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Dietitian’s Choice: Simple Pesto Recipe

Pesto is a delicious, nutrient-rich, and extremely flavorful concoction that has many uses. The ingredients that traditionally create this vibrant green mixture are basil, pine nuts, and extra virgin olive oil; however, this recipe is customizable and uses nuts and seeds of your choice, making it more accessible and with a wider variety of nutrients. It’s also dairy-free (with the option to add parmesan cheese), so it’s great for those avoiding dairy for any reason.

If you saw the recent blog post about summer sun safety, you’ll recall that beta carotene protects against sun damage. It just so happens that basil is in season during the hot summer months and is high in beta carotene, making it great to include in a summer diet. This pesto can be made further sun protective by using sunflower seeds and/or almonds, both of which are high in vitamin E, another nutrient known to offer protection from sun damage.

In addition to making a tasty pasta sauce, pesto is a great addition to eggs, as a sandwich spread or in a wrap, stirred into vegetable soups and stews, atop roasted vegetables or cold salads, as an alternative to pizza sauce on homemade pizza, or—my favorite—as a dip for your favorite cracker. It can be refrigerated for several days or frozen for up to several months. Make sure to see Variations below to make it your own!

Garden Pesto

Time: 10 minutes to prepare, 0 minutes to cook

Yield: 1 cup


2 cups gently packed fresh basil leaves

1 clove garlic

1/4 cup raw, unsalted nuts or seeds (any combination of walnuts, pecans, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds)

1/4 teaspoon salt

Pinch black pepper

1/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil


Place basil, spinach, and garlic in a food processor. Pulse food processor several times until ingredients are coarsely chopped.

Add nuts/seeds, salt, and pepper to food processor. Add a small amount of the olive oil and begin to process, adding small amounts of olive oil at a time and continuing to process until desired consistency is achieved. For a thicker pesto, use less olive oil; for a thinner product, use full amount.



  1. For a milder flavor, substitute spinach for half of the basil.

  2. For a cheesy version, include 1/4 cup parmesan cheese with the nuts/seeds.

  3. If basil is unavailable, arugula canbe used as a 1:1 substitute.

  4. If using salted nuts/seeds, omit the salt.

  5. For a spicy version, include red pepper flakes to taste.

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