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Home chef Ella Mills offers some plant-based recipes for anyone tempted by a healthier way to eat

Ella Mills knows we all want to eat healthier. But the English food writer and businesswoman also knows we're busy and we want everything to taste good. And she understands many of us are nervous about the idea of committing to no meat.

“I know I used to think eating this way would be just like nibbling on sad and soggy carrots and rabbit food all day long,” she says. “But you suddenly start cooking and you realize it’s actually super-flavorsome and textured and interesting and just not what you thought it was.”

Mills is ready to guide us as through this with a line of healthy products and her latest cookbook, “Healthy Made Simple,” featuring over 75 plant-based recipes, from Lemony Pea and Broccoli Pasta to a Creamy Leek, Spinach and Butter Bean Bowl.

“It’s about taking these familiar ingredients that are often seen as a little bit bland, a little bit boring, and trying to give them gentle twists, to make them feel really exciting and rejuvenated,” she says.

“Healthy Made Simple” contain dishes Mills eats at home with her husband and two young children. She aims to have the recipes take less than 30 minutes to make, use no more than five simple steps, and need 10 ingredients or less.

"I just found that was essentially the sweet spot where action and reality merged closer together," she says.

“We know we need to eat less ultra-processed food. So this is a hand-holding resource to help you do that.”

Mills took a hard look at some of her favorite dishes and tried to create a better balance between flavor, practicality, nutrition and speed.

“What I found was that oftentimes there was an extra step or an extra pan in there, or like two or three extra ingredients. And it probably made it 5% nicer or 10% nicer," she says. “But I’d end up not making the recipes anymore because it was just that little bit more effort.”

“Healthy Made Simple” celebrates whole foods and uses proteins from things like nuts, tofu, lentils, beans and chickpeas. The flavors are global, with ingredients including harissa, udon, satay, miso, pesto, tagine and curry.

"As you start to look around the world, there’s so many places where not necessarily the whole society is vegetarian, but vegetables are the hero and they’re treated with a lot of TLC,” she says.

Take her One-Pan Peanut and Cauliflower Stew, which combines peanut butter, ginger, coconut milk, garlic, rice and curry powder with simmering cauliflower florets. It's got heat, crunch and tastes indulgent.

Lauren Whelan, the publisher for Yellow Kite, the lifestyle and cooking imprint of Hodder & Stoughton, says Mills' creativity shows the versatility and simplicity of plants. Mills' sweet potato brownies revolutionized the way that vegetable is used in the U.K., Whelan says.

If Mills is an evangelist for vegetarianism, she says she's proof of its benefits. At 21, she was diagnosed with Postural Tachycardia Syndrome, which affected her nervous system, and was put on a variety of medications.

She chose to overhaul her diet and started documenting her experience in a blog. Able to wean herself off medicines, Mills has since built up her Deliciously Ella business into seven cookbooks and a food brand.

Mills isn't preachy and knows her readers may not be ready to go full-on vegetarian. For her, it's about small steps that can make meaningful changes, like making one or two plant-based dishes a week or highlighting a vegetable one night with the meat as the side dish.

“This is not all or nothing. This is not ‘Everyone should go plant-based tomorrow’ or ‘Everyone should only cook from this book,’” she says. “But it’s like on a Sunday night when you’re at home, could you do one of these recipes and then you’d have some leftovers for lunch?”

One of her new dishes — Spicy Sun-Dried Tomato and Eggplant Ragu — is perfect for skeptics. It adds some heat from harissa and chili to a pasta with eggplant and parsley, finished with walnuts.

“It has this kind of chunky, bolognese ragu-esque texture. That’s the kind of thing that I would make a lot for friends or family who are not sure they’re going to love plant-based stuff, but when you’re tossing that through some nice spaghetti you can always serve it with parmesan on the side,” she says.

Mills knows the world of health and wellness often chases trends, but she believes in the ultimate power of a well-dressed carrot.

“We so often see health and looking after ourselves as a trend, as a fad, as a six-week plan. Ultimately, that’s not health. Health is looking after yourself for decades," she says. And to do that, "It can’t be deprivation. It has to be something you want to do on a regular basis.”

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Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

Mark Kennedy, The Associated Press