When Ella Mills first launched her Deliciously Ella blog in 2012, aged just 21, she found herself thrust into the limelight and quickly became hailed as the poster girl for the then-exploding wellness movement. Eight years on and the brand has become a staple in households across the country, with her plant-based snacks and cereals stocked in over 7,000 stores and her popular cookery books – the latest, Deliciously Ella Quick & Easy, is her sixth – flying off shelves. Here, she shares her thoughts on everything from which superfoods actually work to the dangers of elitist wellness culture.
The world of veganism has changed enormously since I started my journey in 2012. I first adopted the diet for health reasons, after being diagnosed with a condition that impaired by autonomic nervous system. I was in and out of hospital for a year and tried all sorts of drugs, none of which had much effect. My mental health really suffered and things got very dark, so I knew I had to try something different – that was when I started to learn about nutrition and how the body works, what vitamins and minerals actually do and why your gut health is so important. The more I started to understand, the more I realised I might as well give my body a chance by eating the right sort of food. At the time people thought I was really strange and that I would just be eating rabbit food – now every high street chain has plant-based options, from Pret’s vegan cookies to Greggs’ vegan sausage rolls.
One of my biggest learnings since launching Deliciously Ella is that if we’re going to do anything, it has to be convenient. That was really the idea behind this book. Most of us have quite good intentions when it comes to our health, but everything is easier said than done and people are juggling so much, between work and family commitments. There’s a reason why only one in four adults manage to eat their five a day and it’s because sometimes it requires a tiny bit more effort and that’s not what we’re used to doing at the moment. I really believe the only way that we’re ever going to eat well is if it’s easy – and if it tastes good.
All the recipes in the book are the sorts of things I make at home for my husband, Matthew, and baby daughter, Skye. For me the Big Batch section is the ultimate winner – I’m such a big believer in cooking once and then eating several times from it, especially when you have a little one. And there are different ways to do it – there’s a delicious aubergine and lentil Bolognese recipe that’s great with spaghetti and then you can have it another day with a jacket sweet potato and a bit of avocado. If you’ve already made it, all you need to do the next day is put some potatoes in the oven. The easier you can make it, the better.
Having a well-stocked cupboard is crucial. That’s why we’ve put a shopping list at the beginning of the book with simple herbs and spices, plus some staples like tahini. One of my favourite things to make at home is a lentil dhal, and technically you don’t even need any fresh food to make that – I always have spinach in my freezer, as well as garlic and onion, and other than that it’s just coriander, cumin, cinnamon, curry powder, lentils and coconut milk. All of that can come from your cupboard, which is quite a lovely feeling.
There’s no such thing as a silver bullet when it comes to your health. It’s not a crash diet and it never will be; there’s no quick fix. It’s about looking at what you can bring into your life that will add value, and that’s the same for the way you eat, the way you exercise, the way you look after your mental health. When people think about healthy eating they think, “Right, I’m going to have a salad”, and they get lettuce and cucumber and tomatoes, and that’s not going to be filling. It needs to be hearty and have some oomph to it. One of my favourite lunches is a peanut sesame veggie noodles, which has courgetti and carrot noodles, sliced red peppers, spring onions and a peanut butter, rice vinegar, sesame oil and garlic dressing. It’s absolutely delicious and really satisfying as well. You need to figure out what you genuinely enjoy, because that’s the only way it’s going to be sustainable.
I struggle with the use of wellness buzzwords like ‘superfood’. When we think of superfoods we tend to think of expensive, harder to find items, like chia or hemp seeds. Don’t get me wrong, I like a chia seed pudding and if you’re vegan, hemp seeds are a very easy way to add protein to your diet. But I think sometimes we get so het up on going out to buy niche ingredients that we forget that so many humble, everyday foods can be counted as superfoods, like lentils, carrots, sweet potatoes and chickpeas. It’s a challenge because in the world of wellness, people want to know about the weird and the wacky, and I think that can put people off this space as they automatically go, “That’s not for me.” What we need is for people to eat more fresh food and more home-cooked veggies – but sadly carrots just don’t make headlines.
British food is the worst when it comes to vegan options because it’s often missing a lot of flavour. Personally, I find that Middle Eastern, Indian and Japanese food have much more to offer. The Palomar in Soho is our number one place for Middle Eastern cuisine and we love Dishoom for Indian, particularly their veggie samosas. Hoppers is great for Sri Lankan dishes and my favourite under-the-radar spot in the city is Melabes on High Street Kensington, which serves delicious Israeli food – it’s really low-key, as well as being great value. I’m currently 24 weeks pregnant with my second baby, so right now I’ve also been ordering a lot of vegan doughnuts from Crosstown Doughnuts, which are absolutely amazing.
My husband and I work together on the business, which means we’re always working on the same big goals. We do work very separately, though, which for us is the only way to do it. Matthew runs the business side of Deliciously Ella – now over 90% of the business is our supermarket products, which is a whole beast of its own, so he oversees the supply chain, the finance and cash flow and the management of production. I focus on who we are as a brand, the way we look and feel, which covers everything from writing the recipe books to coordinating our events and overseeing social media. When we first started the business together we worked so closely, because there was just the two of us – now we employ 18 staff at our Soho offices.
Lockdown has been a good opportunity to slow down a bit and try some things I’ve always wanted to do. Like everyone else I’ve been learning how to make sourdough and have appreciated spending more time with Skye, especially being able to go on walks with her. Of course we’ve still been busy – as well as the book coming out we’re launching chocolate chip cookies into supermarkets next week, which is one of the most exciting things we’ve ever done. That’s been a really fun project to work on over the last few months – even if there was one week where I sampled so many I did truly feel like a cookie…
‘Deliciously Ella Quick & Easy’ is out now (£25, Yellow Kite)