This super flavorful Spicy Cilantro Pistachio Pesto gets its flare from fresh garlic, green onion, lime juice and the kick of a jalapeño. You can easily whip it up in minutes, store in the fridge or freeze! Plus, the ways to use pesto are endless!
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Pesto is one of the easiest ways to use an abundance of cilantro, basil and other fresh herbs and greens. I love coming up with different combinations depending on what’s coming out of the garden, like this Baby Spinach Walnut Pesto, Carrot Top Pesto with Cashews and Basil Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto.
Key Ingredients & Variations
- Greens: Cilantro takes the lead role with its bright, citrusy aroma and flavor that really pops. I also added parsley since it was in the fridge. You can try various combinations with fresh herbs, lettuces like spinach, kale and arugula, and even carrot top greens as mentioned above.
- Nuts: Pine nuts are used in traditional pesto but pistachios have a creamy-like texture and unique flavor that adds body and a delicious taste. Walnuts, pecans, almonds and cashews are easy substitutes as well. And try sunflower, sesame or pumpkin seeds if you need to make a nut-free pesto.
- Citrus: Lime pairs deliciously with cilantro but I easily could have used a lemon, orange or even some pineapple juice.
TIP: Citrus is key to slowing the oxidation process and keeping your pesto greener longer so be sure to include one or a combination of the above.
- Extra Flavor: This is where you dial the spice level up or down to your liking. I love the bite of a couple cloves of fresh garlic and green onion, and the heat from a medium, seeded jalapeño. If you want more kick, leave the seeds in and even add a pinch of cayenne or dash of hot sauce.
- Oil: Be sure to use a good quality oil. I typically grab extra-virgin olive oil or avocado oil. They add extra flavor and bind all the other ingredients to get the right texture. You can adjust the amount to your desired consistency.
How to Prep & Make Fresh Pesto
The beauty of making pesto is the food processor does most of the work. It takes less than 5 minutes to prep the ingredients then the processor takes over.
Make sure to rinse the cilantro and parsley very well in cold water before adding to the food processor. They tend to be sandy and you certainly don’t want a gritty pesto. Dry the herbs between paper towels to remove as much moisture as possible.
Pulse the greens, pistachios, garlic, jalapeño and green onion with the zest and juice of the lime until well chopped.
Next, with the machine running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. You’re looking for that just-right Goldilocks consistency of not too runny and not too chunky. If it happens to be on the thicker side, you can always add a couple tablespoons of water at a time to thin it out.
The last thing to do is season to taste with salt and pepper, and any other spice you’d like to add.
Storage & Freezing
The good news is even if you’re overwhelmed with herbs and greens you can make large batches of pesto and they will last a long time.
To store, simply transfer the pesto to an airtight container it fills pretty much to the top. I like to use mason jars but even resealable plastic bags will work just fine. Refrigerate up to 1 week.
To freeze, put the pesto in ice cube trays to pull a little out at a time or in larger amounts in resealable freezer bags or other freezer-safe containers. Either way they’ll last up to 6 months.
Defrost larger portions of pesto overnight in the fridge. Smaller ice-cube size portions will thaw quickly and can be tossed into whatever you're looking to use them in.
TIP: Add a thin layer of olive oil to the top of pesto before sticking in the fridge or freezer to help keep it from turning brown.
Absolutely! Cilantro stems are tender and have wonderful flavor. No need to pick off the leaves, simply chop and add the stems to the food processor as in this recipe or whatever else you’re cooking up.
To make a vegan pesto creamier, add avocado or coconut milk to the food processor when blending. Or for a hot cream sauce, combine a can of coconut milk and 1 ½ teaspoons corn starch in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. When thickened, remove from heat and stir in ¼ - ½ cup pesto.
While pesto lasts a week in the fridge, by day 5 or so it can become a bit dry. Pesto is best served room temperature, but if it's still thick and dry whisk in some vegetable stock, coconut milk or good ol' H2O to rehydrate it.
Creative Uses (other than pasta!)
Pasta, and rice for that matter, are no-brainers when it comes to delicious uses for pesto. Here are 11 more creative ways to get the most out of your herby green sauces.
Drizzle over tacos
Spread as a pizza sauce
Splash on stuffed peppers
Schmear on a grilled cheese
Dollop on a medley of veggies
Garnish soups and stews
Marry with filet mignon
Flavor your favorite fish
Marinate lamb chops
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Spicy Cilantro Pistachio Pesto (Vegan, Gluten Free & Keto)
- 1 ½ cups packed cilantro leaves , well rinsed
- ½ cup packed flat-leaf parsley , well rinsed
- 2 garlic cloves , peeled
- 2 green onions , ends trimmed
- 1 jalapeño pepper , seeded
- ½ cup pistachios , shelled
- 1 lime , juice and zest
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Combine cilantro, parsley, garlic, green onion, jalapeno, pistachios, lime juice and zest in a food processor. Pulse a few times to combine mixture. Scrape sides with a spatula.
- With machine running, slowly drizzle in the oil. Continue to pulse for desired texture. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes approximately 1 ¼ cups.
- Serving at room temperature is best.
- Pestos will oxidize when exposed to air, and begin to brown. Adding a little olive oil over top before chilling or freezing will help the pesto stay greener longer.
- Refrigerate in airtight container up to 7 days.
- Freeze in ice cube trays or freezer-safe resealable bags and containers up to 6 months.
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Ben | Havocinthekitchen says
What a beautiful and vibrant pesto packed with tons of flavour. Now, I might not be a huge cilantro fan, but combined with pistachio, jalapeños, and lime, I am intrigued and would give it a try!
Kim Peterson says
Thanks Ben! Hope this turns you on to cilantro! If not, parsley or basil will always work too. 🙂