Meatless Monday: Cilantro Pesto

Today’s piece is inspired by a turkey sandwich I had last week at Bread & Ocean Bakery located in the beachside village of Manzanita, Ore. Before you get your girdle in an uproar over my mention of turkey on Meatless Monday, hear me out: The secret to this magical sandwich, other than the house-made bread, is the cilantro pesto!

(Kim O'Donnel)

As many of you already know, June is garlic scape month, and I’m typically found scouring the farm markets for every last scape to squirrel away for freezer pesto.

But like those scapes, cilantro is a spring/early summer crop that arrives way before basil; in fact, cilantro wilts under intense heat, so the time is NOW for a cilantro pesto party. After swooning over my sandwich, I meditated on what I’d need to recreate this thing of tongue-dancing magnificence.

As I got to work, I discovered that unlike other kinds of pesto, cilantro plays nicely with others and is open to improv and collaboration. If you’d like your pesto to be dairy free, for example, no worries; this pesto still shines. If you’d like a peppery kick, add some arugula; for some woodsy heat, a little smoked paprika is dynamite, something I wouldn’t dare add to basil or garlic scape pesto. The following recipe is a template, which I encourage you to tweak and then report back with your edits.

Serving suggestions: Instead of pesto pasta, I’m thinking rice. Think how gorgeous those green flecks will look among the grains! Corn tortillas and black beans, hell yes. Here’s the new ketchup for those scrambled eggs. As for sandwiches, I’m thinking grilled cheese and roasted red pepper, avocado and pesto on toasted whole wheat – and yes, when you do crave a turkey sandwich, try this pesto in place of the mayo.

This Just In: The Independent has reported that Paul McCartney and his daughters, Stella and Mary, are hosting a star-studded kick-off event today in London for a new campaign called Meat Free Monday. When I get more details (including a working url for its Web site), I'll let you know.

KOD's Cilantro Pesto – A Template Meant to Be Tweaked

1/3 cup walnuts, pecans, almonds or hazelnuts
1-2 cloves garlic, to taste (More than 2 gets a bit intense)
1 large bunch cilantro, roots and larger stems trimmed, washed and thoroughly dried
Squeeze of ½ lime
¼-1/2 cup olive oil
¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano (You can omit cheese if it’s not your thing)
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional add-ons: 2 cups arugula leaves; ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika

Place nuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and process until finely chopped. Add cilantro and lime, and pulverize. If using arugula, add now, and process until you’ve got a coarse-looking puree. Add oil, going gradually; stop machine and taste for herb/oil ratio. Add more if it feels “dry.”

Scrape down sides of bowl as needed, and transfer pesto to a small mixing bowl. Fold in cheese, if using, and season with salt, pepper and smoked paprika, if using.

Makes about 1 cup, maybe more.

By Kim ODonnel |  June 15, 2009; 7:14 AM ET Meatless Monday
Previous: A Week in the Life of the Kitchen | Next: Tasty Summer Reads


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Thanks, Kim! I've been craving some pesto and this will be dinner tonight.

Posted by: earlysun | June 15, 2009 8:44 AM

this is just so great. i would most definitely add some cumin to it! cumin and cilantro together are amazing! Like the idea of paprika, though :)


Posted by: FlanBoyantEats | June 15, 2009 11:16 AM

i thought of you this weekend when i was cooking with cilantro. i'm indian, and we use cilantro extensively. this weekend, i took a fresh bunch of cilantro, ground it up in the food processor with garlic, onions, cumin powder, coriander powder, a green chili, and some lemon juice. i then used this "sauce" as a base for slow cooking some tender japanese eggplant. i also use this version of "pesto" to make a killer green rice. put two cups of rice, the cilantro sauce, a half cup of frozen peas, and 4 cups of water into a rice cooker and voila, 20 minutes later you have an amazing green rice! you can add some mint to the sauce which is awesome, and for a richer taste, substitute half cup of the cooking water for coconut milk. anyway, can't wait to taste your cilantro pesto recipe!!!

suman :)

Posted by: spd279 | June 15, 2009 11:21 AM

Suman, thank you so much for sharing these fab ideas. How much sauce did you add to the rice?

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | June 15, 2009 11:48 AM

Oh thank you for the timely recipe.

I planted some cilantro this year on my deck, and from two small plants I've got a forest of cilantro. My husband and I both love it, but there are so few recipes that use it in bulk (at least that fit into my diet).

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | June 15, 2009 12:01 PM

hi kim,

i add about a cup of the sauce to the rice....but you can really adjust based on your liking. i like it to be really powerful, but if you want just a scent of the sauce, you can decrease the amount. one thing i forgot to mention, be sure to add some whole cloves, cardamom pods, and a half a cinnamon stick to the cooking liquid when putting into the rice cooker......makes everything extra fragrant and yummy!

Posted by: spd279 | June 15, 2009 12:41 PM

Hello Kim

Cilantro pesto is hugely addictive. My preference: pignola for the nuts. I also enjoy cilantro & mint, half and half. If I have makrud aka kaffir lime, a lavish grating of zest. A cautious sprinking of powdered hot pepper, not enough to make the pesto hot to the tongue, just enough to give it a sparkle. Oh, and I like *lots* of garlic (colour me promiscuous!).

Posted by: davidlewiston | June 15, 2009 4:51 PM

For Chasmosaur1,
1. You can make 'cilantro chicken curry' where you had a big bunch of choppped cilantro to the chicken and let it cook.
2. There's also one Indian recipe called 'Kothimbir vadi' which translates to 'cilantro pattie'. It's quite amazing food from localites from Mumbai. My google srch gave me this link for the recipe:

Posted by: easttowestgal | June 16, 2009 1:08 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company