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Eat Well May. 6. 2013

Spinach Basil Pesto

May. 6. 2013
McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN


Spinach Basil Pesto. When the majority of us think of basil, we think of the most popular use of basil, pesto. Pesto is a traditional sauce used in Italian cultures and cuisines. Traditionally made in a mortar and pestle (with a circular crushing motion) with heaps of fresh basil, crushed pine nuts, grated parmesan cheese, olive oil, fresh garlic, and salt and pepper, and used with pasta dishes. There are actually several varieties of basil that are used in other cuisines such as: lemon, sweet, Thai, and holy basil used in Indian, Asian, and Thai cuisines.

Basil is not only the main star in this pesto recipe, it’s flavors are highlighted with the combination of flavors from the other ingredients commonly (and uncommonly) used in pesto. The use of basil pesto doesn’t stop at covering pasta, it can be used in many creative and unique ways, below I share several ideas and my favorite ways to use this pesto.


  • Spread on toasted gluten free bread with it with fresh avocado and sea salt
  • Spread on your favorite sandwich instead of mayonaise or other condiments
  • Dip//dollop for proteins (fish, tofu, tempeh, chickpeas, eggs, fish, etc.)
  • Dip for your favorite vegetables | raw carrots, zucchini, red peppers, roasted brussel sprouts, asparagus, etc.
  • Combined with more olive oil and apple cider vinegar for a salad dressing
  • Combined with your favorite hummus for a basil kick
  • Dip for grapes, watermelon, melon fruits in general (I know this sounds odd, but trust me the flavors marry so well)

Those are just some of my personal favorites and now you see how basil pesto can be full of variety (maybe unexpected) but that’s the beauty of it, experiment away my friends! Now, onto the next reason I love basil, the health benefits. You may be thinking, “basil is just an herb, what health benefits?”

Au contraire, basil is a powerful little herb with DNA protection, anti-bacterial properties, antimicrobial properties, rich in antioxidants, anti inflammatory benefits, diabetes, and cardiovascular health. The volatile oils and flavonoids are of particular interest with basil, especially with the anti-bacterial properties. It’s been shown to help fight off bacterial infections caused from Escherichia coli O:157:H7, Yersinia enterocoliticaListeria monocytogenesStaphylococcus aureus, Shigella sonnei and Shigella flexneri, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The components found in basil help protect the structure of white blood cells and chromosomes from oxygen related damage and radiation.

Nutrition Stripped nutrient breakdown of BASIL |

  • Vitamin K
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Folate
  • Manganese
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Tryptophan
  • Flavonoids | Orientin, vicenin
  • Volatile oils | a.k.a. that strong scent basil has also is a great indicator of their volatile oil content and biochemical activity.
Spinach Basil Pesto
Recipe Type: dip, sauce, dressing
Cuisine: italian
Author: McKel Hill, MS, RD, LDN
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Traditional basil made with non-dairy ingredients with an added nutrient boost from spinach.
  • 2 cups fresh basil
  • 2 cups organic spinach
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup raw walnuts
  • 2 Tbs. hemp seeds (optional if you don’t have these)
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. nutritional yeast
  • 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt (to taste)
  • fresh ground pepper (to taste)
  1. Simply combine all ingredients into a blender until thick and creamy.
  2. You may add additional olive oil to “thin” the sauce out.
  3. Always add olive oil the the very top layer and refrigerate to keep the pesto moist and fresh.
  4. This recipe will create a thick pesto.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy basil pesto? Have you ever tried it without pasta before? Comment below, I love hearing your ideas!

xo McKel

The Recipe




  • 2 cups fresh basil
  • 2 cups organic spinach
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup raw walnuts
  • 2 Tbs. hemp seeds (optional if you don’t have these)
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. nutritional yeast
  • 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt (to taste)
  • fresh ground pepper (to taste)


  1. Simply combine all ingredients into a blender until thick and creamy.
  2. You may add additional olive oil to “thin” the sauce out.
  3. Always add olive oil the the very top layer and refrigerate to keep the pesto moist and fresh.
  4. This recipe will create a thick pesto.

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Did you try it out?

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  • Nikki

    Excellent suggestions! I actually had basil pesto in my lunch today at Panera (steak lettuce wraps) and it got me thinking, I don’t make pesto enough! My favorite way to enjoy it is on a medium fried egg and a few slices of avocado. Omelettes too, basically anything with eggs. Lol.
    I love your suggestions to pair with fruit, I MUST try that!!

    • YUM! I love it with fried eggs and avocado, it’s perfect! Thanks for sharing Nikki 😉

    • Ana

      I just cut my pesto yesterday and made your pesto recipe and OMG it is ti die for. I didn’t have walnuts so used pecans and it turned out wonderful. Thank you for all your hard work!

      • Awesome Ana, so glad you tried it out and liked it! I LOVE doing that towards the end of summer before all the basil goes away. I appreciate your kind words, truly. xo

  • Nikki

    I also just noticed the nooch and hemp seeds addition to your recipe, that sounds great! Dustin makes a great pesto, but we’ve only got walnuts on hand and sometimes those work well enough. 🙂 Can’t wait to try yours!

    • yes! Let me know how you like them added into it. I love the creaminess and nutty flavor it gives it 🙂

  • YUM! Love the usage of hemp seeds in this recipe!!


    • Thanks girl! I love hemp seeds, so anywhere I can use them, I do. They give it such a great taste and texture 😉

  • Amber

    Do you think Pecans would be as tasty in this recipe? That’s all I have on hand.

    • Hi Amber, Yes! Try what you have on hand, the end result of the flavor will be different, but I’m sure it’ll taste just as nice 🙂

  • Samantha

    How long will this keep.

    • Hi Samantha, it should keep for about 1 week maximum. I doubt that it’ll last that long anyways- it’s too good!

  • Monica Krishnamurthy

    This is AMAZING. I am going to make them as soon as my Julienne peeler arrives for zucchini 🙂 I had a couple of questions though :
    What are the purpose of hemp seeds in this dish? I mean do they add something with the texture?
    I don’t have nutritional yeast on hand, if I eliminate that will it make a difference? And if yes, should I be able to find nutritional yeast in any store and are there any brands that I need to try to buy?

    Soooo excited to have stumbled upon your blog. Followed you on instagram too!! 🙂

    Looking forward to your reply 🙂

    • Hi Monica,
      Great questions- hemp seeds and nutritional yeast are needed for both texture and flavor. Nutritional yeast and hemp seeds can be found online or at your health food store, whole foods, etc. Red Star is a popular nutritional yeast brand! So glad you’ve stumbled upon my blog as well- thank you for your support and sharing 🙂

  • Charlotte

    Oh my, this looks so jummy!(Like everything else on your website!) Unfortunately I suffer from IBS and have trouble digesting onion and garlic among other foods… I have to eat low-FODMAP to keep my bowel balanced. What can I use as a replacement for garlic in this recipe? Can I simply just leave it out? I fear this pesto will not be the same without the garlic. And do you perhaps have any useful tips regarding to what I can replace onion with in other recipes? Love to recreate your food by the way, you are a true inspiration to me!

    • Hi Charlotte,
      GREAT question- you can simply use shallot if that’s not irritating to your digestion, or you can try using an garlic infused olive oil which basically takes the extract oils from garlic rather than the whole garlic clove. As far as replacements for onions, you can leave them out and adjust other seasonings and spices to your liking- I’m just a HUGE lover of garlic and onions haha. xx mh

      • Charlotte

        Thank you so much for your response! Unfortunately, shallot is a no-go as well…:/ But I love your idea of using garlic infused olive oil, that I will do!! I am also a huge lover of both garlic and onion, too bad my bowel does not agree with me:/ Thanks again for the response, and by the way; the new look of your website is great!

  • olga

    Hi! This sounds (and looks) great! Do you think you could use raw cashews instead of walnuts?

  • Just tried this over zoodles – delicious! Thank you xxx

  • Courtney

    I made this tonight for dinner, using pine nuts and a lime (all we had). I can’t even tell you how amazingly decadent it tastes! I had to put it away while making the veggies and pasta so I wouldn’t just keep “testing” it.

    • Haha I love the addition of lime! Isn’t it the best? I’m glad you enjoyed it as much as I do 🙂

  • Kristin P.

    Looks amazing! Is this freezable?

    • Thank you! No, I wouldn’t recommend freezing it, it’s best used within 3-5 days max. It’s all raw and fresh!

  • Ivy

    Hi! I’ve been looking at all your recipes and LOVING them so far! Just wanted to put in a request for a post on healthy, low-calorie lunches for school! My schools “healthy” foods are disgusting but I never know what to bring, or how to keep it cold until lunch at 1! Thanks so much can’t wait to try out these recipes! 🙂

    • Hi Ivy, thank you so much for your kind words! Be sure to check out a couple posts about school, enter “school” in the search box and I have meal plans and ideas for those! 🙂 also a healthy lunch box post!

  • Georgina

    Hi! This looks and sounds so delicious. Unfortunately I am intolerant to yeast and need to avoid nuts due to candida. Are there any adaptions I can make to this recipe to make a lovely pesto? I haven’t had pesto in so long and need it back in my life!! 🙂

    • Please read the note about nutritional yeast, it’s not “yeast” nor an active form of yeast! You can use sunflower seeds instead of the nuts! 🙂

  • Jessica

    Love pesto varieties, I just had carrot top pesto the other day and loved it! The carrot tops’ taste was on the sweeter side but great paired with some edamame or whole wheat noodles topped with sea salt and pepper!

  • Kelly

    This is really delicious! Thanks for the recipe! One question, though–what is a “reasonable” serving size of this pesto? 1/4 C? 1/3C? Thank you!

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