. And it is the perfect way to use up leftover chicken. If you have no leftover chicken, serve instead with a little fish or sliced seared beef. We love raw chopped pak choi, but you can substitute with Chinese-style cabbage or finely shredded English cabbage. Eat this within a few hours as the cucumber will start to get watery, or make everything else up in advance and prepare the cucumber noodles just before serving.
If you’re taking this for lunch, pack the chicken first, then arrange all the veg on top so they don’t get squashed, and take your dressing in a separate jar.
For the salad
black or white sesame seeds 2tbsp
romaine or cos lettuce 1 small head, shredded into ribbons
pak choi 1 small head or Chinese cabbage 150g, shredded into ribbons
spring onions 3, thinly sliced
fresh coriander a handful, roughly chopped
cooked chicken 250g, shredded
red chilli 1, finely chopped, to garnish (optional)
For the sesame dressing
sesame oil (not toasted) or extra virgin olive oil 5 tbsp
toasted sesame oil 2 tbsp
lime juice of 1 or lemon juice 3 tbsp
raw runny honey 2 tsp
tamari or sea salt 1 tsp
Gently toast the sesame seeds in a dry pan until fragrant. Use a spiraliser or julienne peeler to make the cucumber noodles. Or use a regular vegetable peeler to slice the cucumbers lengthways into wide pappardelle-style ribbons. You might want to cut the long, spiralised strands in half to make them easier to eat.
Prepare the dressing by whisking together all the ingredients in a bowl or shaking them together in a jam jar. Add the lettuce, pak choi, spring onion and coriander to a bowl. Pour over the dressing and mix everything together.
Plate up with some shredded chicken, and top with toasted sesame seeds and the red chilli, if using. Serve immediately.
No leftover chicken? Just roast 2 large chicken thighs at fan 200C/gas mark 6 for 25-30 minutes until cooked, then shred quickly with two forks to cool the meat quickly.
Who: Deliciously Ella is, simply, the food-publishing phenomenon of 2015. Four years ago, 23-year-old Ella Woodward was a university student who couldn’t cook. Really, scarcely boil an egg: “I hated fruit, I hated vegetables, I’d never eaten brown rice and I lived off pick ’n’ mix,” she says. Now her recipe collection, Deliciously Ella, which came out in January, is the fastest-selling debut cookbook ever, spending six weeks at No 1 in the charts. Her blog receives 6 million hits a month and she has 400,000 followers on Instagram. Not bad for someone who has never cooked in a restaurant and has no TV presence.
Woodward’s food is unfussy, mostly quick to prepare and generous. She avoids labels such as vegan – she doesn’t touch meat, dairy, gluten or sugar herself, but unlike some others featured here, she is happy to include pasta or rice (very occasionally) in her recipes. “It’s just about trying to put the vegetable in the middle of the dish,” she explains. But perhaps the main reason for Deliciously Ella’s success is Woodward’s own story: she suffered from postural tachycardia syndrome, which can cause debilitating nausea, dizziness and blurred vision. She was laid up in bed for almost a year and says her change in diet – along with exercise – has been a key part of her recovery.
What’s her ethos?: “There’s a preconception this food is weird and different,” says Woodward. “I wanted to do it in a way that was as simple as possible, with an ingredients list and method that was as short as possible, and make it taste good and not be terrifying.”
How she got started: Rock bottom for Woodward came when she took a trip to Morocco with her boyfriend before her illness had been diagnosed. The trip lasted less than 24 hours before she had to return home on a drip with food poisoning.
At the time, Woodward was an art student at St Andrews University and recently signed to the Models 1 agency. She imagined a future living with her parents – Labour MP Shaun Woodward and Camilla Sainsbury, the supermarket heiress – never going out. “If you said to me at the time, ‘This is going to be a great thing for you,’ I’d have punched you in the face,” says Woodward. “But it’s been the best accident ever.”
By far the most popular recipe on Woodward’s blog and in her book are brownies made from sweet potatoes and dates. “They were a mistake,” Woodward admits. “I had loads of steamed sweet potato in the fridge and I just blended it with stuff I always have: dates, cacao, maple syrup and stuff.”
The brownies are the perfect expression of Woodward’s approach. “I still don’t eat bland salads and iceberg lettuce,” she says. “I want to make things we want to eat, just healthier.”
Ella Woodward’s sweet potato brownies
These brownies have consistently been the most popular recipe on my blog. And there’s a good reason for all this love – the brownies are divine. I know it sounds strange to put vegetables into sweet dishes, but sweet potatoes taste more like dessert anyway and they create the gooiest consistency.
If you don’t have any raw cacao powder, then you can use conventional cocoa powder, but you’ll need to at least double the quantity.
Makes 10-12 brownies
sweet potatoes 2 medium-large (600g)
Medjool dates 14, pitted
ground almonds 80g
buckwheat or brown rice flour 100g
raw cacao powder 4 tbsp
maple syrup 3 tbsp
salt a pinch
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Peel the sweet potatoes. Cut them into chunks and place into a steamer for about 20 minutes, until they become really soft.
Once they are perfectly soft and beginning to fall apart, remove them and add them to a food processor with the pitted dates. Blend until a smooth, creamy mix forms.
Put the remaining ingredients into a bowl, before mixing in the sweet potato and date combination. Stir well.
Place the mix into a lined baking dish and cook for about 20-30 minutes, until you can pierce the brownie cake with a fork and bring it out dry.
Remove the tray and allow it to cool for about 10 minutes. This is really important, as the brownies need this time to stick together.
© Ella Woodward. Extracted from Deliciously Ella by Ella Woodward (Yellow Kite, RRP £20). Click here to order a copy for £16 from the Guardian Bookshop
Who: Jones, 36, was a chef long before she became a vegetarian or had much interest at all in healthy eating – and it shows. In the introduction to her 2014 book, A Modern Way to Eat, she explained that “flavour, above anything else, informs my cooking”: that’s why if she thinks a recipe needs butter or sugar or white flour – three of the great evils of the new health movement – that’s exactly what she will (sparingly) use.
Jones’s first kitchen job came as part of the original intake at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen project, and after that she worked for another seven years following Oliver around school canteens and America’s most obese towns. Jones clearly learned a lot about creating dazzling yet deceptively simple food, and she has also embraced Oliver’s don’t-be-too-hard-on-yourself mentality. A Modern Way to Eat is, Jones concedes, a grand title – one that is at odds with its modest author. But the book, already on its fifth print run, could be quietly revolutionary. It is vegetarian but so indulgent, unfussy and satisfying that even carnivores will soon forget that fact.
What’s her ethos: “I really believe we need to eat in a balanced way,” says Jones. “We don’t need to vilify any foods, we don’t need to boost any foods to these ridiculous, almost god-like positions where they are going to cure everything that we do. For me, eating should be about a joyful, shared experience.”
How she got started: Seven years ago, Jones decided to try vegetarianism – just for six weeks, to see how she felt. She was working with Oliver at the time and initially she decided not to tell her colleagues. “There was this feeling that you weren’t worth your stripes unless you were ready to cook a pig snout,” Jones explains, “so it actually felt I was uttering a swear word when I said: ‘I’m vegetarian.’”
The experiment turned out to be a surprising one: not only did Jones feel healthier and have more energy, she found her food was becoming more creative and exciting, not less. “It opened a whole new world,” she says. “Cooking seemed to have lots more dimensions, because I was thinking about layering flavour and texture with pops of citrus, chilli and heat. I was satisfying my palate in a completely different way.”
One of the dishes that epitomise this new approach is called “the Really Hungry Burger” – a reimagining of the maligned veggie burger. The patty is made from a blend of portobello mushrooms, dates, white beans, tahini and soy, topped with avocado and pickled cucumber. And Jones is happy to look the other way if you want to serve it with her sweet potato fries. “There was always a definite worthiness attached to vegetarianism,” she says. “Hopefully this allows people to accept it in a way that isn’t saying, ‘I remember my mum’s vegetarian mate who used to wear the weird purple trousers.’”
Anna Jones’s warm salad of roasted kale, coconut and tomatoes
Roasting this wonderful brassica gives a deep savoury flavour and an amazing crunchy texture, not too far away from the Chinese restaurant crispy seaweed of my childhood.
cherry tomatoes 400g
freshly ground black pepper
olive oil a drizzle
unwaxed limes 2
green or purple kale 1 head (about 200g), stalks removed, leaves roughly torn into bite-size pieces
unsweetened shaved or desiccated coconut a handful
soy sauce or tamari 1 tbsp
For the dressing
fresh ginger a thumb-sized piece, peeled and finely chopped
white miso paste 1 tbsp
tahini 1 tbsp
honey or agave syrup 1 tbsp
coconut or olive oil 1 tbsp
red chilli 1, finely chopped
Preheat your oven to 220C/gas mark 7. Halve the tomatoes and place them on a baking tray with some salt and pepper, a good drizzle of olive oil, the zest of both limes and the juice of 1. Roast for 20 minutes, until blistered and golden.
Next, pile the kale on to a baking tray with the coconut. Pour over the soy sauce and toss well until everything is coated. Roast in the oven with the tomatoes for the last 5–10 minutes of their cooking time, until crisp.
Mix all the dressing ingredients in a bowl with the juice of the second lime. Taste and add a little more seasoning or lime juice if needed, letting your taste buds guide you – remember the dressing will be less punchy once it hits the salad.
Pull the kale and tomatoes out of the oven and tumble them into a big bowl. Toss in the miso dressing, adding a little at a time and tasting as you go, and serve still warm.
Extracted from A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones (Fourth Estate, £25). Click here to buy a copy for £18.99 from the Guardian Bookshop. Anna Jones’s new book, A Modern Way to Cook (Fourth Estate), will be published on 19 July
Who: Sarah Britton lives in Copenhagen and it is tempting to label her food as the new Nordic take on healthy eating. Tempting but probably too simplistic. “Denmark is the land of dairy and pork and potatoes – none of which I eat,” explains Britton, 32, who was born in Toronto. She also points out that she started her blog My New Roots in 2007, a couple of years before she came to Europe, following a Dane, Mikkel, whom she’d met in New York City.
Britton is a graduate of the Institute of Holistic Nutrition in Toronto (she can practise as a nutritionist in Canada, but her qualification is not recognised by the medical community). She cooks mostly with ghee, never olive oil; her recipes are vibrant, heavy on “superfoods” and ruthlessly seasonal. Her recent cookbook, also called My New Roots, is in fact divided into five seasons: after working on a farm – and in common with the Chinese – she splits summer into “early” and “late”.
What’s her ethos: “As much as I feel passionately about plant-based whole foods, I’m relaxed about it as well,” says Britton. “Food should be divine and sensual and sexy and awesome.”
How she got started: Britton was a chef in a vegetarian restaurant in Copenhagen when, in 2010, Mikkel had a hang-gliding accident. “He’s fine now, but it was three months of me feeding him, bathing him and everything else. We had a lot of time to talk: what do we really want out of our lives together?”
Britton decided to leave her job and concentrate on My New Roots. Steadily, her readership grew and then one day a recipe launched the site into the “blog stratosphere”… The Life-Changing Loaf of Bread is a dense, chewy loaf of nuts, seeds and gluten-free rolled oats bound together by psyllium seed husks. Since it originally appeared in February 2013, the post has received 1,500 comments.
“When you become healthier, you really should give up white bread,” says Britton. It’s not that bread is “bad”, she insists, but too often it can form the basis of all three meals. “But this bread convinced people there was this wonderful alternative.”
Sarah Britton’s sprouted wild rice with pistachios and spring vegetables
Sprouting wild rice is a simple and delicious way to enjoy this amazing food completely raw. The process of sprouting wild rice is called “blooming” because the seeds actually unfold, very much like little petals, revealing the pale, tender insides. It’s a really fun thing to watch, however slowly, and it’s groovy to eat something you’ve seen transform over a few days.
This salad combines fresh springtime tastes and textures, all sauced up with a delicious dressing featuring bright lemon and spicy mustard. The herbs add the final layer of flavour, making this a salad that truly tastes alive! Because the rice is sprouted, it is very sweet, requiring salt in the salad – make sure to season it well to suit your own taste.
wild rice 200g (makes 300g sprouted rice)
cold-pressed olive oil 2 tbsp
strong mustard 2 tbsp
organic lemon 1, zested
freshly squeezed lemon juice 2 tbsp
pure maple syrup 1 tsp
fine sea salt
shelled green peas 300g
cooked chickpeas 165g
spring carrots 4, julienned
fresh chives 7g, chopped
fresh dill 7g, chopped
raw pistachios 40g , roughly chopped
Rinse the rice well, put it in a glass jar or bowl, and cover with fresh, pure water. Let it soak on the countertop overnight. In the morning, drain and rinse the rice; then cover it again with fresh water and put the jar in the fridge. Drain and rinse the rice at least twice per day for 2 to 3 days, until it has “bloomed” when it should be tender enough to eat. Drain and rinse and put it in a large bowl.
Whisk the olive oil, mustard, lemon zest and juice, and maple syrup together in a small bowl, adding a few pinches of sea salt. Pour half of the dressing over the rice and fold to coat. Stir the raw peas, chickpeas, carrots, and herbs into the rice.
In a dry frying pan over a medium heat, toast the pistachios until golden and fragrant, about 5 minutes (be careful not to burn them). Add the toasted nuts to the salad. Pour the remaining dressing over and fold to combine. Serve.
Extracted from My New Roots by Sarah Britton (Macmillan, £20). Click here to buy a copy for £16 from Guardian Bookshop