Thursday, July 19, 2012

Dairy-Free Pesto

I've always been a picky eater since I was little.  When I was 3 or 4 years old, I supposedly told my Grandma "I CAN'T like liver."  I remember nights sitting at the dinner table for hours because I refused to eat my dinner.  Mom would wrap it up and try to get me to eat it the next day.  I would go on a hunger strike until it was deemed inedible.  

Beef stew 
Chicken and Dumplings
Brussels Sprouts
Canned peaches in sugar syrup 
Sloppy Joes  

I would have rather eaten dirt. 

I also had this weird thing about foods touching.  It wasn't like I couldn't eat spaghetti and meat sauce.  I just didn't like two foods that shouldn't be together touch.  For example, when I was about 7, I was served a plate with a Sloppy Joe and canned peaches.

Together on the same plate.  

Nothing separating those two items.

The sugar syrup from the peaches flash flooded my plate and drowned my Sloppy Joe.  It made the bun soggy, and the Sloppy Joe had a sickeningly sweet canned peach taste to it.  I was grossed out.  I politely feigned a stomach ache and went hungry. 

Partly as a joke (but mostly not), my mom now keeps a plastic divided child's plate in the cupboard for me when I come over for dinner.
Amazingly, one thing that I actually did like as a kid were sauces.  They made food more delicious.  And they made icky food semi-tolerable.

One of my favorites was a "mock hollandaise" sauce that we ate on green veggies. A little bit of mustard stirred into some mayo.  Man, did I smother that on asparagus, brussel sprouts, and broccoli.   And gravy...I could eat that on EVERYTHING.

Now that I'm older and my taste is more refined (or it's dead taste buds from getting "old"), I find myself liking things that I didn't as a kid.  I love grilled or roasted asparagus.  I will eat peas if they are in risotto.  I still don't like canned peaches or Sloppy Joes, and I still don't like my food to touch when it's not meant to touch (Sorry for all the extra dishes)

I still love sauces and try to make them often.  I feel like they add so much to food. A piece of fried chicken is delicious, but add a rich tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese on top and you have chicken parmigina. Chicken and mushrooms are good, but add some sweet wine, butter and stock and you have Chicken Marsala. 

Even the names sound more appetizing.  

I've heard that you can tell a person is a good cook if they can make a good sauce.  I've made it my personal cooking goal to become good at making sauces, stocks, and soups.

Pesto is one of my favorite sauces I've learned how to make.  I love it so much that I planted 10 basil plants in my garden this summer.  I love to make it all summer long, freeze it in ice cube trays, and then use it all winter long when Basil is out of season.

When I found out I couldn't eat dairy, at least for now, I was so bummed because so many sauces are dairy based.  Most of them have butter, cheese, or cream in them.  Pesto has a generous amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese in it, giving the sauce a salty, sharp, nutty flavor.  But lucky for me, one of my friends who eats a Paleo diet, informed me that she made a dairy free pesto and it was great!  She just took her regular recipe, left out the cheese, and it was perfect.

I pruned back my herbs this past weekend and had so much basil.  I knew it was time to make a big batch of pesto! 

I started out by toasting some raw almonds briefly in the skillet.  Just a couple minutes because you don't want them to burn.  You could also use walnuts or the traditional pine nuts, but all I had in the pantry was almonds.  

I washed my basil, discarded the stems, keeping only the leaves, and put the leaves in the food processor with the almonds, and a few cloves of fermented garlic cloves.

I pulsed the food processor a few times until it was chopped up into fine pieces. 

After everything was chopped up, I turned the food processor to the "on" position and very slowly began adding in the olive oil.  Drizzled it in very slowly until the mixture reached a "sauce" consistency. 

Finally, season to taste with salt and pepper.

You can use it immediately in your favorite recipe, freeze in ice cube trays (store in a container or ziploc so they don't absorb the freezer smells), or store for a few days in the fridge.  When I store it in the fridge, I like to pour a thin layer of olive oil over the top to prevent it from drying out and turning brown. 

Dairy Free Basil Pesto
2 packed cups fresh basil leaves
+/- 1/2  cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3-1/2 cup toasted nuts (pine nuts, almonds, walnuts)
3 garlic cloves
Salt and pepper to taste.
Put the basil, garlic and nuts in a food processor and pulse until everything is chopped.  Slowly drizzle in olive oil until it reaches desired consistency.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Use immediately, store in a sealed container in the fridge for about 7-10 days, or freeze. 


  1. I used to be a very picky eater too, now I'll eat just about anything! It's interesting how you used almonds in this pesto, that's something I never tried! Thanks for linking up and following my blog, I'm now following back :) I hope to see you at the next hop!

    1. Thanks for the follow, Jessica! Honestly, I used almonds because that's all I had in the house. I was happy at how well it turned out. I also really like it with walnuts as well.