Farming alum cooks up a following with a plant-based passion – Advice Eating

Whether he was raising backyard chickens in Oakland as a kid or getting up before dawn to pick produce in college, Edgar Castrejón’s love of food and farming always had a seat at the table.

They have also become a recipe for professional success.

In October, Castrejón (Agriculture, ’18) published his first cookbook, Provecho: 100 Vegan Mexican Recipes to Celebrate Culture and Community, and it was instantly devoured, ending up on top cookbook lists nationwide. He was profiled in the Boston globe, Smithsonian Magazineand the Chronicle of San Franciscoand was recently interviewed by Magazine Food & Wine and Good Appetite.

People can’t seem to get enough of his vegan cuisine. He has nearly 150,000 followers on Instagram, where he blends stunning photography, his down-to-earth attitude and passion for plant-based foods into engaging and educational posts.

“I want to go into the essential details. It’s not just about living long, but living well and with vitality. And not having boring food,” he said, laughing. “I like to eat.”

Some days Castrejón posts rolls of him rolling a burrito stuffed with tofu and pico, or maybe a picture of enchiladas dripping with verde sauce and cashew crema. Other days, he raves about the beauty of sliced ​​avocados fanned out in a tortilla.

His passion for products dates back to his time at Chico State, which he chose for college because it was affordable and close to home. Upon transferring from Sierra College, he spotted students selling produce near the Meriam Library and immediately applied for a position in University Farm’s Greenhouse Unit.

He soon worked his way up to become harvest manager and market manager for the Organic Vegetable Project (OVP). Castrejón spent the rest of his time as a wildcat enthusiastically weeding, planting seeds and picking an abundance of produce.

“I wish I could go back today and do a little bit of work there every week,” he said, and his eyes lit up as he recalled making gravy with fresh heirloom tomatoes or dressing a beet salad with root vegetables that few Hours earlier lay in the ground. He eagerly describes how he once made a vegan pizza entirely out of the box—from the zucchini crust and pepper topping to the dried oregano and marinara, the only non-native ingredients were salt and pepper.

Castrejón took 16 to 18 classes each semester, focusing on horticulture and plant sciences, and worked as many hours as possible on the farm. Castrejón didn’t have much free time. But he couldn’t help but take photos of the food he cooked and write recipes to share with OVP customers so they had ideas on what to do with the daikon and kohlrabi he made for them grew.

Growing up in a meat-heavy household, telling family members of his choosing to be vegan wasn’t easy. That also made him something of an anomaly in the College of Agriculture. As a long-time vegetarian, when asked to fill a day at the Organic Dairy Unit, the opportunity to be up close and personal with the cows helped him decide that he was done incorporating animals into his diet. As he was pre-diabetic at the time, his health has improved dramatically as a result of the switch and he feels he is making a significant contribution to combating climate change.

Nearing graduation, Castrejón was approached about a job as a food photographer and decided, “Why not?”

“I said, ‘I’m not going to tell her I don’t know how to do this — I’m just going to do it until I know,'” he said.

It turned out that his talents in kitchen photography were a match for his knife skills. Soon someone asked him if he wanted to write a cookbook. He wrote 10 recipes, took photos, and penned a story pitch — and landed a deal with Penguin Randomhouse. While he’s had to shift focus during the pandemic and focused more on simple recipes using simple foods, his family has remained a refrain. He Facetimed them recipes, made contactless food drops for taste testing at their homes, and reminisced with his parents about the taste of their childhood in Mexico.

The resulting book is filled with inviting recipes, including mushroom-based pozole, lentil cauliflower empanadas, and jackfruit tinga tacos. He also names the ingredients for a well-assorted and tasty plant-based cuisine.

The title of the book reflects Castrejón’s philosophy around food. During Provencho is often interpreted as an invitation to eat, the etymology comes from the Spanish word provechar, meaning “make the best of it.” And he tries to do that at every meal. No matter how small or festive, he wants the food he prepares to instill a sense of joy, appreciation for the community, and gratitude for what we share.

By offering the traditional recipes of his childhood seen through a plant-based lifestyle, he hopes each one will instill nostalgia and well-being while proving that Mexican dishes don’t need meat, cheese or other traditional flavors to be delicious and distinctive.

“My family and my culture are my biggest inspiration,” writes CastrejónProveco. “Receiving your seal of approval is the highest compliment and means more to me than any award.”

While he says he owes his deepest gratitude to his family and legacy, he’s also committed to honoring the communities responsible for putting food on the table in the first place. He recently cooked for 400 people at a fundraiser supporting literacy programs in Arizona, and he also works with clients to support Corazon Healdsburg’s work to support farm workers, financial education and prenatal care.

“The community helps me, and I try to help them back,” he said.

He’s now considering a second book and looking at masters degrees in public health and nutrition, while also consulting on restaurant menus and still sharing his world on Instagram. If Castrejón can dream it, he can do it, he decided. After all, that attitude got him this far.

“Just be delusional. Think that you will do something even though it doesn’t seem possible,” he said. “Today my mother is so proud. And so am I. I love teaching people these experiences and how to feed yourself.”

Here, Castrejón shares a recipe that started as an experiment but quickly became a favorite. It’s a variation on the traditional red mole made with ancho, pasilla, seeds and chocolate, Pipián is a lighter, fresher style made with poblanos and serranos.

“After countless calls to my aunts and grandma looking for a good pipián recipe, I was like, ‘Why don’t we make it our own way?'” he recalls. “Mi tias and abuelita hemmed and kinked. Most didn’t know the recipe by heart. . . . “After much fiddling, I finally came up with this iteration at midnight. I made it with oyster mushrooms instead of the typical chicken and it was easy to live with!”

Recipe: Pipián or Green Mole

PREPARATION TIME: 25 MIN. | COOKING TIME: 30 MIN. | 6-8 SERVINGS

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 small red potatoes, peeled and halved
  • 4 poblano peppers
  • 2-4 serrano chilies
  • 1 cup dry roasted assorted nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, etc.)
  • 1/4 cup tightly packed coriander leaves
  • 3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons avocado oil
  • 8 ounces pink or white oyster mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1 finely chopped white onion
  • 6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Bring 5 cups of water to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 tablespoon of vinegar and potatoes. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, place 1 poblano on a gas burner over medium-high heat. Turn occasionally with tongs until 50-75% of the pepper is charred (4 to 6 minutes for each poblano). Repeat with Serranos (2 minutes on each side). Set aside to cool.
  3. In a blender, combine the nuts, cilantro, 1/4 cup of the broth, the remaining tablespoon of vinegar, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Put aside.
  4. Peel most of the charred skin from the peppers (leave some to add a smoky flavor). Slice each poblano and remove and discard the seeds. Put the peppers in the blender. Blend on high until smooth, about 1 minute. Put aside.
  5. Heat avocado oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Arrange the mushrooms in a single layer, working in batches if necessary to avoid crowding. Cook undisturbed until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. They should turn easily once properly seared. Pour into a bowl and set aside.
  6. Add the onions, garlic, and 1/4 cup of the broth to the same pan. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the sauce, mushrooms, potatoes, and remaining 2 1/2 cups of broth. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Serve with Spanish rice and garnish with coriander.

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