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Vegan Pesto Risotto with Miso Butter Mushrooms

This vegan pesto risotto is literally like a symphony in your mouth, no kidding. In one bowl, you've got the creamy, rich risotto mixed with herby, refreshing pesto, buttery umami mushrooms, crispy spiced chickpeas, and the "cherry" on top being the bursting flavors of balsamic roasted cherry tomatoes on the vine.


Vegan pesto is one of those dishes that help you see just how magical plant ingredients can be. With no parmesan or any dairy products, I had to really focus on unleashing the starchy, creamy nature of rice itself and came to realize how amazing rice can be just on its own. And the conclusion is, no, you absolutely do not need any cheese or butter to achieve that creamy, velvety texture of risotto. It all lies in the proper cooking process and don't worry, it's much easier than you might think!


There are a few simple yet crucial tricks in achieving an optimal risotto. First, never add cold broth to cooking rice! It will result in the rice cooking unevenly and the texture tightening, picture the simmering rice cringe at the hit of cold liquid.

Second, patience is key, adding a small amount of broth each time and waiting for it to be fully absorbed before adding more. And finally, there is such thing as too much stirring, you want to stir frequently enough so the rice doesn't stick to the bottom and burn, but not too much that the rice gets no chance to brown, which will lead to lesser flavors.


Now with a properly cooked risotto base, you can get creative with whatever flavors and toppings you want to mix in! I love stirring a little nut-free pesto in there, just to give it a bit more aroma and herby taste. And the miso butter mushrooms are a MUST for me, that umami flavor is unmissable and really makes up for the absence of parmesan! And finally, the crunchiness from the chickpeas and bursting juice from the tomatoes give the dish another delightful lift - symphony, completed.


INGREDIENTS:

For the Risotto -
1 cup short-grain white rice, do NOT rinse
1 sweet onion
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 - 5 cups vegetable broth
Salt and pepper to taste

For the Nut-free Pesto -
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1 cup parsley leaves
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
4 cloves garlic, minced

For the Miso Butter Mushrooms -
8 ounces shiitake or baby Bella mushrooms, sliced
1/2 tablespoon white miso paste
1 tablespoon olive oil or vegan butter
1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced

For the Crispy Chickpeas -
1 15 oz can chickpeas
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
Pinch of salt

For the Roasted Cherry Tomatoes -
3 - 4 bunches cherry tomatoes on the vine
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Pinch of salt and black pepper

TO MAKE:

- Cook the mushrooms first. mix the olive oil or butter with the miso paste in a bowl, use a fork to cream them together until well combined;
- Heat a generous drizzle of olive oil in a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat, once hot, add the mushrooms, allow them to cook undisturbed for a few minutes to brown, about 2-3 minutes, then stir and flip to brown the other side;
- Reduce the heat to medium. Add the chopped thyme and minced garlic, stir and cook for another 2 - 3 minutes;
- Add the creamed miso butter to the pan and stir to coat mushrooms evenly, once fully combined, turn off the heat and set aside;
- If adding chickpeas and roasted tomatoes, toss each with their respective seasonings and transfer onto a lined baking sheet in a single layer, roast at 375°F for 20 - 25 minutes;
- Cooke the risotto. First, warm the vegetable broth in a separate saucepan, bring to a boil then lower the heat and let it simmer;
- Heat a nice thick pot, a Dutch oven or a casserole pot, over medium heat. Add the olive oil. Once hot, add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes till slightly browned and caramelized, add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes till fragrant;
- Add the rice and stir quickly until all of the rice grains are well-coated and the rice smells slightly toasted, you should be able to smell the aroma almost like toasted bread;
- Carefully ladle in about 3/4 cup of the warm broth, stir every 30 seconds or so, not too often;
- Once the rice has absorbed the liquid, add the next round of broth, 3/4 cup at a time. Continue this process, adding more broth when most of the liquid is absorbed for about 20 minutes until the risotto is creamy but not too soft or mushy, you can pick out a couple of grains of rice and give it a taste, make sure it's al dente;
- Make the pesto by blending everything till smooth, stir 3-4 tablespoons into the risotto, remove from heat;
- Serve with more pesto, roasted chickpeas, and tomatoes on the vine, enjoy!

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