Ella Mills, founder of Deliciously Ella, is one of the biggest names in the plant-based eating world. After starting her blog back in 2012, the business has grown into a deli, releasing recipe books, podcasts and even an app. We chat to Ella about her new book, pregnancy, and her go-to dishes as she prepares to become a mum for the second time.
With becoming a mum, your life has changed quite a lot in recent years. Has that changed the type of food you eat and cook?
Definitely, everything has to be quicker and easier than ever before, we make a lot of ten-fifteen minute recipes and I batch cook much more than I did before. Our lentil and aubergine bolognese is the current fave – such an easier one to make lots of and then I can freeze the rest for another day, we serve it with pasta, jacket potatoes and roast veggies. I’m more keen than ever to make a variety of different dishes with different flavours and textures so that Skye, our daughter, tries lots of new things.
You started working on your new book ‘Deliciously Ella: Quick & Easy’ only weeks after giving birth to your first child. How did you juggle becoming a new mum and writing at the same time?
It wasn’t easy to say the least! I had such bad morning sickness at the start of my pregnancy that I couldn’t recipe test for a few months and got really behind with the book so had to jump straight back in when she was born. I absolutely loved bringing her to set though when we were shooting the book, she loved all the stimulation and I’m sure it helped her confidence, she loves people.
Which go-to meals does your daughter, Skye, enjoy?
Pesto pasta with peas and spinach, anything with black beans and risotto – Camilla’s risotto in Quick and Easy is a huge hit, she literally puts her head in the bowl, it’s so funny! I make her lots of the dips too, it’s such an easy way to get more good stuff into her diet and she loves things like our creamy greens spread with avocado, lime, coriander, roasted garlic, tahini and edamame on rice cakes (the recipe also has jalapenos in it but I don’t include those for her).
You are currently expecting your second child – congratulations! How do you find being pregnant while following a plant-based diet? Have you had to make any adjustments?
It’s great, I followed a plant-based diet with both pregnancies and feel really well.
Although it’s a way off for your children, do you have any good ideas for children’s veggie packed lunches for school?
I think the dips and spreads are ideal for sandwiches and wraps, plus the smashed chickpea sandwiches are brilliant – they’re a tuna mayo concept with red onion, lemon, sweetcorn, a splash of cider vinegar, homemade mayo and chickpeas piled onto of some bread with avocado, tomato and lettuce. The pea and butter bean fritters are fab too and a nice way to mix up a lunchbox.
During lockdown, many people returned to the traditional ‘big weekly shop’ and began planning meals more. What’s your food shopping style and do you plan your meals in advance at home?
I did the same and I really enjoyed it, it definitely got me cooking even more than normal, which I loved – there’s nothing nicer than sitting down to family dinner at the end of the day. I tried to follow my ‘cook once, eat three times’ rule, so I’d pick recipes where I could triple the recipe and put the rest in the fridge or freezer for later in the week. Our easy red lentil dal, satay sweet potato curry and mushroom walnut ragu were our main go-to dishes for a long time.
In these difficult times, we’ve seen many wonderful acts of kindness and community spirit. Do you have a favourite big batch recipe from your new book that is perfect for sharing with friends or neighbours?
Those three batch cooking recipes are brilliant – the ragu is probably the most popular recipe from the book and seems to be a real hit with veggies and non-veggies alike so it may be a good place to start. The chocolate chip banana bread is a real winner too!
Your new book is all about speed – quick food and cooking ahead – do you think people have less time for food preparation now?
I think so many of us have such great intentions when it comes to cooking from scratch but making it happen is a whole other story! Life just gets so busy so quickly and the days run away from you, so the easier it is the more likely we are to do it I find.
Your podcast is now on series six. How did you get into podcasts and what do you think makes it so successful?
I love making our podcast, it’s my favourite part of what we do, I’ve learnt so much through it about what really matters when it comes to our health and wellness and what doesn’t – why do we need sleep, exercise, how to look after our mental health and so much more. The aim is to make it as useful as I can for people and talk to world experts to guide that.
Is it more work to put together a podcast series or a cookbook? Which do you enjoy most?
They’re so different and I truly love both – the podcast gives us a really nice holistic, 360 view of our mental and physical health, which I think is so important, you can’t just look at the way you eat in isolation if you’re trying to feel a little more energised. The book means I get to experiment and be creative, I so enjoy the creative process of bringing it together as well as the recipe testing.
What is the one ingredient you would tell people to add to their diet to improve it?
I don’t think there is one magic ingredient or silver bullet when it comes to our health, it’s just about more fruit and veg, more fibre, more home cooked meals that you enjoy – if you don’t enjoy it then it won’t last. My number one tip in terms of long-term success though is to stay away from rabbit food! Healthy eating should celebrate great ingredients, textures and flavours; it should be rich, colourful and abundant and it should satisfy you physically and mentally. Stay away from bland salads and drop any preconceptions that eating well is about just lettuce, grated carrot and cucumber. Instead think sautéed spices in coconut milk curries and dals, miso-marinated roasted veggies, peanutty noodles and banana bread.
Which dish could you not live without?
Anything with houmous, sweet potatoes, avocado or peanut butter!
What’s next for you?
I’m taking a few months off now to welcome our second daughter into the world, but as a company we’ve got so much going on – we’re turning our deli into a restaurant over the autumn, which we’re incredibly excited about. We’re also launching a selection of new products into supermarkets over the next few months and are working on big plans for our app.
Deliciously Ella: Quick & Easy by Ella Mills, published by Yellow Kite.
A taster of recipes from 'Deliciously Ella: Quick and Easy'