Cilantro Pesto

I have, over the years, attempted to grow cilantro several times. Each time the plants bolted before I got much use out of them. This year I planted a bunch of seed in October, when the scorching Sacramento summer weather cooled down, and the plants have been thriving for months. As the cilantro gets more mature, the stems thicken and the leaves get much bigger, signaling “pre-bolt” and a good time to make cilantro pesto. Unlike basil pesto, this pesto requires no Parmesan or garlic. The complementary flavors are red onion and serrano chile instead. Also, almonds are used instead of pine nuts. Almonds seem to enhance the flavor of the cilantro, rather than compete with it. Use with pasta, as a filling, or with chicken in tacos. Some of this batch got mixed in with some cottage cheese for a delicious tortilla chip dip.

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Cilantro Pesto Recipe

  • Prep time: 5 minutes

You can add more serrano chiles if you like things hot. A full teaspoon will give you a nice, warm pesto.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups, packed, of cilantro, large stems removed
  • 1/2 cup blanched almonds
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped and seeded serrano chile
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Method

In a food processor, pulse the cilantro, almonds, onion, chile, and salt until well blended. With the food processor running, slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream.

Add more oil as needed for your use.

Makes about 1 cup.

Whatever you don't use, you can freeze. Line a ice cube tray with plastic wrap and fill in the individual cube spaces with the pesto. Freeze and remove from the ice tray, put in a sealed freezer bag for future use.

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garden-cilantro.jpg
Cilantro in our garden

42 Comments

  1. Kalyn

    Cilantro is my all time favorite flavor. You’re so lucky (smart!) to have figured out how to grow it successfully. It gets so hot in Utah that I’ve never been able to grow it very well, but recently I had the idea of attempting it in a little strip of flowers on the west side of my house, where it’s shady some of the day. I’m going to experiment with that this summer to see if I can get at least one good crop. I’ll just mix it in with the taller flowers. I’m hoping it will work.

    This pesto sounds just wonderful. I freeze my basil pesto in ice cube trays too and use it all winter.

  2. Caroline

    Mmmm, I like to make this with hazelnuts instead of almonds, and no onion or chile.

  3. Lauren

    Sounds really tasty! I wonder how it would taste in some guacamole? Pretty darn good, I’ll bet. And a good idea of something to do with the rest of those huge bunches of cilantro that you get at the store. Mine always go bad before I can use all of it.

  4. Tammy

    MMM, I bet this would also be delicious stirred into chicken or vegetable soup to give it an almost tortilla-soup-like flavor. There’s an Italian vegetable/bean soup (Can’t remember the name) that works the same way– stir in a tablespoon of basil pesto riht before serving. Delish.

  5. Ken

    I love Cilantro and this sounds wonderful, but would you recommend anything in place of Almonds? Food allergy and all.

  6. Karina

    Hi Elise!

    Yum! How bad could this be? I love your flavor combination in this pesto. I bet it would be delicious on grilled salmon.

    Ken~

    I have to sub walnuts in nut recipes, and I’ve used pecans in pesto, and pine nuts; both work well.

  7. McAuliflower

    I love making this with 1/4 cup of garlic added and a good helping of black pepper and using it as a marinade. Chicken grilled with this is amazing.

    thanks for the reminder!

  8. vanessa

    I recently tasted a pebre (cilantro sauce) with a beef empanada. I wonder if the recipe is essentially the cilantro pesto?

  9. James

    This sounds a lot like chimichurri sauce.

    Though, in that you nix the nuts and add vinegar and parsley

  10. Roseann

    Hi Elise – wonderful idea! A favorite restaurant in Tucson served something similar, but the nuts used were pistachios. I will have to try it.

    I can’t grow cilantro here in the desert, even in winter (it always bolts) – but I can keep bunches in the fridge if I put the bunch in a class of water and cover it loosely with a plastic bag.

    I tried a fun recipe last night from Lorenza de’Medici’s Florentines: A Tuscan Feast food book – meatloaf with horseradish applesauce – a wonderful combination!

    Cheers, Roseann

  11. Shel

    I love cilantro pesto. I like not having all the cheese. Great Recipe. And thanks for the tip about growing cilantro. From Sacramento too. It’ll be great to grow next fall.

  12. tyrone

    Almonds…interesting. I’ve been a chef for quite a while and i’ve made some pretty interesting things, some not so good and some really good, for staff dinners over the years. i’ve tried the cilantro pesto about three times and never any almonds. what i have done that seems to work is peanuts, lime juice, a little palm sugar, a touch of sesame oil and thai chili or jalapeno. this makes a southeast asian style pesto and its pretty good on pad thai noodles with some spicy shrimp or tofu. you can also dip spring rolls in it, or serve it with cool cucumbers. i’ll try the almonds next time.

  13. Wendy

    What went wrong? I tried making the pesto this weekend. I was disappointed because the pesto taste kind of bitter. I wonder what could it be? I followed the recipe faithfully.

  14. Elise

    Hi everyone, thanks for the great suggestions!

    Tyrone – your peanuts, lime juice, sugar, sesame oil and thai chili with the cilantro sounds wonderful.

    Hi Wendy – could be the cilantro you were using was a little too mature. You could always add more nuts to balance the flavors.

  15. Wendy

    Thanks Elise! I will try it again with a different batch of cilantro and maybe use more nuts!

  16. Anonymous

    I just made this two weeks ago. I am a married grad student who cannot make dinner at home all the time and this was perfect. My husband eats this pesto with pasta, lunch meat sandwich (pesto replaces condiments), crackers for snack, etc. Although I have to credit my husband for being creative with this pesto, I think this recipe is great.

  17. Anonymous

    Your pesto looks and sounds delicious! This is how I use excess cilantro – most regional Indian cuisines include a ‘cilantro (or cilantro and mint) chutney’ that is served as a condiment with a meal or with fried snacks. I am sure you’ve seen some horribly artificial green chutneys in Indian restaurants. Here’s the real recipe. It is delicious, healthy (no oil here!) and very versatile – try it on whole wheat bread in a sandwich. It keeps in the refrigerator for two weeks.

    1 large bunch cilantro, mostly leaves
    2 or 3 hot Thai green chillies, remove seeds for less heat, or just use one
    a handful of roasted peanuts
    1 tsp cumin seeds
    1/2 tsp sugar
    1/2 tsp salt
    juice of half lemon
    water to help process

    Process peanuts, chillies, cumin, salt and sugar for 30 seconds in the mini jar of a blender or food processor. Add washed cilantro, lemon juice and a teaspoon of water at a time, as needed to help the processing. I like a spreadable consistency like hummous. A clove of garlic or even green garlic may be added. Fresh coconut may be substituted for the nuts (equal volume), but that also has the same effect on shelf life. Oh, and if you have access to raw green mangoes, peel and add half of one here instead of lemon juice – finger lickin’ good!

  18. Anamika

    Elise,

    Ive been a visitor on your site for a couple of weeks. I tried this out. It was delicious…you are so right about the almonds bringing out the taste of the coriander…this is the first time I really enjoyed coriander in all its freshness.

    I also, mixed it in with plain yoghurt and it was lovely. simple and elegant.
    thanks a bunch! Anamika

  19. Jess

    To tyrone who said he made this recipe and it tasted bitter.

    I wonder if you accidentally used a bitter almond?

  20. Coralie

    Dairy free Pesto that actually sounds edible! Thankyou

  21. betsey

    I do love cilantro pestos, though I must say my favorite nut to combine it with is pecans…pure texas : )

  22. Daver

    I just made this recipe just as it appeared here. I served the first batch as a “sampler” to a group of 20 folks who were visiting our farm. It got standing ovations! Thanks!

  23. ADITYA RANJAN SAHOO

    What I learned is very different from all these recipes posted.

    100 gm cilantro with 1 inch stem
    30 gm garlic peeled
    5 gm red chilli flakes
    2 gm salt
    5 gm black pepper pwd coarsely ground
    55 gm parsely with steams( 1inch )
    add olive oil for extra flavour
    grind it coarsely in a food processer ( best is robo coupe )
    this is purely Mexican
    try this with double cream , red bell peppers , mushroom and fettucine pasta

  24. LiberalFoodie

    Thanks for the inspiration to this pesto! I made pork chops and potato salad with green beans for dinner last night. One of the potato salad recipes called for pre-made basil pesto and since I had cilantro on hand, I made this pesto with some changes. I blended cilantro, blanched almonds, jalapeno peppers, garlic (omitted shallots) and oil for the pesto. Mixed the pesto with potatoes and green beans. It was a huge hit with the husband and some friends we had over for dinner.

  25. Amber

    Like you, my cilantro is looking ready to bolt. (And likewise, I’ve never had much luck with the stuff in summer, but winter in Cali seems to be the perfect time for cilantro.) I wanted to find a cilantro pesto recipe, and here you are! I can’t wait to try it.

  26. urs aeby

    Some Hints how to make Pesto…more of a multi function Pesto.
    Use as a filler Mushrooms
    but cook the Onions and the Mushrooms, then add the Cilantro which should remain raw..or fresh…
    Use fairly quickly or freeze…..
    Nuts…has become a price issue…with compromises. I have tried it with Parmesan and without – both work well depending on what you want to achieve.
    UA

  27. katie

    What can I use the pesto for? I have cilantro growing in my garden I need to use soon!

    Mix it with pasta, or add it to tacos or tortilla soup. ~Elise

  28. Mary

    I use cilantro pesto on a Mexican pizza– using salsa, red onion and peppers, olives, Canadian bacon, and cheddar/jack cheese. The pesto gives it richness and a great flavor. (Originally had this at Rainbow Lodge on the way up to Tahoe, and did my best to copy it.)

  29. Valentina Salinas

    This is a delicious recipe. I used it as an appetizer with crackers and baby carrots. I added a bit of lemon juice to enhance flavors. I’ve been visiting this site for a couple of weeks now and I really like it. Congrats, you don’t see many websites like this, wonderful pictures too.

  30. Lisa

    I love cilantro and was excited to try this recipe out. It was pretty good on pasta (we used farfalle). It was FABULOUS on a tortilla with black beans, grilled peppers and mushrooms, and sour cream. We still have lots of cilantro left in our garden and will be making more pesto to freeze and enjoy all winter long. Thanks for the wonderful recipe!

  31. Tata

    Here in Puerto Rico we made the pesto with cilantro, garlic, walnuts and extra virgin olive oil. Simple but really good in pasta salds or baked with mozarrella or toss wit potatoes. Mmmmm is soooo good.

  32. Hans

    Cilantro Pesto?

    Have been making it for years now! :-)
    Anything pesto is fantastic!

    I use the pine nuts instead of the almonds, roasted. I also add some fresh squeezed lime juice, depends on my mood and how much I’m making.

    For the heat I make two different versions. For the milder of the two I use four whole roasted jalapeño peppers. For the hotter of the two I use four – six whole roasted Habañero peppers. Probably should let people know if you’re ever going to serve the hotter of these.

  33. Annie

    Cilantro is my all time favorite herb and this recipe sounds amazing!! Will be sure to try very soon–chicken tacos, maybe–

  34. Kathryn

    I have made this pesto I don’t know how many times. I love it. It goes on everything. I put it on large white beans, pasta, green beans… Ooh maybe I will do pizza next.

  35. lulu

    This is a scrumptious recipe – and perfect for vegan and non-vegan alike. I made this with toasted almond slivers and had a hard time not eating the entire recipe before serving it. Yet another keeper recipe from this site!

  36. ginny

    Hi, I am trying to blend the cilantro with the rest of the stuff in the food processor. Problem is they are not blending, do I need to add in water or vinegar to the cilantro before processing. If so, how much do I need to put, Thank You.

    Use a rubber spatula to push down the cilantro from the sides of the food processor and try again. Then drizzle in the oil while pulsing. That should help. ~Elise

  37. ginny

    I used a chopstick and spoon trying to stir and mixed the bottom which already blended to those of the top which has not, but unsuccessful. So I end up putting some water, lemon juice and vinegar, and got all blended and mixed. It turn out not as beautiful and green as yours. I will give another try by using a spatula next time. Thank You

  38. Kimberly

    Great recipe. I used cashews instead of almonds. This might sound crazy, but it’s what they use in the yummy cilantro dipping sauce at The Kona Grill.

  39. Pooja Pillai

    This is fantastic! I was initially worried because cilantro is such a strong, distinctive flavour and I was worried it wouldn’t go with Pasta at all. But the almond is a wonderful companion to cilantro and I must say the results were simply delicious!

  40. Debbie McCarrick

    Wanted to make a pesto out of cilantro and Googled some recipes. Found yours and since I already subscribe to Simply Recipes decided to go with that one. Made a double batch and served it on Chicken and Jack quesadillas with a dollop of sour cream and diced tomatoes and avocados.

    It was wonderful! My son has been eating the leftovers with Juanitas tortilla chips. Next time I am going to try pepitos instead of almonds as my niece suggested. Apparently they made it like that in culinary school one time and she said it was really good!

    Thanks for a great recipe!

  41. Brianna

    added some sour creme and garlic and did not use the Serrano pepper i loooooooooooooooved it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  42. Lisa

    Figured I could count on you for a great way to use a bunch of cilantro I had in the fridge. Luckily, I happened to have the other ingredients, too. I just whipped up a batch of this stuff, and it’s wonderful. A little kick from the pepper, but not so much as to obscure the other flavors. It was heaven on a homemade tortilla chip, and mixed into sour cream. I’m thinking I may rub it all over the pork tenderloin I’ve got thawing, too!

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