Sol food

Sacramento Activist School nourishes community one plant-based meal at a time

Photo by Steph Rodriguez, illustration by Mark Stivers

The Sacramento Activist School’s next Cooking on a Budget class is Wednesday, November 21, and tamales are on the menu. 6 p.m.; $5 donation, An extended version of this story is available at

On a warm Wednesday evening in September that marked some of the last days of summer, the Sacramento Activist School hosted its monthly Healthy Cooking on a Budget class at its headquarters inside Sol Collective, an arts, culture and music venue.

The cooking demos, which focus on easy, healthy and affordable meals that are oftentimes plant-based, were incorporated into the program last summer as a direct way to address food desert and insecurity issues in the community.

The Sac Activist School not only aims to educate communities of color on political issues that directly affect them, but it also shows residents how to become locally involved in order to affect change.

“When you come to a place like this and you see people that are a part of your neighborhood, that you know, or that look like you or your family, and they’re telling you, ’This is what I learned and this is what I have for you,’ then it’s an each one, teach one situation and it’s been beautiful,” said Jasmin Aleman, a longtime board member of Sac Activist School and Sol Collective. “[We] set out to serve underrepresented and marginalized peoples that don’t have the same resources as everybody else.”

Rick Gloria, another dedicated board member, led the evening’s class that featured his original recipes for vegan ceviche and jamaica (hibiscus flower) agua frescas. Agua frescas are refreshing beverages traditionally made by steeping flowers or fruit in hot water before the drink is sweetened with sugar and served either hot or iced.

“These recipes are really simple and growing up, I would’ve never even bothered with tomatoes and cauliflower or making ceviche. It’s a little out of the box, but it’s a great feeling to teach people,” Gloria said. “It’s affordable stuff. It’s fun and I’m sure whoever I teach is going to teach somebody else, too.”

Ceviche, is made with shrimp or white fish that’s soaked in lime juice, which essentially cooks the seafood over time. It’s then tossed with diced tomatoes, onions, cilantro and some sort of heat component like chopped jalapeños or serranos and served with chips or on top of a crispy tostada—how Gloria plated his dish.

Gloria’s recipe substitutes one head of cauliflower in place of seafood, and the result was a tangy and spicy flavor bomb that tinged the lips—in a good way—with the herbaceous aroma of freshly chopped cilantro (back off cilantro-haters) complimenting each crunchy bite.

Once plates were empty, all attendees quickly went back for seconds, which Gloria happily dished out. During the demo, he also explained how to steep jamaica flowers in boiling water before straining them into a large decanter. The cranberry-hued water’s steam emitted a pleasantly floral fragrance that perked everyone’s interest as they inhaled. Once sugar was stirred in, all that was left was to let it cool.

As the agua fresca cooled, Aleman dipped plastic cups in Chamoy, a thick, sweet and sour hot sauce, before dipping the savory rim into Tajín, a chili, lime and salt powder. The presentation of the jamaica agua fresca made my mouth water as Aleman poured it over ice and garnished each drink with a slice of pineapple. The outcome was sweet, spicy, savory and tart much like a cranberry, but everything was deliciously balanced.

After bellies were full on plant-based Mexican food, Gloria mentioned that everything he prepared for attendees only cost $20 and that the avocado slices he used to garnish the ceviche tostadas were the most expensive ingredient. All in all, another successful class, he’d say.

“Veganism is making food from food. I really have fun with this,” Gloria said, who admits he’s not strictly vegan, but enjoys cooking plant-based meals most days of the week.

“I just love to cook. … I feel like cooking is art.”