Cilantro Pesto


Homemade Cilantro Pesto, made with fresh cilantro leaves, blanched almonds, red onion, serrano chile and olive oil.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

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 the pesto 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.

Cilantro Pesto Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: About 1 cup

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


  • 2 cups, packed, of cilantro, including stems
  • 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 extra virgin olive oil


1 Toast the almonds: Heat a small skillet on high heat. When the pan is hot, add the blanched almonds in a single layer. Stir with a wooden spoon. When the almonds are fragrant and start to brown, remove them from the pan.

2 In a food processor, pulse the cilantro, almonds, onion, chile, and salt until well blended.

3 Slowly add the oil: With the food processor running, slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream.

Add more oil as needed for your use.

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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Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

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63 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Patricia

    Excellent use of cilantro, I’ve made it twice, using green onions instead of red, because that was what was in the garden. Have added this to my repertoire, and froze one cup to see whether texture changes. Great in scrambled eggs, and on veggie “burgers”. Splash of lime sounds like a great idea for the next batch.


  2. Diana

    Very light and delicate flavor. I added some lemon zest and a pinch of sugar to highlight.


  3. Ann

    Way too salty! Looked so good then was such a disappointment.


    Show Replies (1)
  4. kathy

    I followed the recipe but added lime juice at the end, and it really perked it up.


    Show Replies (1)
  5. Pamela

    Since part of my family does not like onions or hot things, I used the same amount of a sweet onion and a nice mild poblano pepper. We are going to put it in re-fried beans and on cheese crisps. I’m also going to mix it with green salsa and use it on a green bell pepper, corn, black bean, cherry tomato and scallion salad, kind of like a dressing.


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