Recipe for peace: Pesto (AFGHANISTAN)

Stefan Gates

As part of our Recipes for peace series, each week we feature an inspiring dish to celebrate the varied - and tasty - ways in which food can play a role in building peace. 

This week’s recipe comes from British television presenter, food writer, live performer and broadcaster Stefan Gates. Stefan, also known as the Gastronaut, has travelled the world exploring extraordinary food and what it reveals about different cultures. He shares the dish he prepared on a memorable visit to Afghanistan

Stefan Gates’ Afghan Pesto (AFGHANISTAN)

My most memorable appearances on TV have, it’s fair to say, been of questionable cultural value. Eating radioactive soup, forcing kids to eat lambs’ testicles, making a cake out of my own body matter, that sort of thing. But my proudest moment – well that’s another thing entirely.

I was filming a documentary series called Cooking in the Danger Zone, about how people struggle to feed themselves in wildly differing situations including war zones. We found ourselves in Kabul, Afghanistan, at the end of a gruelling and stressful trip spent zipping around the country comparing how different armies, refugees and individuals struggled to survive.

The shoot was nearly over when we got a call asking me to come and appear on Afghan TV’s most popular show, The Cookery Show. I jumped at the chance! The only problem was that I was in a country where the food is fabulous (the Afghans are charcoal wizards), and the ingredients pretty much unfamiliar.

So I went to the market and grabbed the ingredients I was most familiar with and resolved to force them to become a dish! The shoot itself was a glorious disaster – the blender exploded, I covered the glamorous presenter, Frarzana, in pesto, and spent the entire show with a large bogey of the stuff dripping from my own nose, too. But with her good grace and help, we managed to make an absolute hum-dinger of a dish.

Afghanistan opened my eyes to the extraordinary charm and hospitality of the Afghan people. So many people I talked to were desperate for peace, and tired – so tired of conflict. Whether they were rich or desperately, desperately poor (and most of the people I met were the latter), the warmth of their welcome, their openness and the generosity of their tables (well, carpets) made me feel hopeful that one day, this country must surely return to the heights of peace, culture and tolerance it used to be famed for.

Stefan being filmed at The Cookery Show

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 1 large bunch coriander, coarsely chopped
  • 2 handfuls peanuts, toasted or roasted
  • 1 cardamom pod, cracked, seeds only
  • 1 lime, juice only
  • Olive oil, for mixing
  • Pasta, cooked according to the instructions
  • Prep time: 5 min
  • Cook time: 10 min

Cooking instructions (with pasta)

  • Put the coriander, peanuts, cardamom seeds and lime juice in a blender or food processor and process until chopped and combined.
  • With the motor running, drizzle in olive oil until the mixture has the consistency of a soft paste.
  • Cook your pasta until al dente and drain. Pour a couple of glugs of olive oil over the pasta and toss it to coat.
  • Add a big spoonful of the pesto and stir through. Serve.

Get inspired to take on some unusual culinary adventures by checking out Stefan’s Gastronaut YouTube Channel. You can also find him on Twitter
Photo credits: Bobby Goulding / Stefan Gates (top right). Katrin Morenz, Creative Commons (bottom left)