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Interview + Chicken Pho Recipe with Hemsley + Hemsley

by Grace Bonney

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When it starts to get cold outside, there are few things I enjoy and turn to as much as a warm bowl of soup. Whether it’s chicken noodle, minestrone, lentil or ramen, soup seems to be the only food that feels equal parts comforting, hearty and delicious. The classic Vietnamese noodle soup Pho is, sadly, relatively new to me. I had my first bowl when I moved back to Brooklyn after college and it’s been a go-to for me ever since. I’ve had all types of variations, but it’s been fun to see modern twists on the dish show up on menus across town for the past few years.

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Today I’m thrilled to share a delicious Chicken Pho recipe from the talented cooking duo of . Sisters Melissa and Jasmine Hemsley are based in London where they run a healthy cooking website devoted to clean modern cooking. Inspired by their love of fresh fruits and vegetables, they recently published their first cookbook, , that finds ways to add fresh produce to all sorts of recipes – even chocolate deserts! Today they’re sharing their recipe for Chicken Pho that uses zucchini noodles instead of rice noodles. The broth is still warm and hearty, but the zucchini adds a crisp (and healthy) spin on a classic dish. Melissa and Jasmine also answered some questions from our team and shared photos from their home kitchen with us, too. I hope you’ll enjoy them all. xo, grace

Click through for the full interview + recipe after the jump!

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I have a soft spot for sibling- and family-based companies, so I was thrilled to discover not only your work, but the story behind your partnership. Did you grow up in a family that was health conscious with its food choices?

H+H: Our Mum is from the Philippines and our Dad is an English Army officer, so growing up we were often on the move between the UK and Europe. We were used to eating frugally and adventurously. Mum cooked very intuitively based on availability and seasonality, yet everything was made with love and care. We picked that up from her but were never actively taught or trained to cook. Melissa (the youngest) lucked out as Mum and Jasmine used to do all the cooking and all she had to do was lay the table – until she moved out and realised that if she wanted to eat the same good food she’d have to start putting into practise what she had absorbed over the years of being around Mum and all of our aunties!

Our Mum cooked with proper butter, animal fat, lots of vegetables and we ate very little in the form of processed foods. She wanted us to be doctors so she would always say ‘eat this, it’s good for your brain so you can be a doctor.’ White rice is the only staple from Mum’s cooking that we’ve moved away from. We’ve since taught her how to make Broccoli Rice and Cauliflower Rice, which she’s adopted. We have three of our favourite childhood recipes in the book – Chicken Tinola, Chicken Adobo and Mum’s Baked Trout.

Our Dad’s mum was also a good cook, although we never really got to know her. We have definitely been inspired by our Dad’s love of travel, trying new foods and his fond recollections of our granny’s cooking! He delights in the background story of food and loves it when we bring back delicacies from our travels.

How did you choose to start your blog, and then the book?

We were underground private chefs for two years before we started a blog – our clients called us their ‘food fairies.’ We only came up with a company name so we could start a blog, which was really for our friends, family and clients. We postponed writing the book for a few years because we were too busy cooking with our clients, but they insisted we write it and many became our recipe testers. We’ve been developing and growing the Hemsley and Hemsley way of eating for almost 10 years through research, study and self-practice. Five years ago, HEMSLEY + HEMSLEY was born as a bespoke service aimed at helping people with their digestion and relationship with food. Within two weeks of launching our own blog, we were asked to contribute recipes to and became the London-based editors of . We created The Art of Eating Well as go-to guide for people to use as the foundation of eating and feeling well by championing good food.

How would you describe your cooking style?

We are self-taught cooks so there aren’t any fancy knife skills and we believe in ‘mindfulness,’ i.e. being mindful in order to find out what best works for you and your lifestyle. The way we cook is relaxed, focused and celebratory because we love food. We are all about good food that is nourishing and makes you feel good. We like to enjoy a rainbow of color and serve family-style food that is a joy to share. Every nutrient-rich mouthful should taste delicious and every bite of delicious food should be nutrient-rich.

What is the recipe you included in the book because everyone requested it? Is there a real crowd-favorite people request most?

Sesame chicken cucumber noodles – it came about from the lovely leftovers from a roast chicken- and afterwards you get to simmer the carcass to make another of our everyday favorites – soothing bone broth.

I think it’s so great that you’re incorporating things like beets into your desserts. What are other clever ways people can work vegetables into their favorite “guilty pleasure” food?

This is our speciality, if we do say so ourselves! We love vegetables and love coming up with interesting ways to incorporate them into our recipes. When you remove processed and chemically stimulating foods from your diet you can quickly help your body to rebalance and your tastebuds to refresh. Some of our favorite recipes celebrate the humble cauliflower – cauliflower mash (even better with garlic and cheese added) and pizza bases made of grated cauliflower and ground almonds. We’re very excited to be launching our very own spiralizer in the coming months, turning your favorite vegetables into ‘noodles’ instantly. One of our favorites is red pesto ‘courgetti,’ spiralized courgette that looks like spaghetti tossed with a delicious red pesto sauce.

A popular dish from the book is our chia chai butternut breakfast pudding – as a dessert or breakfast, hot or cold – this pretty dish is based on cinnamon spiced butternut, blended with chia seeds and infused with chai tea – so you can enjoy the unlikely situation of a vegetable for breakfast or dessert with friends.

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Where is your favorite place to eat if you want to dine out, but stay healthy?

Restaurants with an ethos of provenance – especially the nose-to-tail type – you can dine out on delicious, quality grass-fed meats and cheeses along with heritage vegetables, all cooked in heat stable fats rather than processed vegetable oils. Luckily these are en vogue so plenty are popping up! During the day we love delis and eateries that serve great green juices, smoothies and an array of vegetable, herb and spice heavy salads.

We love:
Elliotts Cafe in Borough Market (They source their produce direct from Borough Market daily).
Brunswick House, Vauxhall
Raw press, Dover Street
Paradise, Kensal Green
Rochelles Canteen in East London (a secret hideaway)

What are the pantry or fridge basics each of you keeps on hand at all times for snacks or meals?
Bone broth
Almond butter
Sauerkraut or kimchi
Unwaxed lemons – we use the skin as much as the juice
Extra virgin cold pressed olive oil for dressings
Coconut oil for sautéing and sweets
Sea salt
85% dark chocolate
Turmeric – an affordable superfood spice to throw into everything

Then the freezer is our best friend – ready-made meals, especially stews and soups, portioned up and ready to go and a large dish of shepherd’s pie for an easy supper or dinner party (we always cook 2 batches of oven dishes and freeze one for just such occasions). Trays of our Black Bean Brownies – pre-cut for a sweet treat frozen chunks of banana, pre-washed spinach, kale and berries to make smoothies.

Who inspires each of you the most, when it comes to food and working in the kitchen, and why?

Melissa: our Mum is a real inspiration – she worked full time and always made time to prepare home cooked meals and introduce us to new foods. She had the utmost patience in waiting for us to finish our vegetables when we were really young. Lots of people inspire me – when I have a great meal at a friend’s house or a treat eating out at a restaurant.

Jasmine: We’re lucky that we grew up surrounded by friends and family that cooked/whose lives/meals centered around traditional home cooking. One of my best friends is Italian and we loved the meals that her mum and nonna would make. New Year’s day lunch at their house is a real treat! Melissa fell in love with roast broccoli at their house at age 7. It’s also incredible that in this age of easy travel we can truly experience authentic cuisine very easily – and this, of course, is a massive source of inspiration. We love receiving requests from readers and clients who ask us to rework their favorite foods. Our book includes whole food reinventions of classics such as brownies, spaghetti, mash, pies, cookies, cakes and even 2 pizza recipes! We go low starch, high veg and quality meat and fat so that not only can you enjoy nutrition with every bite, but these great tasting dishes made with whole foods mean you’ll feel satisfied with less.

To borrow a question from the Radio Cherry Bombe show, what were each of your favorite meals growing up?

Melissa – I’ve always loved ragu – growing up I ate a lot of spaghetti Bolognese. Now, I enjoy courgetti, spaghetti made from courgettes, also known as zoodles -zucchini noodles.
Jasmine – I suppose it would have to be chicken adobo and chicken tinola. Food is emotional and these Filipino classics usually meant we had a house full of family and fun times ensued
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If you were each given enough money to travel anywhere you wanted to eat anything, where would you go and what would you eat?

Melissa – Tough question! So many places I want to explore – Copenhagen, Philippines (where our Mum is from), more of the Greek Islands, more of Japan, Mexico, Botswana – I’d want to eat as many home cooked meals as possible and soak up the culture.
Jasmine – I’ve just come back from Paris and had my fill of all that delicious French food has to offer. These three places, though, have been on my wish list forever and for some reason I still haven’t been: Japan – all sashimi – even chicken (yes I’d dare!) and hand cut buckwheat soba noodles (I’ve read that this skill takes years and years to master), India – traditional Ayurvedic meals and Russia (because Dad worked there a lot and loves the food).

What’s next for Hemsley + Hemsley?

We’re thrilled to have launched The Art of Eating Well in America, Canada, The UK, Australia and New Zealand. We’re looking forward to traveling to these countries to share our philosophy with others in making food and lifestyle decisions that best suit them. After all, the stomach is the way to the heart! We’re currently working on a TV show and our own line of products – first up is the HEMSLEY+HEMSLEY SPIRALIZER available for purchase on in the coming months. Keep an eye on our website for preorder!

Vietnamese Chicken Pho with Zucchini Noodles

Serves 4

Ingredients for the Pho

-2 quarts (half a gallon) bone broth or vegetable stock
-1 cinnamon stick or 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
-2 large onions, finely diced
-a thumb-sized piece of fresh root ginger (about 1 1/2 oz)- unpeeled if organic, finely diced or grated
-2 garlic cloves, finely diced or grated
-2 tbsp fish sauce
-4 whole cloves
-2 star anise
-grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon (avoid the bitter white pith)
-4 chicken thighs, skin on
-4 zucchinis
-5 oz. green beans, halved
-sea salt

Ingredients to serve:

-2 tbsp peanuts
-1 red chili, finely sliced
-2 limes, quartered
-1 tbsp fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
-1 tbsp fresh basil leaves or Thai basil if you can get it, roughly chopped
-2 handfuls of radishes, sliced
-2 scallions, sliced
-a little bowl of tamari
-5 oz. bean sprouts

Steps:

1. In a large dry pan, toast the peanuts over a gentle heat for minute until golden, giving the pan a shake to make sure they are golden all over, then set aside the peanuts.

2. In the same pan, add the broth, cinnamon, onion, fresh ginger, garlic, a pinch of salt, fish sauce, cloves, star anise, and a lime or lemon zest. Bring to a medium simmer.

3. Add the chicken thighs, reduce the heat to a low simmer and gently cook for 25-30 minutes to let the flavors infuse into the chicken.

4. Meanwhile, use a spiralizer or julienne peeler to make the zucchini noodles. Or use a regular vegetable peeler to slice the zucchinis lengthways into very wide papardelle-style ribbons. You might want to cut the long strands in half to make them easier to eat.

5. Roughly chop the toasted peanuts or crush them with the back of a knife. Arrange the peanuts, chili, lime wedges, mint, basil, half the cilantro, radishes, and scallions in separate dishes as accompaniments to the pho, along with a bowl of tamari.

6. Once the chicken is cooked through, remove to a plate to cool, then shred using two forks.

7. Strain the broth and taste for flavor. Return to the pan with the halved green beans and simmer for about three minutes

8. Add the shredded chicken to warm through along with the zucchini noodles and the rest of the cilantro

9. Divide the pho among 4 bowls, top each with a small handful of bean sprouts and a lime wedge, and let everyone help themselves to the rest of the accompaniments

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