Keep this easy cilantro pesto recipe in your back pocket at all times. It takes 10 minutes to whip up and is so flavorful and versatile.
The BEST Homemade Cilantro Pesto
If you’ve never tried cilantro pesto, wowwwwie are you in for a treat! This cilantro pesto comes together with 8 ingredients in 10 minutes flat.
This easy cilantro pesto is made from the base of cilantro, cotija cheese, basil and pepitas and can be tossed with pretty much any kind of noodle.
Heck, it could even be used as a dip for veggies or tortilla chips. Keep reading to learn how to make this cilantro pesto + easy swaps it to make it your very own.
What is Pesto?
Pesto is a green sauce that originated in Italy. It’s typically made from basil, garlic, pine nuts, and olive oil.
What is pesto made from? Classic pesto is made from fresh basil, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, and olive oil.
There are many variations of pesto including kale pesto, walnuts pesto, and pesto using other herbs — like this cilantro pesto!
- Pepitas: this recipe calls for salted and roasted pepitas — we love using this type of pepitas for the flavor and texture.
- Cilantro: can’t have cilantro pesto without cilantro! You’ll want to remove the stems before making this pesto.
- Fresh basil: traditional pesto has fresh basil, and this cilantro pesto is no different! We’re only using 1.5 oz. as to not overpower the delicious cilantro flavor.
- Jalapeño: feel free to seed your jalapeño based on your spice level preference.
- Garlic: we recommend fresh garlic cloves for this pesto instead of granulated or powdered garlic.
- Cotija cheese: the salty flavor of cotija is perfect for this pesto! And it traditionally pairs so well with cilantro.
- Olive oil: olive oil is a fantastic base for pesto, but feel free to substitute for another neutral oil if you prefer.
- Salt: a little kosher salt brings all of these ingredients together into one incredible sauce. Make sure to start with a little and go from there.
How to Make Cilantro Pesto
Food process ingredients
Place all of the ingredients into a food processor, and process on high for about 60 seconds.
Pro tip: Make sure not to over-process the pesto as some grittiness is great for texture.
Add oil as needed
If your pesto is too thick add more olive oil, 1 teaspoon at a time, and briefly blend again.
Serve or store
Toss your favorite pasta in this amazing cilantro pesto, or use as a dip for veggies or crackers. Want to store it for later? Read on for our tips for freezing pesto.
Easy Ingredient Swaps
- Basil: don’t have basil? Try using spinach or kale instead.
- Pepitas: can’t find pepitas? Try using pine nuts, cashews, pecans, or almonds instead.
- Cotija cheese: hoping to keep this recipe dairy-free? Nutritional yeast is a great sub for cotija. You can also substitute parmesan cheese for the cotija if you’re in a pinch.
- Olive oil: instead of olive oil use grape seed oil.
Why is my cilantro pesto bitter?
The most common reason for bitter pesto is using old olive oil that has lost its iconic olive oil flavor. It can taste bitter or rancid in pesto.
What can I do with leftover cilantro?
Make cilantro pesto! Cilantro pesto has amazing flavor and texture that pairs well with so many dishes.
How do I thin out pesto when it’s too thick.
To thin out pesto that’s too thick, add more olive oil by the teaspoon until it reaches your desired texture.
- Transfer pesto into an ice cube tray. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of pesto into each ice cub so that it’s filled 3/4 of the way full.
- Place in the freezer for at least 2 hours or until fully frozen.
- Pop the pesto ice cubes out of the tray and then transfer the frozen cubes into an airtight container or gallon-size bag.
- Freeze for up to 3 months.
Transfer your cilantro pesto into an airtight container and store in the fridge for up to 3-5 days.
How to Freeze Cilantro Pesto
Freezing pesto is so easy and a great way to use up all your fresh cilantro and basil! Here’s how to do it.
To thaw: simply let the frozen cilantro pesto sit out on the counter for 1 hour or transfer them into a nonstick skillet and defrost on the stovetop over medium heat.
- ½ cup pepitas salted and roasted
- 1 bunch cilantro stems removed
- 1 cup fresh basil ~1.5 oz
- 1 jalapeno seeded
- 2 cloves garlic
- 5 oz. cotija cheese ~1 cup
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ cup olive oil
- Place all of the ingredients into a food processor.
- Process on high for about 60 seconds. Make sure not to over-process as some grittiness is great for texture.
- If your pesto is too thick add more olive oil, 1 teaspoon at a time.
Tips & Notes
- Seeding the jalapeño should take the heat out, but it can be completely omitted if needed.