Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cheap Vegan Pesto

Basil
It's summer, which means abundant basil. I've been getting huge bags of it in my CSA share pretty consistently for the past month or so, and I can't seem to use it in enough things without making pesto. Pesto makes me think of my friend Rachael, who loves to make pesto -- and often did when we cooked together, back when we were fortunate enough to still live in the same town. Pesto's not something, before I ate it with Rachael, that I would normally eat on my own. Even with the fond pesto memories I formed with her, it's still not high on my list of things to make.

That is, until I have three half-pound bags of basil in my refrigerator. Then, pesto seems a lot more appealing. Unfortunately, traditional pesto is kinda expensive to make (especially the pine nuts) and even when you make it with walnuts -- another common variation -- it's pretty expensive.

Then, you add in the cheese (or don't) -- and the cost of it (which, for high quality organic cheese, can be pretty steep). I don't like traditional pesto with parm -- the flavor of Parmesan is something I just never learned to enjoy. Plus, if I don't include it, then I can make vegan pesto, which makes me happy because I'm toying with the idea of being a household vegan -- not eating animal products at home, but not adding that to my already long-ish list of dietary needs if someone else is feeding me. If I go that route, I'd make that choice for environmental reasons -- and I'm undecided. There's a lot of processing that can go into a vegan diet (especially regarding dairy alternatives) and it might make more sense for me to just move more strictly to a "whole foods" diet so that I'm opting for as little processing of ingredients as possible.

So, for this pesto I use raw, unsalted sunflower seeds in place of pine nuts or walnuts, and nutritional yeast in place of parm. The result is pretty good. I like it with a crack of black pepper and if I were making it just for me, instead of sharing it, I'd up the amount of garlic to 3 large cloves. This recipe is fast and easy, and makes about 16 ounces of pesto -- plenty for several meals. Store it in a well-sealed container, in the refrigerator for several days.

Cheap Vegan Pesto
3 packed cups basil, rinsed and stems removed
1/2 cup sunflower seeds, raw and unsalted
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1/4 cup sunflower or olive oil (you can use more, but then the pesto isn't as cheap!)
2 large cloves garlic
Juice from 1/2 a lemon
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
Water

Combine all ingredients, except water, in a blender or food processor. Begin blending, slowly adding water (or more oil), until the pesto blends easily and remains at a thick consistency. Refrigerate, and serve over whatever you like! (I like it over quinoa and piled on tomatoes).
Sunflower growing in a guerrilla garden

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