Family, Love, and Vegetables

Vegan chef Edgar Castrejón nurtures the heart of his Mexican food traditions

By Kristina Sepetys

Photos reprinted with permission from Provecho: 100 Vegan Mexican Recipes to Celebrate Culture and Community by Edgar Castrejón, copyright © 2021. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Photographs copyright © 2021 by Edgar Castrejón.


Edgar Castrejón can count himself among a huge constellation of bloggers and media personalities who have parlayed popularity into a book contract. But while there’s no question that Castrejón’s posts @edgarraw are immensely popular, the pathway this 30-year-old followed in creating his first cookbook came directly from being true to himself and his family.

As a child, Edgar learned to cook by spending many hours in Oakland kitchens helping his mom, aunts, and grandmother put family meals on the table. Those older relatives all came to the United States from the Mexican state of Michoacán in 1989, and they continued to make their dishes in the manner passed down through the generations. Castrejón came of age understanding Mexican food as a complex cuisine that makes liberal use of meats and seafood, but he found a way to honor his family’s traditions while wholly embracing his generation’s paradigm shift toward plant-based eating.

Educated on Vegetables

On graduating from Oakland School of the Arts, Castrejón headed to Chico to study horticulture and plant science at Cal State. There, he worked with the university’s Organic Vegetable Project, where students grow over 50 varieties of vegetables on a 10-acre plot to sell through a CSA program. While learning about and tending those vegetables, Castrejón started thinking about going vegan.

“I was a broke college student and needed to make do with what I had. Eating plant-based helped me to manage my weight.”

He shared his skills in the kitchen by cooking often for friends, finding it was a way to meet people and build a new community. But as he changed up his way of eating, Castrejón worried that he would no longer fit in back home at the family table. However, on his return to Oakland, he found that his healthier, meatless variations of his family’s Mexican dishes got an enthusiastic reception.

Birth of a Cookbook

Castrejón’s chef career blossomed as he became a vegan recipe developer, food stylist, and photographer with many followers on TikTok and Instagram. He envisioned creating a cookbook focused on himself and his family in Oakland and Mexico.

“But the pandemic changed that,” he said. “We couldn’t gather as I’d planned, but my family helped enormously with tasting. I’d cook the food, drop it off, and they would respond and advise.”

The first dish he tried out on them was a vegan version of tinga tostadas made with shredded jackfruit instead of the typical chicken. It’s cooked with tomatoes, spices, onion, and chipotle in adobo sauce, then spread over a tortilla and topped with cilantro, cabbage, and vegan crema. His family’s verdict? “They loved it!”

He successfully veganized more family recipes and soon had enough for his new cookbook, Provecho: 100 Vegan Mexican Recipes to Celebrate Culture and Community, published by Ten Speed Press in October 2021.

Like the French expression “bon appétit,” “provecho” is an encouragement in Spanish, an invitation for diners to enjoy their meals. As Edgar Castrejón explains in his book, the word “imparts a sense of joy, an appreciation for community, and gratitude for all that we share.” It’s the spirit Castrejón wants to convey with his collection of 100 vegan recipes inspired by the traditional Mexican food he’s known and loved all his life, plus other dishes representing the broader Latin American culture.

His slow-simmered soups and stews, empanadas, tacos, quesadillas, drinks, sweets, and all the extras rely on some ingredients (like jackfruit and shiitake mushrooms) not typically found in Mexican food, but the familiar tomatoes, corn, zucchini, squash, chilies, and potatoes are in abundance. Protein comes from plant-based meat substitutes, and he recommends the complementary protein combination of rice and beans to accompany all meals.

“My passion is to feed people and teach them [that] food doesn’t have to be hard,” says Castrejón, who designed his cookbook to make basic Mexican vegan dishes easy and accessible.

“The chapter in my cookbook called ‘La Mesita,’ or small table, includes recipes that I made and remade during college and loved,” he said.

A Vegan Chef’s Life in Oakland

Edgar Castrejón’s success reaches far beyond Oakland, but curiousity about what he most appreciates while living and working here in his home community prompted the following questions.

Where do you shop for supplies?
I get a lot at Berkeley Bowl. Las Montañas Supermarket in San Pablo has really good dried chilies and the best plantains. If you want them ripe or green, get them there. I also like Chavez Supermarket on Mission in Hayward. They have a huge amount of produce. I shop there for mangoes, young Thai coconut for ceviche, and chilies. They have the best huitlacoche, a kind of corn fungus. We consider it a Mexican truffle. It comes in a brine to keep it fresh. You can use huitlacoche in any of the taco recipes. My recipes use a lot of mushrooms. Cooks can experiment and try different varieties. I just made a ceviche with lion’s mane mushrooms. It was the best! I wish I’d made it that way in the cookbook.

Besides your cookbook, pop-up meals, and advocating for farmworkers, you also do food styling and recipe creation for many brands, including several in the East Bay, is that right?
I develop recipes for Lotus Foods in Richmond, which imports amazing rice and rice products. Their jasmine rice works really well for all the recipes in my book. I do food styling for Renegade Foods in Berkeley, which makes plant-based charcuterie. And I do both recipes and styling for Mi Rancho, the tortilla company in San Leandro.

Where do you like to go out to eat for vegan food in the East Bay?
So many great options! Low Bar in Oakland has a roasted mushroom side dish I love and a really good salad with radishes and a sour orange vinaigrette. Also, a great tostada made with kabocha squash spread with heirloom tomatoes and pickled onion. All their food is delicious. FOB Kitchen on Telegraph is great for Filipino food. They have a lot of good vegan options, like the mushroom adobo and vegetarian lumpia. Shangri-la Vegan is a small place in Oakland. They offer two different set plates each day, [which are] greens intensive. They have options for no salt or no spices on everything, which is really accommodating. I especially like that they source locally and are conscious about avoiding waste.

The dishes and ceramics pictures in your cookbook are lovely!
They’re mostly all local. Ceramics came from MMclay in San Francisco, which makes really nice handmade tableware. I also like the pottery dishes from Luvhaus in West Oakland.

What’s next?
I’m in the process of applying to go back to school to get a master’s degree in nutrition science or public health. I want to be a dietician and teach people about food. Getting food education into schools is really important. ♦


Click here to purchase Provecho: 100 Vegan Mexican Recipes to Celebrate Culture and Community by Edgar Castrejón (Ten Speed Press, 2021) at

Kristina Sepetys is a writer and an enthusiastic, if somewhat predictable, home cook. She lives in Berkeley with her husband, who dreams impossible dreams of meals that don’t include lentils.


Three recipes from Provecho: 100 Vegan Mexican Recipes to Celebrate Culture and Community by Edgar Castrejón

Reprinted with permission. Copyright © 2021. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Food photographs copyright © 2021 by Edgar Castrejón.


No-Bake Enchiladas Verdes with Jackfruit. Photo copyright © 2021 by Edgar Castrejón.


Edgar Castrejón’s No-Bake Enchiladas Verdes with Jackfruit

You can make these enchiladas completely on the stove top. They’re coated with a salsa verde that’s bright and tangy from tomatillos. If you want to smother them with cheese, arrange the enchiladas in a baking dish, sprinkle with a good melting vegan cheese, then pop them in the oven for a few minutes.

Makes 16 to 20 enchiladas

For the tomatillo salsa

  • 7 medium tomatillos, husked
  • 1 Roma tomato
  • 3 jalapeño chilies (remove the seeds if you want less heat)
  • ½ large white onion, quartered
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • ¾ cup packed finely chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems
  • 1½ cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt

For the enchiladas

  • 5 to 6 tablespoons avocado oil, divided
  • 2 (20-ounce) cans young (green) jackfruit in water, drained
  • 16 to 20 corn tortillas
  • 3 cups thinly shredded green cabbage
  • Fermented Vegan Crema (recipe below)

To make the salsa: Set a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Place the tomatillos, tomato, jalapeños, and onion in the dry skillet and cook, turning a few times, until lightly charred all over, 6 to 8 minutes. As each ingredient is charred, transfer to a high-powered blender, then add the garlic and cilantro and blend until smooth.

Pour the tomatillo mixture into a large stainless-steel skillet and add the vegetable broth, cumin, and salt. Set over high heat, stir well, and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat to low and simmer, partially covered, until thickened, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, set a large nonstick skillet over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of the avocado oil. Shred the jackfruit into the hot skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until crispy, about 10 minutes. By this time, the salsa should be ready. Add 1 cup of the salsa to the jackfruit, turn the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Set another cast-iron skillet (or clean the one used to char the vegetables) over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon avocado oil.

Prepare an assembly line by toasting each tortilla in the skillet, about 15 seconds per side; add 1 tablespoon avocado oil after toasting every four tortillas. Then, dip a toasted tortilla in the salsa and lay on a plate. Add a spoonful of the jackfruit filling and roll into a cylinder. Repeat with the remaining tortillas and jackfruit, dividing among four plates.

Serve the enchiladas topped with the cabbage and Fermented Vegan Crema.

Fermented Vegan Crema

This recipe takes about a day (of mostly letting things sit) to make, but the payoff is so worth it. Once you make a batch, it can become a mother for subsequent batches. Because it’s fermented, this crema will last a while in the fridge. I put it on everything.

Makes about 2 cups

  • 1½ cups raw cashew pieces, soaked in water to cover overnight
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons plain vegan yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

Drain the cashews and rinse with cold, fresh water.

In a high-powered blender, combine the cashews, 1 cup water, yogurt, lemon juice, and salt and blend on the high­est setting until completely emulsified and smooth, with no grains of the nuts remaining, about 1 minute.

Transfer to a glass container, cover partially, and let sit near your oven all day. (At least 8 hours. It’s best to do this on a day when you’re already baking or cooking on the stove, as the ambient heat will help the crema ferment. If you aren’t cooking that day, the top of the fridge is a place that sometimes gener­ates low-level ambient heat. But make sure to push the container away from the door so you don’t accidentally drop it when you open the fridge!) The crema is ready when thickened and fluffed up to about 25% more than the original volume.

Store the crema in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.


Sopa de Fideo Photo copyright © 2021 by Edgar Castrejón.


Sopa de Fideo

Tomato noodle soup is the kind of simple comfort food that all little kids love. In fact, I ate it every week growing up, and I still look to it when I want something that’s easy on the stomach. The soup is usually made with chicken stock, but I use vegetable broth instead. I may be the only person to add crema to the dish. It’s not traditional at all, but I love the creaminess. It gives the soup a richness that reminds me of curry.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

  • 2 tablespoons avocado oil
  • 7 ounces fideo (thin pasta)
  • 2 large Roma tomatoes
  • ¼ white or yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1½ teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 4 cups vegetable broth, divided
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into ¼- by 1-inch strips
  • Fermented Vegan Crema (recipe above) for dolloping
  • Cilantro leaves for garnish (optional)

Warm a large pot over high heat for 2 to 3 minutes, then add the avocado oil and fideo. Turn the heat to medium-low and toast the fideo, stirring often, until the pasta is golden brown, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a high-powered blender, combine the tomatoes, onion, garlic, salt, and 1 cup of the vegetable broth and blend until smooth. Pour into the pot with the fideo, add the water and remaining 3 cups vegetable broth, and set over medium heat. Cover partially and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the carrots and simmer, partially covered, until they’re tender, about 15 minutes.

Serve the sopa dolloped with vegan crema and garnished with cilantro, if desired.