Sweet potato and black bean shepherd's pie; creamy coconut porridge drizzled with juicy goji berries; crispy corn fritters dolloped with avocado mash; Sri Lankan-style curry with sautéed mustard, chick peas, and zucchini. Since becoming a household name across the pond, 27-year-old British food blogger Ella Mills—better known as Deliciously Ella to her 1.3 million Instagram followers—has not only helped lead a long-overdue shift towards healthier, plant-based eating in the UK, but also emphasized nutrition in a way that's approachable—without straying too far from her country's comfort food roots. "It's about celebrating the richness, abundance, and flavor of plants," explains Mills, who is devoted to shifting the perception that plant-based cooking is bland, boring, and above all, restrictive. "There's this assumption that it's all rabbit food—limp lettuce, grated carrot, and crudites," she says with a laugh. "I think showing people that they can take these supposedly ‘boring’ foods and transform them in an easy, inexpensive way is key. Remember guacamole is a vegetable, it's not only about kale!"
Back in 2011, Mills' health journey began when she was diagnosed at the age of 19 with rare illness postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, which compromised her autonomic nervous system and left her with chronic fatigue and digestive issues. Seeking an alternative to medication for treatment, she eventually turned to a plant-based diet free of gluten, meat, sugar, and dairy. Inspired by the life-changing results, she launched her blog Deliciously Ella the following year, sharing delectable recipes with equally mouth-watering visuals. Since then, the blue-eyed English beauty has acquired a steadfast audience, written multiple cookbooks (her new book Deliciously Ella: The Plant-Based Cookbook hits shelves stateside next spring), and launched restaurants in London—all while spreading the science-backed gospel of eating more plants and less processed foods.
"The gut contains about 70% of our immune system and the absorption of vitamins and minerals from our food is central to the health of other organs including our brain," she explains. "Our diet needs a lot of fiber and a diverse range of plant-based foods to feed all the microbes, which is where fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and beans and legumes come into play."
In the midst of London Fashion Week, a four-day spree that underlines the need for equal parts satiating and fortifying sustenance, here Mills provides a beginner's guide to going plant-based.
Start By Restocking Your Pantry
"Stock the cupboard with dry ingredients, so you can whip something up really easily when you get home," advises Mills, who breaks down the essentials into four main categories:
Herbs and Spices: "They're essential to helping make any ingredient or dish taste great, adding rich flavor and depth to each bite," she explains of the go-to's she mixes and matches for every recipe: Cumin, paprika, turmeric, mustard seeds, cayenne pepper, chili flakes, dried coriander, thyme, rosemary, oregano, and raw cacao powder (for sweetness).
Condiments and Sauces: For Mills, tamari, apple cider vinegar, tahini, nut butters, sesame oil, coconut oil, and a nice extra virgin olive oil serves as extra splashes of taste when recalibrating the flavor of a nutritious meal. "Stirring peanut butter and chilli flakes into a simple olive oil dressing instantly adds so much flavor to roasted vegetables, while adding tamari and apple cider vinegar to your quinoa and rice while it cooks keeps the grain from being bland," she explains. Then, for curries, stews, soups, pasta sauces, and other warming dishes, tinned tomatoes and coconut milk are major players. "Coconut milk makes the dish creamy and is a great carrier for all herbs and spices too," she says.
Grains and Pasta: More often than not, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Mills' meals are anchored by a grain as a base, side, or snack. "I make porridge oats for breakfast with almond milk and then top my bowl with peanut butter and banana slices," she says, adding that she'll use jumbo oats for baked goods such as on-the-go bars, cookies, and gluten-free cakes. And then, for easy meals after a long day's work: "I love quinoa, brown rice, and buckwheat with salads, veggie bowls, and spicy curries, then use pasta for easy ten-minute meals."
Tinned Legumes : When rounding out a plant-based dish, you can't go wrong with beans, lentils, and chickpeas, which add more protein and make it heartier, says Mills. "I love making homemade hummus with chickpeas, using the lentils for warming dahls, and beans for veggie curries and stews," she says, adding that sautéed black beans in lots of garlic is always a favorite when cooking for friends.
Revamp Your Kitchen Appliances
Ingredients are only half the battle. And while there's nothing like the blissful ease of unboxing takeout, these days there are a plethora of cutting-edge appliances designed to make life easy when cooking your own meals. Making enhancing simple ingredients a cinch, Mills' kitchen MVPS are a Nutribullet Blender and MagiMix Food Processer. "I use my blender for simple things, mostly speedy breakfast smoothies and quick soups," she explains. "And then my food processor helps me make everything from hummus, pesto, and dips to energy balls, banana bread, and a whole host of desserts. It's so versatile and really increases the number of things that you can make at home with fresh, natural ingredients."
Shop Locally and Seasonally
When it comes to shopping for fruits and vegetables, the farmer's market practically does the work for you. "I think food tastes better when it’s seasonal and local, so that’s a great reason to shop seasonally, plus of course it’s better for the planet as we skip food miles," she explains. In the spring and summer, try a Mediterranean-inspired mix of roasted aubergines, peppers, zucchini, and red onion with garlic, balsamic vinegar, and sun-blushed tomato pesto over a bed of wild rice. Or, homemade zucchini noodles, cut with a spiralizer and drenched in a mint avocado sauce. In the fall and winter, try a warming squash, cannellini beans, and quinoa stew or a hot bowl of curry with potatoes, spinach, and carrots with spiced coconut sauce, cumin, turmeric and, chili. "It’s an incredibly inexpensive meal too, which is always great and it freezes well, so it's a very practical recipe to add to your repertoire," she explains of the latter.
Try Batch Cooking
In the spirit of planning ahead for busy, weekday nights, Mills likes to batch cook on the weekend, making a big meal once, freezing it, and then tweaking the dish through the week. Usually it starts with a grain, boiled with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, a drizzling of tamari, dried herbs and pink salt, and then at the end, a spoon or two of tahini stirred in for a richer, creamier flavor. Then, she'll roast vegetables, cut them into small cubes, bake them in the oven on a tray with a generous sprinkling of paprika, dried herbs, cinnamon, and pink salt plus a drizzling of olive oil. Lastly, she prepares hummus. Storing everything in tupperware in the fridge, she'll make "rainbow bowls" throughout the week. Another favorite? "A five bean chili is so easy to make in big quantities," she explains, adding that in one sitting she might eat it with avocado, brown rice, a sprinkle of cilantro, and a squeeze of lime, while another she'll put it inside a roasted sweet potato.
Make Hearty Meals at Home—Especially at Night
As much as possible, Mills and her husband and business parter Matthew make a point of cooking at home. And not just because it's more economical and inherently conducive to sticking to a healthier, plant-based diet, but it's also a way of developing a more meaningful relationship to the food you eat while bringing people together. "I love a warm, homecooked meal in the evening," explains Mills. "I find the process of cooking at home so grounding after a busy day and it's such a nice way to sit down and really catch up with friends and family."
Recalibrate Your Perspective and Stay True to What You Love
"I'm a massive believer in the idea that for anything to be sustainable, it has to be enjoyable," explains Mills. She suggests starting off a plant-based diet with ingredients and recipes that you love and not forcing yourself to eat things just because they're good for you. And in that sense, the Internet is an endless source of knowledge and guidance. "Everyone needs to do what works for them as an individual," she explains. "You need to be fluid and flexible in the approach. For anything to be sustainable it has to be enjoyable. It doesn't have to be all or nothing."
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