Vegan Pesto – and A Tale of Two Pestos

Traditional Pesto & Pesto for Vegans

Summer time is basil time in the Southwest. As the nights stay warm, the sun shines for hours on end and the soil temperatures rise – all these are conditions that basil loves to grow in, and here are two ways to use the bounty.

soule-savor-plantPlant Nerd Shares

Basil loves the heat because it is native to India and other tropical regions of Asia. It has been cultivated for over 5,000 years with a long and rich tradition of use, a tale that could fill books. Our word for the plant comes from the Greek “basileus” meaning “king,” and indeed, basil is considered the “king of herbs” by many chefs. Basil is featured prominently in both Italian and Southeast Asian cuisine. The species used in Italian food is typically the sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum), as opposed to Asian basils, including Thai basil (O. basilicum var. thyrsiflora), lemon basil (O. X citriodorum) and holy basil (O. sanctum).

Basil in the Southwest

Basil was first brought to our area by Father Kino over 325 years ago. This tasty herb was planted in the gardens of the missions Father Kino founded throughout the lands then known as the Pimería Alta, now southern Arizona and Sonora, Mexico, and the smaller leaved, more drought tolerant varieties quickly became local favorites.


Richard Felger’s Pesto

Pesto is one traditional way to serve basil, and it is a flavorful dish indeed. Ethnobotanist Richard S. Felger (of blessed memory) showed me how to make this pesto recipe sometime back in the 1980’s. One night we made pesto and talked Sonoran plants for hours and hours. Richard’s cat at the time, a dusty black fellow, was most disillusioned by our failure to be cooking meat, but he deigned to sample some of the freshly grated cheeses.

The next day I had a “brain fog” where I felt like I was trying to think through tissue paper – everything was muzzy. Much later I discovered that my “brain fog” was not due to staying up until the wee hours but because I had consumed a food that my body was having a hard time processing. As it turns out three of those foods were in that pesto we made!

Now I make a very different pesto – one that all my vegan friends love, and you might too – it follows this more traditional recipe.

Felger’s Traditional Basil Pesto

a generous double handful of basil (about 4 ounces)
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, peeled
8 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup fresh grated Romano cheese
1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese

Rinse basil and pat dry.
Toast pine nuts in an ungreased skillet over medium heat until golden. Cool the pine nuts.
Place cooled pine nuts, basil, garlic, and olive oil in a food processor or blender and puree until creamy.
Stir in the cheeses and serve over pasta or rice.


Vegan Pesto

After learning all the foods I could not eat, I set out to create many tasty dishes that I could enjoy. This vegan pesto is demonstrated on our YouTube channel – here. It’s mildly crunchy, not creamy, and tastes great with gluten free pasta.

1 cup of fresh basil leaves - about 4 ounces (a generous double handful)
1/4 cup raw walnuts
1 /4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon coarse black pepper

Rinse basil and pat dry.
Place walnuts in a food processor and chop until small – about the size of sunflower seeds.
Add the basil and pulse.
Once basil is partially chopped, add the olive oil, lemon juice, and black pepper.
Blend until it is of your desired consistency.
Depending on the moisture content of your basil leaves, you may wish to add a little more olive oil or lemon juice.

Queen of Siam basil is especially flavorful in this vegan pesto. Photo courtesy of All-America Selections (.org)

How About You?

How do you make your pesto? Share your ideas with us – because we love to try new flavors.

As Uncle Smokey says, “One thing I never get tired of is variety.”

Thanks for reading

The Savor Team

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