For sisters Jenny Engel and Heather Goldberg of vegan cooking school Spork Foods, the path for many uninitiated in the possibilities of veganism is sometimes paved with pesto. Built on an unyielding umami-laden trifecta of pistachios, roasted garlic and light miso, the condiment is a veritable Odyssean stratagem. It's purposefully chosen — served with brown rice and topped with cherry tomatoes and kalamata olives — for those who haven't been exposed to what Goldberg described as “level two” ingredients like tempeh and seitan. And if you need any mechanical help in the process of making the recipe, check out our recent story: 8 Essential Vegan Kitchen Tools: Spork Foods on Good Knives and Baby Whisks.
The sisters and business partners keep in mind the variety of personal preferences, so they practice inclusiveness in teaching others how to cook vegan food. Their own foray into vegan food was a parallel journey shared at different colleges in Northern California: Both Engel and Goldberg majored in environmental studies, at UC Santa Cruz and San Francisco State, respectively.
“The meat and dairy industry has a huge impact. As environmentalists, learning this, we decided that we were contradicting ourselves. We had to figure out a way to make this choice and stick with it. It's a choice you make three times a day,” Goldberg says.
“When we were transitioning into vegan, we realized that we love the challenge of making whatever food we love eating at the time. Just the vegan version of it. At the time, there weren't as many products out. We did this about 12 years ago,” Engel says.
She continues, “With our cookbook, we wanted to make vegan cuisine really approachable to people with all types of diets. Even if you're not going to make the leap toward veganism, we wanted to make sure that people have recipes they can use to feed their families and friends who aren't vegans, or if they want to eat vegan one or two days a week.”
Pistachio pesto with brown rice
From: Jenny Engel and Heather Goldberg (as published in Spork-Fed).
Note: The recipe is gluten-free.
Makes: 1 cup pesto sauce; recipe serves 6.
4 cups water
2 cups short-grain brown rice
6-8 cloves roasted garlic, or 3 cloves raw garlic
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1⁄2 cup pistachio nuts, shelled, plus 2 tablespoons for garnish
21⁄2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed, plus for garnish
1 tablespoon light miso paste (non-barley)
1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt, plus to taste
1⁄2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
1⁄2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, sliced into thirds
1. Bring the water to a boil in a medium (4-quart) pot, add brown rice, cover and cook according to package directions, about 35 minutes.
2. For the pesto sauce, while the rice is cooking, place garlic, oil and lemon juice in a food processor and blend for 15 seconds. Add pistachios, basil, miso, sea salt and black pepper, and blend for about 30 seconds, or until smooth.
3. Toss brown rice with pesto sauce, until all rice is coated evenly. Add tomatoes and olives. Season to taste with sea salt and black pepper. Garnish with a sprig of fresh basil and remaining pistachios. Serve warm.