Green Kitchen: Use-Up-Your-Herbs Cilantro Pesto

Green Kitchen is a bi-weekly column about nutritious, inexpensive, and ethical food and cooking. It's penned by the lovely Jaime Green.

Give me your tired, your poor, your wilted herbage straining for the trash can, the rotting refuse of your crisper drawer. Send these, the yellowing, long-forgotten to me, I will make them into awesome pesto!

That’s what your food processor is saying right now, if it were also the statue of liberty.

Talk about eating and cooking in environmentally friendly ways often comes back to the same ideas – eat local, eat unprocessed, eat happy meat. These are awesome ideas – they connect your kitchen to lovely, independent farms, shortening the distance from the soil to your fridge – but they are also sometimes difficult ideas.

Not everyone has access to greenmarkets. Not everyone has the education or skills to choose or prepare unprocessed foods. Not everyone can afford local, free-range, grass-fed, ethically raised meat. It’s sadly easy to sigh in resignation when we can’t manage those good choices and lose sight of a good choice every single one of us can make.

Do not waste food.

You know what makes a box of Dunkaroos an even less worthwhile investment of raw materials, industrial production, and your dollars? Not eating them! Want to completely negate any power for good contained in that conventionally grown midwinter Peruvian tomato? Throw it out! Wasting food is the surest way to guarantee that its environmental impact is all for naught. It’s also a surefire way to waste your money, too.

Living in a largely Dominican neighborhood means a lot of nice things for me, culinarily, not the least of which is the prevalence of cheap cilantro in the supermarket. It is not local, it is not seasonal, but it is 99 cents a bunch, and tempting to pick up to throw on saut├ęs and in omelets and such.

But let’s be honest – more times than not, that 99-cent bunch of delicious, delicious cilantro sits in my crisper drawer until it is yellow and wilted, and it ends up not in my mouth but in my compost.

This time, I resolved to do it differently. Not to remember to use any of the cilantro for its intended purpose, of course, but to salvage it once it had gone forsaken.

A while back I’d seen a recipe online for cilantro pesto that specifically addressed this forsaken cilantro issue. No surprise, my interest was piqued. What’s that, you say? Pesto can be made with nasty, wilted cilantro? And does not require billion-dollars-a-pound pine nuts? Please, go on!

And go on this recipe did! Cilantro + oil + nuts = pesto! My cilantro wasn’t so much wilted as yellowing (with, okay, a couple of rotten leaves), but I overcame my squeamishness, pulled out the gross stuff, and was left with about two cups worth of usable greenery. “Usable” not really as it was, but hopefully the alchemy of pestoization (yes, that’s a proper use of the Italian root word) would be enough.

And so, dear reader, it was.


If this looks good, you'll surely adore:

Cilantro Pesto
inspired by The Lazy Localvore.
makes about 6 one-tablespoon servings
(quantities are flexible for two reasons – one, so you can suit the recipe to your taste; two, because who knows how much of your languishing cilantro will be salvageable.)

2-3 cups cilantro leaves (& little stems)
1-2 T olive oil
1/8-1/4 cup slivered blanched almonds (or other nut)
1/8-1/4 t salt
dash of garlic powder

Put cilantro, almonds, salt, and garlic powder into bowl of food processor. Process, streaming in olive oil as you go. Pulse until it is a thick paste, with nuts chopped finely but not pulverized. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, Protein, and Price Per Serving
60 calories, 5.7g fat, 0.7g fiber, 1.1g protein, $0.22

3 cups cilantro leaves: 18 calories, 0g fat, 1g fiber, 1g protein, $0.99
1.5 T olive oil: 189 calories, 21g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.12
1/4 c slivered blanched almonds: 155 calories, 13.3g fat, 3.3g fiber, 5.7g protein, $0.15
1/4 t salt: 0 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.01
dash garlic powder: negligible calories, fat, fiber, and protein, $0.02
TOTAL: 362 calories, 34.3g fat, 4.3g fiber, 6.7g protein, $1.29
PER SERVING (TOTAL/6): 60 calories, 5.7g fat, 0.7g fiber, 1.1g protein, $0.22