Coming soon to a spicy quinoa bowl near you: nut-free coconut oil kale pesto. If you’re a kale and coconut oil fanatic, there’s no doubt this pesto will be your new jam. I, on the other hand, wasn’t such an easy sell. It all started with quinoa and potatoes, actually, then a new recipe somehow morphed from potato salad to more of a warm to room temperature quinoa bowl. I drafted a “dressing” recipe, which resembled more of a pesto sauce, based on a couple ingredients I already had in the pantry, in hopes that maybe you have them on hand as well. The culprits? Coconut oil and pumpkin seeds.
Coconut oil is a dominant flavor, accompanied by equally strong opinions. In other words, you most likely either love love love it or can’t handle the Coppertone smell. I resist trends until long after they’re trendy (notably, jelly shoes and Twitter), so I’m just now warming up to coconut oil. I knew if it was going to be good in pesto, totally raw* and coconutty as ever, I would need a bunch of equally distinctive flavors: hot peppers from my CSA last week, ginger, kale, and those pumpkin seeds.
By the way, I’ve been asked more than once where to buy pumpkin seeds, and I get mine at Trader Joe’s. If you don’t have Trader Joe’s and can’t find them anywhere, this package is the best deal I found on Amazon. I’m in the kitchen a lot so perhaps ingredients that seem normal to me are new for you. I do my best to link products online or discuss “exotic” ingredients, but if I miss something, just ask. Use the comments below or email me–there are no stupid questions! Seriously. However, I will say Trader Joe’s (no affiliation) is probably my favorite for finding mildly obscure or otherwise spendy ingredients of good quality at an even better price.
I’ve also recently discovered Boxed.com. It’s like Costco or Sam’s Club, only online, without perishable items. To make a giant batch of coconut oil kale pesto, you could use this huge tub of organic cold pressed coconut oil. Check it out, but don’t blame me if you get lost wandering the virtual aisles. It’s so much more pleasant than wandering the crowded, dysfunctional aisles of most big box stores, and Boxed delivers free next day, so it’s almost like just running to the store. You only have to wait 24 hours for those diapers or TP! For $15.00 off your first order, use my referral code at checkout: YMEA4
After I tweaked this pesto to just the right flavor and acidity, I just could not decide if it was good. The coconut flavor is prominent, so it’s just a matter of balance. Could I taste the other flavors enough? Was coconut oil just too much coconut? I mixed the fresh pesto up with warm quinoa and potatoes and proceeded to force feed nearly the entire pan to Steve while I asked him 79 different ways if he liked it. Then, because his conviction level wasn’t strong enough for me, I made it again on Sunday, repeating the exercise. I also used the opportunity to see how refrigerated coconut oil pesto, which, as expected, solidified in the fridge, behaves when returned to room temperature (results in the recipes). Then, because one opinion was not enough for this risky concoction, I brought it to a barbeque to get some reactions.
The result finally convinced me to let go of my hangups about the coconut oil. And, when I really break it down, much of the coconut impression comes from the oil’s smell, not its actual taste. That’s not to say the two senses operate independently, but when I step back and eat this stuff with a spoon, it is pretty tasty. Kale makes it super filling and healthy, but thanks to plenty of citrus, zippy fresh ginger, delicate pumpkin seeds, and a bit of spicy hot sauce, you barely notice just how many greens are packed into just one spoonful of this stuff. If I can get Steve to eat anything with kale, you know it has to be practically invisible to your taste buds. I should have just trusted his first opinion on the pesto, but I somehow forgot that when it comes to food, he has no problem being honest with me. Usually it’s because he know that I know that it needs work, and of course that he’s looking out for all of you, saving you from my recipe fails.
Okay, so say you’re loving the idea of kale pesto, but you aren’t crazy about coconut oil. Or maybe you want to make it in advance and not deal with waiting two hours for it to “melt” as it comes back up to room temperature. Go ahead and use half or all olive oil, or another high quality (i.e., yummy) oil in the pesto recipe. Because we don’t cook oil in pesto, it’s kind of important to use a decent oil, which isn’t as hard as it sounds: taste a little of your oil. That’s it. If you find it repulsive raw, it’s probably not the best quality, and it’s not going to get better when you blend it up with other pesto ingredients. It may just ruin them and force you to throw out a batch of pesto. So as snooty as Ina sounds when she dictates the use of “good” olive oil in every single one of her recipes, girl is onto something.
To follow that up, good oil does not necessarily mean expensive oil, but it’s pretty much impossible to distinguish oil brands at the grocery store except based on price, so crappy producers brazenly slap a high price tag on their oil and probably laugh all the way to the bank. If you can find olive oil with a production (not expiration) date, that’s probably a good bet. Cook’s Illustrated did the taste testing for us, though, and they recommend Columela and Lucini, both of which can be found in some conventional grocery stores. If you have a membership to CI, you can read the full, highly educational article here.
So here I am getting into deep discussions about olive oil, when really that’s a sidenote. I don’t know as much yet about coconut oil production and quality, but if you have some knowledge please chime in with a comment! My best advice is that, often, the best tasting coconut oil will be organic and cold pressed, like the extremely well priced jar offered by TJ’s.
Kale Pesto Recipe Ideas
While it might be confusing, I love the endless pesto recipe combinations popping up left and right. It used to be that this kale concoction would have been written off as some hippie sauce, shunned by the pesto gods and definitely by Italians. It’s not made in a mortar and pestle, and it’s devoid of mounds of in-season basil and rich parmesan cheese. I love a traditional cheesy pesto, but it’s nice to have options. Particularly, options that you can really enjoy during a cleanse, as part of a plant-based lifestyle, or if there are nut and dairy allergies in your home. There is literally no guilt involved when consuming this pesto. In a generous 1/4 cup scoop of pesto, there’s only about 1 tablespoon of oil. I think you could top a bowl of quinoa or pasta with only half that serving size and be totally satisfied, to minimize your oil intake.
Here are a few other ways I like to use pesto, both guilty and guilt-free. Some of them totally invalidate the vegan designation of the kale pesto, but don’t forget that you’re also packing in nut-free nutrition from green kale plus iron and protein from pumpkin seeds.
- Stir into warm quinoa or brown rice
- Combine a couple spoonfuls with a big squeeze of extra lime juice or some white wine vinegar. Add a splash of water until you reach desired consistency for salad dressing, then use it on romaine or other greens (something besides kale)
- Spread it inside a grilled cheese sandwich
- Mix it into homemade or store bought hummus as a dip for fresh veggies or vegetarian sandwich filling
- Combine with rice noodles and fresh veggies for an easy Asian noodle bowl. Ginger, cilantro, and hot peppers in the pesto are great for building a Southeast Asian flavor profile.
*Coconut oil is melted in the microwave or on the stove. I try to accomplish this gradually at a low temperature, but it may conflict with the “rules” of strict raw food diets.
- 3 C packed roughly chopped curly green kale (stems removed)
- 1 C loosely packed cilantro leaves
- 2 medium cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 T roughly chopped hot pepper (e.g., jalapeño pepper); seeds, stems, and membranes removed
- 2 T lime juice
- ½ C pumpkin seeds (toasted if desired--see notes)
- 1 T roughly chopped fresh ginger, peeled
- Sriracha or other hot sauce (optional)
- Kosher or sea salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
- ½ C coconut oil, barely melted in the microwave or on the stove (not piping hot)
- You can make the pesto ahead of time, but allow an hour or two for it to come to room temperature after refrigerating and before you use it. Coconut oil solidifies much more readily than olive or other oils--it will act more like butter in the fridge. Because raw garlic is used, never leave pesto at room temperature for long periods of time. It poses a risk of food poisoning (botulism).
- Combine kale, cilantro, garlic, hot pepper, lime juice, pumpkin seeds, ginger, 2 quick squirts of hot sauce, ½ teaspoon salt, and a pinch of black pepper in a food processor. Run a couple minutes, until everything is very finely chopped. Stop to scrape down sides a couple times. With processor running, slowly drizzle in oil until incorporated. Stop to taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, and sriracha. Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few days.
My favorite way to peel ginger is with a spoon!
The pesto is vegan, gluten free, and nut free.
Note: This page contains affiliate links. It does NOT contain sponsored content. Affiliate links (to products I recommend, on Amazon) offset my ingredient and website maintenance costs, so I can keep bringing you saucy recipes like this one. Thanks!