TV presenter, Celebrity MasterChef winner and Crystal Palace resident Nadia Sawalha tells Shaun Curran why everybody should eat a little more fungus

‘I bloody love mushrooms!’ Nadia Sawalha isn’t joking… the TV presenter and former Celebrity MasterChef winner really does love the fungus so much she is the face of a new campaign called ‘Just Add Mushrooms’ – a promotion that aims to get everybody in the country eating more of perhaps our most consumed plant…

Or maybe not so beloved, if Sawalha’s experience is to be believed, which is precisely why the 49-year-old celebrity and south London resident is on a one-woman mission to wake people up to the benefits the mushroom can have on your health (and taste buds).

‘I get really annoyed when I have dinner parties and people pick out the mushrooms from the dish,’ she begins. ‘The reason most people don’t like mushrooms in this country is because those same people are absolutely rubbish at cooking them! When they are done badly, they are disgusting. No mushroom should be slimy. And people do them badly because they either put too many in a pan or cook them in fat that isn’t hot enough.’

‘Look at what they are though – when done well, they’re delicious, and’, Sawalha continues, with typical enthusiasm, ‘they are really cheap, and good for you raw or cooked. Even when we’re trying to cut down on meat, they are good to bulk out, in Shepherd’s pie or bolognaise. You can even grate them into salad. I love a mushroom soup, I love mushrooms in a creamy sauce with a steak… or just cooked with salt and butter and garlic and coriander – that is food heaven’.

The former EastEnders actress has kindly given Living South Resident readers her favourite mushroom-based recipe for when, as Nadia says, ‘you fancy adding some ‘shroom in your life!’.

It’s just the latest project in a life that has become consumed with cooking, both at home and with her work, and now includes cookbook, online culinary diaries and her new ITV magazine show Sunday Scoop.

Nadia Sawalha and Lorraine Kelly on Lorraine Live, November 2013, launching The Hungry Girls Little Black Dress diet Photo by Ken McKay/REX

Nadia Sawalha and Lorraine Kelly on Lorraine Live, November 2013, launching The Hungry Girls Little Black Dress diet Photo by Ken McKay/REX

‘I’ve probably done 500 recipes this year! I am getting to the point where I am wondering how many recipes one person can do? My husband asked me if one day will I just have nothing else to write about, but I said ‘no’, of course not! If you think about how many years the food business has been going, and how many cookbooks there are, it is astonishing that there is always another way, another twist another turn. It’s got another 100 years.’

Of course, being a former Celebrity MasterChef champion, the Wandsworth-born presenter is better placed than most to dole out the cooking tips. Although she’s quick to deflect the praise.

‘Well, I don’t know about that. I think the reason I get asked to do these campaigns and work on the shows I do is because I am not a qualified chef. What I am is a home cook, and people identify with that. People think ‘oh, she’s only just a little bit better than I am!’, so recipes are always simple and really doable, but I know I can cook tasty food. I can cook outrageous, decadent food but I can also do healthy food as well.’

And healthy food is something that will undoubtedly be on our minds over the coming weeks and months, with most of us set to overdo things across the festive period. But, if you’ve put on a few extra pounds over during the holiday festivities, Nadia has the answers.

Her latest book, Greedy Girls: Second Helpings, offers pointers.

‘I can’t stand cooking that discriminates between men and women. Why should it be the case that women eat different things to men? It should be a case of everyone enjoying food together. At the end of the day we’re all interested in staying in shape and enjoying what we eat. It shouldn’t be a difficult mix.

‘I know that people are starting their Christmases early, with mince pies and Baileys, and you know, really, that’s great. It’s such a time of celebration. But I know that, by the end, people will have overindulged and probably put a bit of weight on. But my main thing about weight loss and maintaining weight is that you don’t go without anything. Do not starve yourself of things that you enjoy and would normally eat. So don’t cut out fat, sugar and alcohol or all the things that we love. You need to find a way to have them with a bit of moderation.

‘For example, if I want a dessert, I would do a Baked Alaska, or stuffed apples and ice cream, rather than banoffee pie or chocolate fudge cake. So my thing is to shave off the calories rather than go without. If you cut out the big calories, it’s the best start you can make.’

But once those few pounds have been lost, do as Sawalha will do – get yourself down to Crystal Palace for some of the finest cuisine the capital – never mind the south – has to offer.

‘Crystal Palace is incredibly well served for restaurants. We have the best sushi place. The sushi at Edo is fantastic! We have sushi from there about three times a week, every week. We’ve got fantastic Italian food; we have fantastic African food, and there is an amazing Sardinian restaurant.

‘It’s an area that is so alive, so diverse. It really feels as though there is a real community there – a food community and a people community. It’s so important we retain those elements, because local London communities are, I think, the most engaging and interesting in the whole country.

Nadia is an ambassador for Just Add Mushrooms;