Pesto for St. Patrick’s Day

cilantro pesto, pesto, meatless, vegetarian, St. Patrick's Day, St. Joseph's Day

Nothing says green like a pesto sauce! The brilliant emerald color comes from cilantro leaves instead of basil. (Photos by Laura Groch 2014)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! You won’t find a recipe for corned beef or Irish soda bread here today, but I do have a recipe that’s very green. And it’s also kind of Italian, which checks off St. Joseph’s Day (March 19), and it’s meatless, so it works for Lenten Friday meals too.

But I have to warn you, it’s not for everyone. This recipe is for a flavorful pesto — made with cilantro leaves instead of basil.

Cilantro is a flavor not universally embraced, although it is part of many cuisines, including Mexican, Spanish, Moroccan, Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian. The seeds and ground form of this plant are known as coriander, according to “The Encyclopedia of Herbs, Spices and Flavorings: A Cook’s Compendium” by Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz (Dorling Kindersley, 1992). Ortiz also writes that this is one of the bitter herbs eaten at Passover and is mentioned in the Bible.

cilantro pesto, pasta

Cilantro pesto has an assertive but pleasant flavor. Try it over your favorite pasta. (Mine’s fettuccine.)

It does have an assertive flavor, so this recipe may not be for everyone. However, if you love cilantro as I do, you might want to give it a try.

Fresh basil isn’t always available for pesto, and it’s sometimes pricey — whereas cilantro was selling in one of my neighborhood markets last week for 25 cents a bunch. At that price, it’s easy and economical to work up a couple of batches and freeze them. They thaw pretty well.

You can use this pesto to dress pasta or rice, or stir it by the spoonful into soups, as the French do with their pistou.

Be sure to wash the cilantro leaves thoroughly (they can hold a lot of dirt) and toss any wilted or yellowing ones. I usually first pick over the leaves, then swish them in several changes of water. If your bunch of cilantro has very long stems, trim them to about 4 inches long, otherwise the pesto may be too stringy.

Here’s my recipe. You can vary the amounts to your taste. To make it full vegan,

pesto, cilantro pesto, cannellini beans

Top your cilantro pesto with cooked white or cannellini beans for a protein boost.

try substituting some seasoned bread crumbs for the Parmesan cheese. Also, traditional pestos use pignoli nuts (pine nuts), and you can use those instead of walnuts if you prefer. We like to top it with some cooked white or cannellini beans for an extra protein boost.

In honor of today being St. Patrick’s Day, I’ve christened it:


1 bunch cilantro leaves (2 1/2 to 3 cups), cleaned, roughly chopped

1 to 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

1/4 cup walnut pieces

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, or to taste

3 tablespoons oil, or to taste


In bowl of food processor, place first three ingredients. Puree for a minute or two, then add oil and cheese. Puree again for another minute or two or until thoroughly blended. Add salt to taste if you wish. Serve over hot cooked pasta or rice, and add cooked beans if you desire. Makes about 1 cup pesto.

(c) Laura Groch 2014


2 thoughts on “Pesto for St. Patrick’s Day

  1. Meatless Main Courses | That Recipe

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