Sauced: Cilantro Pesto

When making basil pesto, I just kept thinking about all the possible pesto variations. But since cilantro is my favorite herb, it was the natural next step on what will become a deep pesto exploration.

Staying true to my basil recipe that has worked so well, I went down the ingredient list and made fitting substitutions to complement the flavor of cilantro—pine nuts became pumpkin seeds and Parmesan was replaced with cotija. I added a serrano pepper for just a bit of heat and lime juice to for a fresh acidity.

What came together went beyond my expectations and made a pesto that I would take over basil almost any day.

The distinct freshness of the cilantro paired with the saltiness of the cotija were the two dominate flavors, but the background notes had a little nuttiness, a garlic bite, and a faint heat. A very layered pesto. I couldn't wait to use it, so I quickly grilled up a skirt steak, spread on the cilantro pesto, and was in heaven.

About the author: Joshua Bousel brings you new, tasty condiment each Wednesday and a recipe for weekend grilling every Friday. He also writes about grilling and barbecue on his blog The Meatwave whenever he can be pulled away from his grill.

Sauced: Cilantro Pesto

About This Recipe

Yield:Makes 1 cup
Active time:15 minutes
Total time:15 minutes
Special equipment:Food Processor
This recipe appears in: Pantry Essentials: All About Pesto Staff Picks: The Ultimate Serious Eats Father's Day Menu


  • 2 cups packed fresh cilantro, rinsed and dried
  • 3 medium garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • 1/4 olive oil
  • 1/4 cup cotija cheese
  • 1 serrano pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoons lime juice
  • Kosher salt


  1. 1

    Place cilantro and pepitas in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until cilantro and pepitas are finely chopped, about 5 1 second pulses, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Add garlic and serrano pepper and pulse to combine.

  2. 2

    With the food processor running, pour oil through feed tube in a slow, steady stream. Keep food processor running until smooth, stopping to scrap down sides of bowl as necessary.

  3. 3

    Add the cotija cheese and lime juice and pulse to combine. Season with salt to taste. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week, or in a Ziploc bag in the freezer for up to six months.


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