With the release of her new book Deliciously Ella with Friends, the Queen of Courgetti sat down with me to discuss all things plant-based. If you didn’t already know – Ella Mills became Deliciously Ella after becoming seriously ill when she was a second-year student at university. Her blog has led to her being one of the biggest names in vegetarian and vegan cooking right now, with 3 recipe books, London delis, a cosmetic line with Neal’s Yard, and a range of energy balls under her belt. Even if you aren’t quite ready to say goodbye to the soup noodles in favour of some homemade chickpea chill, it’s worth a motivational read to show you that there is nothing stopping you from being just as successful.
P: So first off, what’s the vegetable you can’t live without?
Ella: Gosh would it be really cheesy to say avocado? I think guacamole. I think when people think about eating vegetables they think “oh, I have to eat spinach”, but guacamole is also a vegetable! Guacamole and sweet potato wedges is my favourite.
P: I saw something on your blog that really stood out to me: “To show you that eating well doesn’t mean eating alone and feeling alienated”. How do you think I can encourage my friends to follow a plant-based whole food diet?
E: I think it’s a lot about people’s pre-conceptions. When I thought about eating well I thought, “Oh my gosh, it’s going to be iceberg lettuce salads from here on out”, which is kind of our worst nightmare. I think that’s what a lot of people think, because when people think about eating well they immediately think of diet. That’s where the problem is, that’s why one of my main aims is about showing how to eat hearty delicious food rather than making you feel like you’re on a diet. I think one of the things that helped me was just cooking for friends, because when I said, “do you want a vegan, gluten free meal?” they were like, “no I really really don’t”. Whereas when I said, “I have made this really delicious aubergine curry with mustard seeds and chickpeas with brown rice and apple crumble”, they are like “Yeh feed me”.
P: So it’s about how you talk about it?
E: Yeah, celebrating it as delicious food, and making things that are familiar like stews, curries and crumble – rather than “come over for raw kale and courgetti”. I think it’s about trying to show people rather than tell them.
I think it’s a lot about people’s pre-conceptions
P: So it’s my birthday this weekend-
E: Happy Birthday!
P: Thank you! I saw that you have some set menus in your book, do you have any recommendations for what I should make this weekend?
E: So I love the Indian feast, which is Aloo Gobi with Chana Masala and Coconut Rice. It’s a great birthday one if you are cooking for quite a few people. It’s as easy to make it for three as it is to make it for 30, you just need big pans. It’s not tons of chopping, but it’s filling, it’s hearty, it’s accessible for everybody. But it’s also interesting and maybe makes you feel like you tried – and didn’t just make pasta.
P: I have just started a blog and have friends who are just starting blogs, do you have any motivational writing tips?
E: I started my blog as a student, and I think it’s such a nice time to start up that kind of thing because you do have so much time and you are not under the responsibility of finding a job or doing a job, so it’s a really nice time to play around. I think blogs are amazing because they allow you to take a passion and an interest into something bigger. So I did it for about a year and a half, the last year and a half of university, and I was just playing around with ideas and started building an Instagram following. When I left university, I started doing more and I launched my app and then my book and it worked from there. So I think it’s really nice to see it as an opportunity to explore, rather than as a restriction. Test things out and see if this is something you want to take further. What are people responding too, this idea or that idea? Because it’s free, and that’s what I think is so exciting about the internet and social media. There are so many people who are in exactly the same boat and are passionate about something, have ideas about something, and it’s giving us a platform to do it, which is amazing. You don’t need a big marketing budget, you don’t need anything, you just need content.
P: So what made you want to expand from blogging?
E: I love the blog and I really enjoy doing it, but I think I just wanted to create something more tangible, really connecting with people. Blogging was great, but it was quite one track and I didn’t know what the longevity of that was, so I wanted to take that and use it as a springboard to start doing more. It was the perfect place to start because it was a space to test out ideas. It was terrifying. But when I opened the deli I knew the kind of things people wanted, the kind of food I would have and that people might come. I know there’s an audience I can tell about it so that’s really exciting. Lots of fashion bloggers I know have done collaborations with clothing brands or opening their own store. So I think taking the blog then using it as a springboard to make something more tangible.
blogs are amazing because they allow you to take a passion and an interest into something bigger
P: And if you could do the whole process again, what would you do differently?
E: You know what, I am a big one for saying every mistake is a good thing. I know that sounds a bit strange or a bit cheesy, but I think ultimately when you start out, you are going to make hundreds of mistakes, and I still make mistakes every single day. I am sure from the outside world it looks like I’m doing really, really well and I am obviously really proud of it, but it’s okay to mess up every day, because you are learning. There’s lots of things I could have done differently, but I think that’s the trick, and what I have learnt from people who are a long way ahead of me is that once you start seeing the negatives in problems as solutions you get so much further so much quicker. Most of the best things we have learnt are when things are going wrong. You actually don’t learn much when things are going right.
P: So you changed to a plant based diet whilst you were at university. Do you have plans for a student cookbook in the future?
E: Definitely – I don’t even think it’s just students. It’s everyone, I think ultimately lots of people want to eat better but they don’t want to do it at the expense of money, time, energy and weird ingredients.
P: Especially students!
E: Exactly – it’s all about what’s quick, easy, and hot, and I think there’s a huge demand for that which includes students massively, so that’s 100 percent something I’m thinking about.
Most of the best things we have learnt are when things are going wrong
P: So I was reading around and found an article that compared the calories in a Starbucks muffin to your bircher muesli – what do you think about people being so calorie focused and not focusing on nutrition?
E: Yeah, that’s my problem, that food is so focused on diet and calories. Yes, you don’t need 20,000 but equally 10 is not enough, so it’s a balance about what makes you feel good. If you have a piece of avocado on toast or a Mars bar – it’s probably going to have a different effect. I had a really interesting meeting with a nutritionist recently: if you look at supermarket labels, one of the best is sugar free jelly, because it’s green across the ‘traffic lights’ whereas almonds will come up bright red. So, that can make people nervous of it and it sometimes stops people from eating better, because you can go and buy a calorie-controlled meal, but you are not actually getting much from it.
P: And similarly, what do you think of the labels of detox, clean, cleanse?
E: I am not a big fan of labels full stop, and that extends past that to vegan and gluten-free. I think if it’s really important to you, huge respect for whatever you do that suits you 100 percent. But the problem with labels is that a) it can feel restrictive and b) it can actually take you down completely the wrong path. So one of my biggest pet peeves is going to the supermarket and seeing the Free-From aisle and it’s full of gluten free bread that’s four times the price of normal bread and you turn over the back of the packet and treacle is one of the ingredients. It’s just ridiculous – and so I think part of the problem is that people get gluten-free chocolate chip cookies thinking they are healthy. They are still cookies. So for me it’s been much more about trying to celebrate vegetables and cooking from home and cooking from scratch. That doesn’t mean you can never eat chocolate cookies again either, it’s all about the balance that suits you. For me it’s more about trying to eat more natural food, eat simply and cook from home, rather than saying “you should be this or you should be that”, because when you say that it can complicate people’s emotional relationship with food.
P: What is your go to late night, no time, not much in the fridge meal to make?
E: So I eat porridge for dinner quite a lot if I’m being honest. Just because it’s the easiest thing in the world. Just porridge, peanut butter and banana. But when I’m not doing that, things like a chickpea chilli are super easy. Just chickpeas, spices, herbs, tomatoes and serving with brown rice or sweet potatoes. Super easy. Not expensive and you can make lots of it and freeze it. I cooked it for my girlfriends this week. I just cooked potatoes for 10 minutes to soften a bit then added mustard seeds, curry mix, a bit of paprika, chilli and then cooked with tinned tomatoes, cauliflower, chickpeas. So it’s all very normal ingredients, stuff you have in your cupboard- then I cooked that with rice. I made tonnes of it, I still have six portions left! So it’s great when you get home late because it’s there, equally you have to put it on for an hour to cook but all you have to do is chop potatoes in half, cut cauliflower for 2 minutes and you are done, it’s a one-pot thing. So that’s my kind of food. Healthier, fresher, that’s also filling and got good flavour – and doesn’t take you 20 hours of chopping, because ultimately that’s where everything goes wrong.
it’s more about trying to eat more natural food, eat simply and cook from home, rather than saying “you should be this or you should be that”
What really came across is that Ella is spreading a very simple message in comparison to other health bloggers out there right now: eating hearty, healthy food that tastes amazing is a lot easier than you might think.