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News / Life / Food

Mills offers recipes for healthier way to eat

Her creativity shows versatility and simplicity of plants

By MARK KENNEDY, Associated Press
Published: March 13, 2024, 6:05am
2 Photos
&ldquo;Healthy Made Simple&rdquo; by Ella Mills.
“Healthy Made Simple” by Ella Mills. (Yellow Kite) Photo Gallery

Ella Mills knows we all want to eat healthier. But the English food writer and businesswoman also knows we’re busy and we want everything to taste good. And she understands many of us are nervous about the idea of committing to no meat.

“I know I used to think eating this way would be just like nibbling on sad and soggy carrots and rabbit food all day long,” she says. “But you suddenly start cooking and you realize it’s actually super-flavorsome and textured and interesting and just not what you thought it was.”

Mills is ready to guide us as through this with a line of healthy products and her latest cookbook, “Healthy Made Simple,” featuring over 75 plant-based recipes, from Lemony Pea and Broccoli Pasta to a Creamy Leek, Spinach and Butter Bean Bowl.

“It’s about taking these familiar ingredients that are often seen as a little bit bland, a little bit boring, and trying to give them gentle twists, to make them feel really exciting and rejuvenated,” she says.

“Healthy Made Simple” contain dishes Mills eats at home with her husband and two young children. She aims to have the recipes take less than 30 minutes to make, use no more than five simple steps, and need 10 ingredients or less.

“I just found that was essentially the sweet spot where action and reality merged closer together,” she says.

“We know we need to eat less ultra-processed food. So this is a hand-holding resource to help you do that.”

Mills took a hard look at some of her favorite dishes and tried to create a better balance between flavor, practicality, nutrition and speed.

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“What I found was that oftentimes there was an extra step or an extra pan in there, or like two or three extra ingredients. And it probably made it 5 percent nicer or 10 percent nicer,” she says. “But I’d end up not making the recipes anymore because it was just that little bit more effort.”

“Healthy Made Simple” celebrates whole foods and uses proteins from things like nuts, tofu, lentils, beans and chickpeas. The flavors are global, with ingredients including harissa, udon, satay, miso, pesto, tagine and curry.

“As you start to look around the world, there’s so many places where not necessarily the whole society is vegetarian, but vegetables are the hero and they’re treated with a lot of TLC,” she says.

Take her One-Pan Peanut and Cauliflower Stew, which combines peanut butter, ginger, coconut milk, garlic, rice and curry powder with simmering cauliflower florets. It’s got heat, crunch and tastes indulgent.

Lauren Whelan, the publisher for Yellow Kite, the lifestyle and cooking imprint of Hodder & Stoughton, says Mills’ creativity shows the versatility and simplicity of plants. Mills’ sweet potato brownies revolutionized the way that vegetable is used in the U.K., Whelan says.

If Mills is an evangelist for vegetarianism, she says she’s proof of its benefits. At 21, she was diagnosed with Postural Tachycardia Syndrome, which affected her nervous system, and was put on a variety of medications.

She chose to overhaul her diet and started documenting her experience in a blog. Able to wean herself off medicines, Mills has since built up her Deliciously Ella business into seven cookbooks and a food brand.

Mills isn’t preachy and knows her readers may not be ready to go full-on vegetarian. For her, it’s about small steps that can make meaningful changes, like making one or two plant-based dishes a week or highlighting a vegetable one night with the meat as the side dish.

“This is not all or nothing. This is not ‘Everyone should go plant-based tomorrow’ or ‘Everyone should only cook from this book,’” she says. “But it’s like on a Sunday night when you’re at home, could you do one of these recipes and then you’d have some leftovers for lunch?”

One of her new dishes — Spicy Sun-Dried Tomato and Eggplant Ragu — is perfect for skeptics. It adds some heat from harissa and chili to a pasta with eggplant and parsley, finished with walnuts.

“It has this kind of chunky, bolognese ragu-esque texture. That’s the kind of thing that I would make a lot for friends or family who are not sure they’re going to love plant-based stuff, but when you’re tossing that through some nice spaghetti you can always serve it with Parmesan on the side,” she says.

Mills knows the world of health and wellness often chases trends, but she believes in the ultimate power of a well-dressed carrot.

“We so often see health and looking after ourselves as a trend, as a fad, as a six-week plan. Ultimately, that’s not health. Health is looking after yourself for decades,” she says. And to do that, “It can’t be deprivation. It has to be something you want to do on a regular basis.”

Spicy Sun-dried Tomato and Eggplant Ragu

Serves: 4. Time: 30 minutes. This recipe for her cookbook “Healthy Made Simple” has become Ella Mills’ go-to when she’s cooking for friends and family. She says it’s always a hit, and “you get maximum flavor for minimal effort.” She pops ingredients into a mini chopper and blitzes them so they’re finely chopped and coat the spaghetti in a ragu-style sauce. The eggplant really needs to be cut into 0.4 inch pieces or smaller, or else it won’t cook quickly enough and you won’t get the same flavors and textures.

3.5 ounces walnuts, finely chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, blitzed in a mini chopper or very finely chopped

2 eggplant, blitzed in a mini chopper or very finely chopped

2 bunches of flat-leaf parsley (about 1.7 ounces)

4 servings of pasta; spaghetti or tagliolini (2.6 ounces per person)

Sea salt and pepper

FOR THE PASTE

4 garlic cloves

2 tablespoons harissa

1 red chili

Juice of 1 lemon

One 6.7 ounces jar sun-dried tomatoes (4.3 ounces drained weight)

Place a frying pan on a high heat and add the walnuts. Toast for about 3 minutes, tossing them a couple of times, then pour them into a small bowl and place to one side.

Using the same pan, start the ragu. Pour in the olive oil and warm it over a medium heat, then add the onion and eggplant with some salt and cook for 5 minutes, until they are starting to soften.

While they cook, make the paste. Put the garlic, harissa, chili, sun-dried tomatoes plus 3 tablespoons of olive oil from their jar, and the lemon juice into a mini chopper or food processor and blitz until they form a thick, chunky paste. If you don’t have a processor you can finely chop everything and stir it together. Add the sun-dried tomato mix to the eggplant and cook everything together on a low heat for about 10 minutes, until the veg is tender and the sauce is flavorsome.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling salted water, following the instructions on the pack. Once the pasta is cooked, add 0.6 cups of the pasta water to the ragu, and stir until you have a lovely glossy sauce.

Stir in the drained pasta, walnuts and parsley, and cook everything together for a minute or so. Season to taste and serve with lots of pepper.

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