This feature is part of The Happy Foodie's A Home-Cooked Summer series in partnership with Waterstones.
Hello everyone, sending you all love from my kitchen to yours. Over the last three months, I have felt that I can be most useful during these very tough times by offering comfort, inspiration and lockdown larder answers, and I know my food writer and chef friends agree. By continuing to share easy, nourishing, doable recipes and as many tips and suggestions as possible, I hope to help people feel more confident about cooking and food shopping. Most importantly, I want to give them one less thing to worry about and a few chances every day to stop, rest and replenish at the table.
It has been cheering to see everyone coming together during lockdown – feeding neighbours and key workers, sharing food within communities (if you're keen to do the same, I really recommend the app Olio that I cook with), volunteering (see The Felix Project) and championing direct routes to farmers who have started deliveries to our doors. The ‘old ways’ of supporting local, seeking seasonal and championing small businesses are back and long may this continue. I’ve compiled an ongoing list of small food businesses, farmers and food charities that are working tirelessly to distribute fresh produce to us here, with a special shout out to two nationwide services: Farms To Feed Us and Food Chain. Though I'm not blessed with green fingers, my humble veg patch (mainly easy to maintain herbs and lettuce) is coming along nicely enough and I know lots of us are having a go and really relishing taking this opportunity to ‘grow our own’. It makes me respect farmers and Mother Nature even more.
Long before the pandemic, I realised that I feel happiest 'at work' and that my writing is most meaningful and helpful when I am sharing 'waste not want not' tips, tricks and recipes that inspire readers to get the most out of what they already have and waste less in the process. Wasting less is not only kinder to the purse and planet, it also feels good, which is what inspired me to write my fourth cookbook, Eat Green, a celebration of flexibility. It champions the seasons, the ingredients in your kitchen cupboards and the endless potential of your freezer. It also encourages you to eat a greater variety of veg, and lots more of it, and has plenty of ideas for what to do with the every day ingredients we all buy (and throw away) the most. There’s lots of delicious ways to get more resourceful and flexible with recipes, swapping different veg and cupboard staples in or out to make the best use of what you can get your hands on in the shop or what you've got that needs using up. It’s about getting the confidence to freestyle recipes and finding more creativity and freedom with cooking rather than feeling stuck, uninspired or worried that what you’ve got doesn’t ‘fit’ with the recipe in front of you. Here are five recipes I've chosen from the book to get you started this summer…
One storecupboard superstar – Niçoise Salad with Fried Chickpeas
This is what I call a satisfying salad; one that hits all the right texture notes, is full of flavour and feels like a meal – because it is. It’s a twist on the classic with a few extras and also a great way to put some store cupboard staples like tins of chickpeas and lentils to good use. Frying chickpeas until golden and crispy at the edges is one of my favourite ways to enjoy them. Give it a go – it’s a fantastic recipe to add to your summer salad repertoire and you can add any veg you like.
One slow-cooked bowl of comfort – Rescue Noodle Soup
Soothing to make and soothing to eat, this is the bowl of comfort that I turn to whenever I need a helping hand. Even on hot nights, nourishing hot soup can be the tonic you need and, like in all of my recipes, there’s ideas for changing things up – adding fresh or frozen veg, any noodles (or ends of different packets of pasta) and amping up the broth with ginger, garlic and chilli if you fancy it. For a vegetarian version, I add any mushrooms and some dried seaweed.
One easy bake – Tahini Choc Chip Cookies
When I turn on my phone every day, I see photo after photo of lovely people making these cookies that have been renamed ‘Cupboard Cookies’ during lockdown. They are essentially made using five ingredients that you can play around with and because there is no flour, they are especially popular. What's more, if you're running low on eggs or are vegan you can swap them for a banana, helping you to use up your ripe bananas too – win win. Like many of us, I adore tahini and using it in this recipe means that the cookies are a gorgeous mix of sweet and a bit salty. They’re a real favourite of mine and pre-lockdown I used to take tubs of these on the train to bookshops to share when I was on my book tour all over the UK.
One quick and easy meal – Fridge-raid Frittata
For breakfast, lunch or dinner, my failsafe quick and easy meal is this one. Here it stars broccoli as it’s one of the most popular vegetables in the country and you’ll probably have a head of it at home but you can swap it for whatever you have, hence ‘the fridge raid’. It’s a great way of going through your fridge to see what you might have – ends of cheese, perhaps half an onion, a few scraggly spring onions or the last handful of a packet of rocket or salad leaves. Currently I have lots of tomatoes so I’m enjoying halving cherry tomatoes and dotting them on top which looks very pleasing and is a great way to enjoy them as we enter their season.
One make it and freeze it weeknight saviour – Quinoa Cakes with Chimichurri Yoghurt and Herb Stems
Every Friday night I’ve been making ‘Friday Fritters’ on my social media. I hope you’ll join me and make these. I call them ‘cakes’ but they’re essentially fat fritters and they come with an utterly delicious herby punchy yoghurt to drizzle on top. They’re a great way to waste less and use up leftover grains and herbs. I like to make a pot of quinoa or buckwheat earlier in the week to use as a base for salads, soups, mezzes and then use the leftovers in this recipe, or you could use leftover rice too. You then put your leftover herb stems to work in the chimichurri (a South American-inspired herby green sauce). You can freeze the ‘cakes’ if you like and you can make them mini too so that you can enjoy them as a bitesize snack for a picnic in the park or in your garden.
Five more reasons Eat Green is an essential companion to A Home-Cooked Summer, from The Happy Foodie team
1. Lockdown has presented us all with a very pressing set of culinary hurdles to overcome, from elusive ingredients to reduced excursions to the shops. As a result, it's understandable if some of the planet-friendly habits we had been sticking to pre-pandemic have fallen somewhat by the wayside as other worries take centre stage. That's where Eat Green comes in. Packed full of Melissa's easy, non-judgemental and accessible tips to help you live more sustainably whatever your circumstances, it'll help you get back on a greener path to less plastic and less waste while also helping you to put delicious food on the table.
2. With its emphasis on creative cooking with what you've got in your cupboards, Eat Green reads like a cookbook that was written especially for lockdown. Think dahl, butter bean bake and chickpea curry.
3. If baking is getting you through the lockdown but it's still a struggle to track down flour or you're looking for some healthier flour-free alternatives, there's plenty of inspiration in Eat Green. Aside from the aforementioned Cupboard Cookies, the almond flour-based Fruit Bowl Bake has become a firm favourite among The Happy Foodie team and can easily be whipped up of an afternoon. And for a flour-free showstopper, we love the Chai Parsnip and Carrot Cake made using blitzed oats, quinoa flakes or buckwheat flakes and plenty of layers of aromatic and warming spices.
4. Eat Green is all about working with what's in season, so you'll find plenty of ways to bring the summer to your table by making the most of the fruit and veg you'll find in your veg box deliveries and local greengrocers over the coming months. The likes of the one-tin Green Harissa Summer Veg Tray Bake and Courgette and Feta Salad with Homemade Dukkah will be on heavy rotation at our table this summer, with the seasonal Frangipane Fruit Tarts making an appearance for dessert when we've got a glut of fruit to use up.
5. For many of us, midweek breakfasts and lunches have become new-found mealtimes to enjoy. Instead of a inhaling a quick bowl of cereal before dashing out of the house and scoffing down a sandwich al-desko, we're now able to enjoy much more mindful and creative meals throughout the day, but this brings with it the added pressure of additional meal planning and some inspiration certainly wouldn't go amiss. From the chapter dedicated to breakfast and containing gems like Buckwheat Galettes Two Ways and The Ultimate Veggie Brunch, to the myriad recipes perfect for inspiring your work from home lunches, you'll find all the ideas you need in Eat Green.