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.
- 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
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.
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.
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.