A top London foodie, bestselling cookbook author and passionate sustainability champion, Melissa Hemsley, is working with The UK & Ireland Mushroom Producers to help inspire people to eat more healthy locally produced food and minimise food waste. Having worked alongside her sister Jasmine making up the successful Hemsley Hemsley sister duo, which won over the British public by sharing their incredible tips and tricks to healthy eating and living, Melissa also has a whopping 184k followers on Instagram where she gives people advice on how to eat more sustainably.

We sat down with Melissa to talk about all things sustainability and food, here is what she had to say…

How did you become so passionate about sustainable eating?

The urgency of the climate crisis motivated me to cook sustainably and talk more about sustainability and talk more about farmers, soil health, seasons, not wasting food and rethinking habitual shopping. We all have an impact every day, from what we put on our skin, to what we put in our mouths, to how we shop.

We eat three times a day so there are many things we can do to make sure we are eating more sustainably. Small steps add up! For instance, if we have a choice of two packaging options, go for the compostable or recyclable one or ask your local shop to stock something in a more sustainable way.

Why do you believe it’s so important to eat locally produced food?

We have INCREDIBLE produce on our doorsteps. I like to be in touch with nature as much as possible (not easy with our busy indoor lives) and eat with the seasons. I’d recommend getting to know what produce is in season and shop accordingly. The UK and Ireland Mushroom Producers provide enough mushrooms to supply the whole of the UK’s supermarkets; available 52 weeks of the year. When purchasing mushrooms from your local supermarket, it’s important to always check the country of origin, which can be found on front of pack to ensure you’re purchasing the freshest, highest quality produce available to you.

What are your 5 favourite seasonal British ingredients?

  • Mushrooms!  All types, if you make me pick a favourite, I’d say top spot is shiitake and a good old everyday chestnut.
  • Asparagus – 6 week window, add them to all my salads while I can and save the asparagus stems for soups and stock
  • Herbs and herb stems!
  • Tomatoes – cherry, big, any colour – love them all
  • Blackberries – love going blackberry picking – adding them to smoothies, breakfasts salads, chutneys, pancakes – blackberry is delicious in savoury dishes too

What are your top tips on incorporating more vegetables into our dishes?

  • Make the most of herbs: they aren’t just a flavour sprinkle or garnish, they are an amazing way to enjoy more greens. In spring, treat yourself to a new set of herb pots and if you look after them, you’ll be able to use the herbs all year long. Make sure you experiment with where your herbs should be placed in the house, to make sure they are getting enough sunlight.
  • I love raw veg, cooked veg, for me an easy breezy way to enjoy lots of veg all week is roast a huge tray or 2 of ANY vegetable: Make sure you always have a tray of roasted vegetables nearby, you can use them for soups, salads or a frittata. Roasting is also a great way to concentrate flavour and a good way of making use of a flopping carrot or celery stick.
  • Put veg much more front and centre of your plate. I think veg first. If you do eat meat and want inspiration for more veg – remember that mushrooms are a great substitute and alternative to meat and to help good quality meat go further.

We’ve heard you’re doing some work with the UK & Ireland Mushroom Producers, please could you tell us a little bit more about this?

I’m passionate about supporting local farmers and suppliers and I love mushrooms so it’s a total pleasure and joy to have been able to spend time writing up and shooting my favourite mushroom recipes and introducing interesting ways to enjoy them. So far, I have had an amazing response to the recipes, and pictures of people’s dinners are flooding my Instagram feed!

Every time you cook, keep a bowl next to you and add any leftover ingredients that can be added to a soup, smoothie or stock to reduce your food waste. This technique is visual, and you can see what ingredients you can challenge yourself to cook with.

What are three of your favourite signature dishes?

One is my *fruit bowl bake* as so many people told me they often threw away soft apples and overly ripe bananas so this is a fantastic and DELICIOUS way to ‘save your fruit bowl / clear your fruit bowl’ and make yourself a great afternoon snack and it’s tasty and not too sweet so it’s brilliant for breakfast.

I’d love to recommend 2 incredible hearty salads- sesame mushroom noodle salad with pickled cucumbers  – this tastes amazing at picnics, lunch parties and can whip it up in a hurry – and then my other favourite I make all the time – roasted mushrooms and sweet potato wedges with halloumi and a chilli lemon honey dressing – mushrooms and halloumi are a match made in heaven.

Can you share some simple tricks to create a more sustainable kitchen?

  • Try looking for loose items, refillable items including spices, and compostable or recyclable packaging when you buy your mushrooms. Have an internet search to see where your closest refill shop is – ALSO I absolutely love the rise in refill trucks that go around different neighbourhoods on different days – often called Top Up Trucks.
  • Meal planning can also help us waste less.  It’s good to have a rough idea of what you want to cook that week. Batch cooking also helps us invest in ourselves by having some great dishes ready to go and ready to be reheated for rainy days and busy weeks and also means we can save food rather than binning it.
  • Leftovers get me excited but I understand the idea can be off putting to some. I love keep stocked up with 2 or 3 of my favourite herbs and spices to make them more exciting so if you end up with some vegetables or ingredients that you find less exciting – a spice paste, a herb sprinkle or your favourite condiment to bring them back to life.

What are your top tips to reduce food waste?

Using up every last bit of food is also important, so don’t throw away your mushroom’s stalks and don’t peel them. Just give your mushrooms a wipe with a damp tea towel and chop the stalks and fry them up.

I’d definitely recommend a ‘bin audit’ – be honest with yourself, what are you throwing away, it’s probably the same ingredients each week so see if you can challenge yourself to buy less or commit to eating more of it up! It could give you inspiration to have another go next week at wasting less. Or try freezing them or eating them earlier in the week if you won’t eat it later in the week to avoid waste.

In your opinion, what are the best 5 best sustainable places to eat in London?

  • Chantelle Nicholson has a restaurant called Tredwells, and she is all about zero waste and seasonality.
  • Dough McMaster’s SILO in hackney wick – his quote ‘waste is a failure of the imagination’
  • SPRING restaurant, Somerset House, Skye Gyngell is my hero – was overjoyed that she gave me a cover quote for my book Eat Green
  • Native in Southwark is pioneering and celebrates foraged finds, wild foods, biodynamic wines and is a real source of inspiration.
  • Scully St James, Ramael Scully (who I met in his Ottolenghi days) is a wonder at waste free cooking – when you walk into his restaurant you are greeted by a giant wall of ferments, preserves, pickles – he doesn’t waste a thing and it’s a really gorgeous restaurant.  He’s got an amazing mushroom ketchup!

The UK and Ireland Mushrooms Producers has partnered with Melissa Hemsley to inspire the nation to cook new and flavourful food that highlights the versatility of mushrooms in recipes. For inspiration on how to use tasty mushrooms in an array of meals, head to @madewithmushrooms on Instagram to see the latest creations.

Check out Melissa’s Favourite Zero Waste WFH Lunch

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