Donna Hay’s Arugula Pesto Veganized

There was a time, when I started blogging, that I used to hunt for blog events, cook food to fit the theme, blog that very day and send my entry across. I don’t do it anymore. I just do not have that kind of drive anymore.   I have become more choosy.  If the photograph does not satisfy me, I would rather not post the recipe.  Yet, there are some events that I long to be a part of each month. These days, the events that interest me revolve around health or photography, both of which seem to have consumed my living. I am just glad that these addictions at least guarantee sanity.


Once Lubna had invited me to write a ‘food photography’ post and I had mentioned that the best way to learn is by looking at what the masters do, set up table and try and take pictures like they did. Sometimes by copying you learn to move out of your comfort zone and try things that you otherwise will not, and some of the new things you learn might actually help you improve your own style. It is for this reason that I love the monthly contest Simone hosts. DHSPC, short for Donna Hay’s Styling and Photography Challenge, is now in its sixth month, and this time Simone has chosen a photograph taken by Con Poulos from the cookbook ‘Seasons’.  Donna Hay is the Goddess of food styling.  Her signature style is to keep the food setting clean and simple, calling the viewer’s attention to the food.  The photograph chosen for this month is;

I faced a few hurdles while setting up and had to make some changes.

I could not bring all the elements together in one frame, try as hard as I did.  My table stands at an end where I do not get light.  It is wrought iron and heavy to disturb.  In order to do justice I placed my tea table and a low level chair behind, but this was a rectanglular table.  I wanted the bottle to fall in completely and angle the camera so that the bread would receive prominence.  Because Summer has already set in, the light was turning harsh every few minutes.  It did not give me much time to manipulate the settings or change lenses and try a second photograph.  I needed time to do my own set ups too.  I generally place my boards on the window sill and manage all my photography there.  That is my studio, filled with natural light.  I replaced tahini for the bottle and poured some fresh orange juice in a glass as I wasn’t sure what the transparent liquid was.  Next time for such a photograph I must remember that I should use my 24-105mm and not the prime lens! That was a big mistake.

I made a vegan version of the arugula pesto using nutritional yeast flakes and hazelnuts as my daugher is allergic to pine nuts, and instead of regular bread, used the English muffins I baked the previous evening.  And, I realized when I later saw the photographs that I had completely forgotten to place a napkin below the plate and had placed my plate off center!  I am also a bit irritated that I let my own character emerge in a photograph that was supposed to be someone else’s.  Well, one makes mistakes and learns.  Next time I am going to have the laptop open with the picture and then do my setting.


Having tried the above, I decided to move on with my style.  For me, this was a foreign scene – not one that would happen in my home.  We consume only fruits till 12.00 in the afternoon.  Today, was an exception.   I drank all of the orange juice and ate many fruits, but could not resist having one muffin as it looked very inviting with all that pesto on top.  My husband and children were surprised that we were to have a rare, hearty breakfast. Pleasantly.

Since this post is only to do with the challenge, I will post the recipe associated with the challenge today.  My vegan recipe for the English muffins will follow in another post.

Elements of breakfast:

English muffins (forked and split into halves)
Extra virgin olive oil – as needed for toasting the halved breads
Toffuti cream cheese – as needed
Zucchini ribbons – About 1-2 for each bread
Lemon flavoured black pepper
Arugula pesto – About a tablespoonful for each slice of bread – recipe below


Recipe: Vegan arugula pesto
Adapted from Donna Hay’s recipe, as appearing in Simone’s post

Yield: Enough to top 8-10 slices of bread


Basil – 1/2 cup
Arugula / Rocket leaves – 1 cup
Toasted hazelnuts – about 10 [Can use pine nuts instead]
Nutritional yeast flakes – 1/4 cup
Fresh garlic cloves – 2
Extra virgin olive oil – 1/8 cup [Can use more if you like]
Pink salt to taste

Rinse the leaves (basil and arugula), and pat dry between kitchen towels.
Place arugula, basil, hazelnuts, nutritional yeast flakes and garlic in a mixer and grind. Open once or twice in between and add extra virgin olive oil, and scrape the sides. Grind to a thick, coarse paste. Mine took about three to four minutes.
Heat a cast iron griddle.
Fork the muffins in the center and pull apart to form two slices. Toast both slices to golden brown and crispy. Rub this with half a clove of garlic and sprinkle some extra virgin olive oil.
Top the toast with a bit of tofutti cream cheese, and dab lots of pesto.
Top with zucchini ribbons and finish with some salt and pepper.

Come,  join me at the table as I breakfast for lunch!  The pesto has a peppery edge coming from the arugula leaves that is very tasty, but one who is not used to the taste of arugula (also known as rocket leaves) might need some inititation.

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Have your say

  1. Love the idea of the Pesto in the Egg cup… There’s one beautiful presentation….

  2. lovely pics and loved everything about this post, the egg cup wow( I only came to know through navi’s comment that it is called a egg cup)..the green backdrop the plates and the bottle of Juice…lovely harini….u always come up with such gr8 pics.

  3. Awesome! Looks so healthy and delicious.

  4. The board looks really good…wood makes such a difference to food shots….good for you

  5. Hmmm…., so it is the wood and not the food that brought you here, Kalyan? He he, I have a feeling that the 550D is opening up a love for photography. 🙂 Thanks!

  6. I think I struggled with the same thing of not being able to fit everything in the frame in the right way. I still haven’t figured it out! Lol… So glad you could join in this month Harini and well, I love your photos anyway so I am always glad when someone whose work I admire joins in the fun.
    As for the liquid in the bottle and glass, I think it is plain water..:) It looks slightly different due to the milky bottle. That last photo of your with the pesto in the eggholder is just brilliant! And as I tweeted this morning I would certainly like to have one of those muffins!
    I also find it helps greatly when trying to replicate a photo to have indeed my laptop with the photo or a print of it close by. Somehow it always ends up different in my head!

  7. Simone, thanks! Now, that’s a ‘booster’, coming from you. 🙂 Yes, I realized how much different it ends up in the head today! I am going to try this once more when I make bread, because it actually does not look all that difficult. I hope I will be able to continue taking part when I join work too. Like you said it helps a lot!

  8. Dear Harini,

    Loved the read and your innovation with the pesto. We learn so much by each other’s way of styling.

  9. Have to say you’ve done pretty well. From the last one, I know how difficult replicating cn be. Am still to do mine. 🙂
    Love your muffins.

  10. that green board is growing on me.. gives such a fresh feel to everything.. i cant figure out composition if it was staring me in the face.. so this is definitely a good idea to just follow the masters! love those perfect zuke ribbons.

  11. Ha ha. Maybe its time to paint a board green, Richa!

  12. I was gonna comment – “very Donna Hay-ish!” And then I saw the title! 😀 I’m not a big fan of props. I like my food pics to be simple and clean. I’m starting to consider adding a few like that wooden board to my collection! 🙂 It just adds to the freshness of the food..

  13. Well, then I succeeded. 😀 Yes, wood does that because it is a natural product.

  14. Lovely vegan version! I like the bright cheerful mood of your images, and rather enjoy seeing how many differing interpretations can come out of us all making the same dish 🙂

  15. Welcome Jenn, and thanks. Glad the bright colours worked. 🙂

  16. Very well done Harini..
    amateurs like me learn a lot when someone explains the photo session like u did.
    Lovely pics!! and love the vegan Pesto.

  17. I love reading about everyones efforts for the DHSPC, it’s always so wonderful to read everyones different takes on the same photo, and even better to see it. I love your photography and your vegan interpretation.

  18. Trust me Harini, I think it looks beautiful sans napkin as well. Look at the rest of the plate! So beautiful. I love the little polka-dotted bowl you have placed the pesto in. Do you get arugula in Bombay easily? I have never eaten it and want to try. So many salad recipes use arugula.

  19. Thanks, Meena! That is an egg-holder, but I use it for chutneys. 🙂 Yes, we get arugula in many places here.

  20. Even with all the ‘mistakes’ the pics are awesome.
    You know, many of us would kill to be able to do even that!

  21. Loved the twist on the traditional basil pesto spread, perhaps taking it a little further by spicing it up worked for me too

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