May. 11. 2018
Nutrition Articles
McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Dietitian, Founder and CEO

Did you know you can make pesto with other greens instead of just basil?

Pesto is fresh and green and has the right balance of savory and earthy flavors. From salads, sandwiches, and pasta to chicken and seafood, pesto can basically transform any dish into a nutrient-dense and savory meal. Traditional pesto is made with pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, basil, garlic, and olive oil, but you can basically incorporate any herb or leafy green into the Genovese sauce.

Adding leafy greens, like spinach, kale, Swiss chard and collard greens, to your pesto is an excellent way to boost the nutrition of your meal and use up all those seasonal greens from your local CSA basket. Today, I’m sharing some of my favorite ways to incorporate more greens into this beloved sauce.

How To Make Pesto Out Of Different Greens

1. How To Make Pesto With Spinach

The super green is a nutrition workhorse, packing phytonutrients, such as beta-carotene and lutein, and supplying a slew of antioxidants and vitamins.

In this Spinach Basil Pesto recipe, I blend fresh basil with spinach, garlic, hemp seeds, walnuts, olive oil, nutritional yeast, and lemon juice. Nutritional yeast is a great substitute for Parmesan because it has a cheesy flavor and gives a boost of B vitamins. Instead of pine nuts, hemp seeds and walnuts deliver a big dose of heart-loving omega-3 fatty acids.

2. How To Make Pesto With Kale

From lacinato to curly to red Russian, kale is king in our nutrition books for many reasons. This wonderfully dense green is rich in fiber, iron, vitamin A and C, calcium, cancer-preventing glucosinolates. Because kale has a very dense texture, I suggest massaging it with olive oil before you combine it with the other pesto ingredients.

Mix up your kale pesto recipe by blending in cashews! They add a creaminess and almost decadent flavor to your sauce. It also makes your pesto incredibly filling, so you don’t have to worry about going overboard. You can add a dash of red pepper flakes to your pesto sauce to give it a kick of capsaicin, a compound in peppers that has been shown to relieve pain and boost your metabolism.

3. How To Make Pesto With Chard

When we think of leafy greens, spinach and kale immediately come to mind, but we often forget about Swiss chard. This green powerhouse is an excellent source of magnesium, iron, potassium, and calcium, and just a cup of it nearly has three times the recommended daily allowance of vitamin K.

Studies have also suggested that the veggie’s antioxidant properties may help prevent cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

In a pesto, I think the bitterness of Swiss chard pairs best with almonds because they have a subtly sweet and nutty flavor. You can also add lemon zest in addition to lemon juice to enhance the aroma of the pesto.

4. How To Make Pesto With Collard

Collard greens belong to the cruciferous family of vegetables, along with kale, cauliflower, and radishes. Cruciferous vegetables rich in sulfur-containing compounds called glucosinolates, which have been shown to help prevent and fight cancer.

Collard greens are also a power source of glutathione — an antioxidant that’s been getting a lot of buzz lately because of its growing role in cancer research and immune function. You might be most familiar with Southern-style collard greens, but this leafy green has so much more potential for a wonderful pesto sauce!

Consider preparing a collard green pesto with pecans, olives and a touch of balsamic vinegar; the complexity of tastes and textures blend really well with the greens’ earthy and grassy flavor.

5. How To Make Pesto With Arugula

Arugula‘s naturally peppery taste and soft leaves make it a wonderful addition to any pesto sauce. The popular green supplies vitamins A and K and folate, as well as beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Arugula also belongs to the cruciferous family of vegetables, so it has cancer-fighting properties. Because of its spicy flavor, you can opt to use arugula in place of basil in your pesto.

Just like any green pesto, blend arugula with walnuts, garlic, and nutritional yeast to impart a cheesy flavor, if you’re dairy-free. And if you dare to turn up the heat, adding a dash of cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes will make sure the sauce is lit.

Let’s Hear It!

How do you like to incorporate dark, leafy greens into your pesto? What is our favorite green to cook with and why? Share your recipe ideas with the NS community below and be sure to post your dishes on Instagram with #nutritionstripped.

xx McKel

Become an NS Society® Member

NS Society®️ is a monthly membership to support you in making healthy habits with monthly video classes, journals, recipes, community, and perks exclusive to members — all for less than $1.50 a week! Commit to yourself and stay accountable for your health.

Join NS Society