Frontier vegan pesto

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My path in life has led me to really remote areas. Where we live in California is actually designated ‘frontier’ – one step beyond rural – by the U.S. Census. In Chile, we live at the literal ends of the earth, along the Straits of Magellan and spitting distance from Antarctica. Remote areas have a lot going for them (slower pace of life, spectacular and accessible outdoor opportunities, small town living), but vegan food meccas they typically are not. Which just means that I need to get more creative in the kitchen when I’m craving some vegan delicacy that I can only buy at a store over 200 miles away. Or – if we’re in Chile –a 5-hour plane ride or 3-day drive through another country.

All this has enforced an appreciation – a need, really – for recipes made of ingredients that are available from my garden or a conventional market. I dream of a day where nutritional yeast (aka nootch) is readily available. But for now, nootch – aka the vegan answer to cheese – is often oceans away from where I am. As are pine nuts.  In those times, recipes such as this become my savior.

A few notes about pesto:

  1. All proportions are approximate and to taste. Pesto is versatile like that. So be sure to adjust to your taste preferences and take this recipe with a grain (or two) of salt.
  2. Speaking of salt, don’t be scared if you feel like you need a lot to approximate that salty flavor you remember from pesto made with Parmesano Reggiano, the classic cheese in traditional pesto. That cheese is extremely salty, which is why traditional pesto recipes call for little, if any, salt. As an alternative, you can also up the amount of lemon juice. Lemon enhances flavor the same way that salt does.
  3. A few drops of balsamic vinegar will deepen the flavor and make it deliciously complex.
  4. This pesto freezes beautifully. Throw some in your freezer and thank me in February.

Juice from one large lemon (3-4 tablespoons)

1 cup of walnuts

½ T maple syrup

1 tsp salt

½ or 1 tsp black pepper

1 bunch of basil (last time I made this, I used 3 cups packed – but it changes based on what I’ve got and how it tastes)

5-7 cloves of garlic

2-3 T olive oil

1T oregano

Toast the walnuts in a pan until they emit a fragrant, nutty aroma. Add in a tablespoon of oil and the maple syrup and heat for a couple minutes. Add nuts to food processor and process to a coarse crumb. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend on high until thick and fully processed. Pesto should be nutty and smooth but not overblended.

Optional stuff you can add to take the flavor in other directions: jalapeno, red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, chives, scallions, shallots, truffle oil, vinegar, thyme.

Substitutions: Pine nuts or almonds or another nut are delicious too. Other greens (spinach, arugula, parsley) can substitute for the basil or be added in in smaller quantities, say ½ a cup.

What to do with pesto? Pretty much anything you want. Throw it on pasta, pizza, toast or a sandwich, tofu scramble, you name it. I discovered years ago that the combination of pesto and sundried tomatoes approximates the flavor of sausage. So, if you’re into that, try it out. Last night’s dinner was pesto and backyard tomatoes on my husband’s homemade flax-wheat bread. Simple and divine.

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 Quote of the Day

“My refusing to eat meat occasioned inconveniency, and I have been frequently chided for my singularity. But my light repast allows for greater progress, for greater clearness of head and quicker comprehension.” – Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

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