Roz Purcell: ‘I’ve done every diet there is’

The model’s new cookbook is quirky, inventive and very user-friendly

“My gran taught me how to cook, from about the age of four,” says Roz Purcell.  “By the time I turned six, I was making dinner for them.”

“My gran taught me how to cook, from about the age of four,” says Roz Purcell. “By the time I turned six, I was making dinner for them.”

 

“Sorry ladies, I don’t mean to bother you, but could you please keep your voices a bit lower. We have a few people trying to work in here.” Work? In a hotel lounge best known for its squishy armchairs and indulgent afternoon tea?

Suitably chastened, Roz Purcell and I sip our green tea and sparkling water, and continue our conversation in whispers. We have met up in Dublin city centre, around the corner from the flat she shares with her sister, marketing executive Rachel, to talk about her second cookbook, Half Hour Hero.

The former model turned food entrepreneur tells me she has high hopes for this collection of healthy recipes that can be knocked up in less than 30 minutes, with ingredients that are easy to get and don’t cost the Earth.

“I’ve never been more excited about something. I think it will really help people and be something they will use, and I love that. There’s nothing nicer than when someone comes up and says ‘I make your low-carb lasagne every weekend’, or ‘I make your banana bread and I love it’. It’s the nicest thing someone can say to me, apart from that my dog is gorgeous.”

What she thinks of her boyfriend, music promoter Zach Desmond’s comment to her that she “eats like a bloke”, she doesn’t say. But she does admit that she has a healthy appetite. “No one can get over how much food I eat. I grew up with huge portions and a big appetite. I had great willpower as a model, but I always felt guilty. Mentally, I’d be up and down all the time.

“I love Nutella, I love Indian curries. When it comes to food, I love glutenous food – banoffee pies, everything – so I have to make them all, just using whole foods, so I’m not missing out.”

Reinvented

Food “hacks” are her thing, and she has reinvented everything from that chocolate spread she is so fond of (her version of it, called Notella, is in the book), to pizza bases. Hers are made with oat flour, yoghurt and seasoning, and look likely to replace cauliflower as the alternative to good old flour and yeast. Slices of sweet potato are frozen, and “cooked” in a toaster, as an alternative to bread, and porridge becomes a savoury dinner with the addition of bacon, avocado and Parmesan.

“I used to find, through years of modelling, and dieting – I’ve done every diet there is – that I always felt deprived and that’s when I’d always fall and end up bingeing,” she says.

But now, training to be a fitness instructor, and feeding an Instagram and social media following with a voracious appetite for snapshots of her life, diets are a thing of the past. “Dieting is a recipe for disaster. It’s a vicious circle.”

She says she has moved on from the clean-eating brigade. “ I was among the food bloggers who were on that track. I suppose we made healthy eating a bit exclusive, it was all about quinoa and kale salads and you weren’t cool unless you were eating smashed avocado on toast.

“I took a step back. And I realised this isn’t how I eat every day. Health food doesn’t have to be things you have to go off to a health food shop to get – it should be accessible.”

Accessibility is the cornerstone of Half Hour Hero. “I asked people, ‘what are the top 10 food products you always have in your press? ’ and that gave me the basis for this book. This gave me a list of about 20 ‘hero’ foods, and about 10 more that I added, so altogether about 30 solid ingredients that people had in their presses, or that they buy weekly. Next, I asked people how much time they have for food prep and lots came back with a max of 30 minutes. Cost was an issue for people, too.”

Quirky

The result is a really useful book that manages to be quirky and inventive, as well as user-friendly, and will facilitate getting something good to eat on the table, or in the hand, quickly. “I get desperately hangry. If I don’t have a recipe in my head that I’m going to be eating in 20 minutes, I will start digging into the nut butter jars ... and before I know it I’m 600 calories deep, and I haven’t even started dinner,” Purcell says.

The ritual of dinner is something that resonates with Purcell, who grew up on a farm in Tipperary, where her father reared cattle and her mother, who was the principal of the local primary school, bred National Hunt horses.

“I grew up with my grandparents, our house was right beside theirs. I stayed with them all through primary school. My gran taught me how to cook, from about the age of four. By the time I turned six, I was making dinner for them. My gran had such a huge influence on me. She really brought the family together when she would cook meals, and I really saw it as a social thing. So that’s why I got into cooking. We had dinner together every single day.”

So if you’ve ever wondered where Natural Born Feeder – the title of Purcell’s first book and her website came from – that’s where.

Recipes extracted from Half Hour Hero by Roz Purcell, published by Penguin Ireland, €23. Photographs by Joanne Murphy.

BREAKFAST COOKIES

Great start: Roz’s breakfast cookies
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 banana, peeled
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp crunchy almond butter
  • 100g rolled oats
  • 25g raisins
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds (optional)
  • almond milk, to serve

If I could have cookies for every meal, I would, which is why I created this breakfast cookie. It’s a simple cookie packed full of all your morning essentials that you can take with you to eat on the go.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper. Start by melting the coconut oil in a small pot set over a low heat. Mash the banana in a medium-sized bowl until it’s really smooth, with no visible pieces. Stir in the melted coconut oil, maple syrup and almond butter to create a thick, smooth batter. Add the oats, raisins and chia seeds (if using) until all the oats are covered in the mix. The dough should be thick and sticky.

Divide the dough into six equal portions and roll into balls between the palms of your hands. Place on the lined baking tray and press down each ball into a cookie shape until it’s roughly 1.25cm high.

Bake in the preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes, until the cookies are golden, toasted and firm. Let them cool a little, then serve with a tall glass of cold almond milk.

PEANUT, SQUASH AND CHICKPEA CURRY

  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 medium-sized butternut squash, peeled and spiralized (or sliced, very finely)
  • 1 x 400ml tin of full-fat coconut milk
  • 4 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 x 400g tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 60g dried fruit, such as raisins, sultanas, goji berries or chopped pitted dates
  • 2½ tbsp good-quality curry powder (check to make sure there’s no added sugar)
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp chilli powder (optional)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 200ml water
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh coriander, to garnish cooked brown or wild rice, to serve
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges, to serve

You can blitz the leftovers of this curry into an epic peanut and squash curry soup.

All you have to do is add some vegetable stock to suit your slurping preference!

Melt the coconut oil in a wide-bottomed saucepan set over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 2 minutes before adding the squash. Place a lid on the pan and cook for 5 minutes.

While this is cooking, put the coconut milk and peanut butter in a smoothie maker or small blender and blitz until no lumps are visible.

Now back to the saucepan. The squash will have softened but still have a bit of bite, which is perfect. Add the chickpeas, dried fruit, spices and some salt and pepper. Turn up the heat to high and cook for 2 minutes, stirring continuously. Add the water and let it boil for 2 minutes more before removing the pan from the heat. Once the curry stops bubbling, pour in the coconut and peanut mixture and keep stirring until it thickens up slightly. Ladle into bowls, garnish with the chopped fresh coriander and serve with the rice and a lime wedge on the side.

MINI OAT PIZZAS

FOR THE BASE:

  • olive oil, for greasing
  • 2 tbsp oat flour
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp natural, Greek or soya yogurt
  • Half tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1–2 tbsp water

SAUCE OPTIONS:

  • tomato sauce
  • puréed red peppers
  • pesto
  • hummus (don’t cook it though!)

TOPPING IDEAS:
Cooked shredded turkey; cooked turkey mince; dry cured chorizo; cooked diced bacon; chopped sun-dried tomatoes; thinly sliced tomatoes; thinly sliced mushrooms; halved olives; thinly sliced spring onions; thinly sliced radishes; thinly sliced Brussels sprouts; cubed of roasted butternut squash; diced ripe avocado (don’t cook it); shredded cabbage; sweetcorn; fresh peas; crumbled feta cheese; goat’s cheese; fresh herbs

These pizzas do taste as good as they look. You’ll never order a takeaway pizza again once you see how easy these are to make. This recipe makes one mini pizza base, so scale it up depending on how hungry you are.

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Grease a baking tray with olive oil.

In a small bowl combine the oat flour, oregano, yogurt and apple cider vinegar, then stir in 1 tablespoon of the water to make a dough. If the dough is too dry, add the extra tablespoon of water. You should have a slightly wet dough that’s easy enough to pick up and roll into a ball without it sticking to your hands. If it is sticking, though, don’t worry – just add a tiny bit of extra oat flour.

Roll the dough into a ball and place on the greased tray. Press it down evenly until it’s really thin – aim for it to be about 2.5mm thick. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, until crispy and firm.

Remove the base from the oven and flip it over. Add the sauce to the centre of the base and spread it out with the back of a spoon, leaving a small border clear around the edges, then scatter over your favourite toppings. Return the pizza to the oven and bake for 5 or 6 minutes more, until your toppings are heated through.

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