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The delightful Deliciously Ella

She’s a food blogging sensation whose adventures in healthy, healing eating have attracted millions of loyal followers online, now 23-year-old Ella Woodward has released a cookbook, Deliciously Ella – a bible for living and eating well, it might just change your life

I can spot Ella Woodward’s London flat even without knowing the house number – it’s the one with the Ocado van parked outside. But unlike your average 23-year-old’s grocery shop, a delivery of healthy, wholesome natural ingredients and supplements has just arrived. You won’t find any processed foods, nor meat, dairy, gluten, refined sugar and caffeine Ella’s airy all-white and grey kitchen with a huge marble island in the centre.

That’s because she’s part of a growing tribe of health-conscious new hipsters who are changing the way we eat, along with the Hemsley sisters, raw food pioneer Tanya Maher and alkaline-eating enthusiast Natasha Corrett. This isn’t about dieting to lose weight, it’s about changing your diet for maximum health – and the one thing all these women have in common, Ella included, is that they are flipping gorgeous. Ella’s long, tousled hair shines like a glossy L’Oreal ad, her skin glows and she positively bounces with energy –but not in a wired way. And naturally, she’s long-limbed and super-slim.

But none of those happy side-effects are what got her into her radical change of diet, nor a love of cooking. “I was the biggest Haribo and sugar-monster before,” she confesses “In my first year at St Andrews uni I practically lived off Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough ice cream, fizzy pick ‘n’ mix, and chocolate.” She didn’t eat any fruit and vegetables.

In 2011 and half-way through her art history degree everything changed. Ella became incredibly ill and could barely get out of bed, let alone walk. She was eventually diagnosed with Postural Tachycardia Syndrome and despite medication she was bed-ridden 70 per cent of the time – it was the best the conventional medicine could offer. “It was really quite depressing, but one day I thought ‘I can’t live the rest of my life like this, I’ll be living with my parents for ever unless I do something.” That’s when she started Googling for alternative ways to heal her condition. She stumbled across the book Crazy Sexy Diet by Kris Carr, a Stage Four cancer patient who completely overhauled her diet and ten years later is still alive and more well than ever.

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“It changed my life overnight. I told my parents that I was going to give up sugar, diary, gluten, meat and anything processed and start a wholefoods, plant-based diet. They laughed at me because it sounded so ridiculous, but I was determined to take control of my situation. The first two months were so dull, I think I ate the same thing – brown rice pasta and sauce, and mashed avocado on buckwheat toast – but I realised that I felt a little better.”

That was the motivation Ella needed to continue her journey of discovery and start searching for more ingredients and recipes, teaching herself to cook along the way – and also to start a blog to keep track of her progress.

“I never expected anyone to read it, I didn’t’ even show it to anyone for the first two months. But then after six months I had 100,000 hits.”
As Ella’s confidence with her cooking and recipes grew, so did her fan-base. “In the second six months, the blog had 900,000 hits – it was incredible, and quite surreal,” she says smiling with genuine astonishment.

And once she realised she could still have the sweet treats, her diet became more manageable and fun – the sweet potato and maple syrup brownies are still by far the most popular recipe on her site.

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Without realising it Ella had tapped into a new food movement of people searching for a cleaner way to eat, that offers more energy – and the possibility of healing various ailments.

I ask who she looked to for inspiration with her natural, plant-based recipes. “To be honest there wasn’t really anyone else out there – I love what some other bloggers are doing like Hemsley and Hemsley but there weren’t any traditional chefs cooking this kind of food.”

“What about Ottolenghi?” I say, the nation’s leading vegetarian cookbook writer. “Honestly, I hadn’t heard of him,” she replies. “But when I found his recipes they were all quite complicated with long lists of ingredients, and I couldn’t cook, so I wanted to make things that are quick and easy and that don’t require too many ingredients or too much washing up.”

Her current favourite recipe? “Black and kidney bean chilli, I love it and it’s so comforting –I knew I had to put it in my book.”

And what about those sugar cravings? “Now I’ll make a big batch of energy balls with dates, nuts, coconut oil, raw cacao and hemp protein powder, and snack on those – they’re completely delicious and so sweet, they’re awesome. I look at Haribos now and think it’s kind of weird that I was every so addicted to them.”

Her enthusiasm and beauty – she’s the best advert for clean-living I’ve ever seen – are certainly infectious. That afternoon I find myself in the supermarket and then the health-food shop buying buckwheat, brown rice flour, coconut oil and spirulina to name just a few of the dizzying list of new ingredients needed for her recipes (I even had to resort to Amazon to get the raw cacao powder). It’s worth it though. One week, and 22 date balls later, I haven’t eaten a single chocolate or cake!

black bean curry  

BLACK AND KIDNEY BEAN CHILLI

This is one of the simplest and most nourishing recipes in the book. It only takes 10 minutes to put together and it’s wonderfully filling and comforting. It’s one of my go-to meals all winter. It’s a great dish to make if you’re feeding lots of people too as it’s no more complicated to make for twelve then it is for two. It requires almost no chopping, so you won’t be in the kitchen for hours!

Serves 4

2 carrots, grated
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
600g passata
50g tomato purée
2 x 400g tins black beans
1 x 400g tin red kidney beans
1 jalapeño pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
1 teaspoon chilli flakes (add more if you like it extra spicy) brown rice, to serve
salt and pepper

Place the carrot and garlic into a large saucepan.

Add the passata, tomato purée, both the beans, jalapeño pepper and the chilli flakes to the saucepan along with some salt and pepper, to taste.

Cook the chilli for about 10 minutes, stirring it well, until it’s lovely and warm and everything’s nicely mixed together.

Pour the chilli over brown rice and enjoy.

Top tip

Make extra batches of this and freeze them as it makes a delicious, filling meal when you don’t have time to prepare anything.

Recipe extracted from Deliciously Ella by Ella Woodward, to be published on 29th January by Yellow Kite, £20 © Ella Woodward 2015

brownies Sweet Potato Brownies

These brownies have consistently been the most popular recipe on my blog. They’ve had more than double the amount of hits than the next most popular recipe and I’ve seen thousands of my readers’ photographs of them on Instagram! There’s a good reason for all this love, though – the brownies are divine. I know it sounds strange to put vegetables into sweet dishes, but sweet potatoes taste more like dessert anyway and they create the gooiest consistency!Makes 1 cake (12 slices)

Makes 10–12 brownies

2 medium-large sweet potatoes (600g)
14 Medjool dates, pitted
⅔ mug ground almonds (80g)
½ mug buckwheat or brown rice flour (100g)
4 tablespoons raw cacao powder
3 tablespoons maple syrup
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 180°C (fan 160°C).

Peel the sweet potatoes. Cut them into chunks and place into a steamer for about 20 minutes, until they become really soft.

Once they are perfectly soft and beginning to fall apart, remove them and add them to a food processor with the pitted dates. Blend until a smooth, creamy mix forms.

Put the remaining ingredients into a bowl, before mixing in the sweet potato and date combination. Stir well.

Place the mix into a lined baking dish and cook for about 20–30 minutes, until you can pierce the brownie cake with a fork and bring it out dry.

Remove the tray and allow it to cool for about 10 minutes. This is really important, as the brownies need this time to stick together!

Top tip

If you don’t have any raw cacao powder, then you can use conventional cocoa powder, but you’ll need to at least double the quantity.

Recipe extracted from Deliciously Ella by Ella Woodward, to be published on 29th January by Yellow Kite, £20 © Ella Woodward 2015

ALISON TYLER

This article appeared in Metro on 27 January 2015

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