Monday, October 23, 2017

Basil and Lemon Balm Pesto

Nut free, vegan, soy free and gluten free - this garlicky basil-lemon balm pesto has it all!

Basil and Lemon Balm Pesto

Confession: I'm not that into pesto. Something about the nuts (I hate pine nuts as a rule, and walnuts aren't really our thing either) and the over-processed, super-oily herbs always turned me off of the storebought stuff, so when I encountered it on a restaurant menu I naturally avoided it. The other thing I found about pesto (similar to commercial hummus) is that it simply wasn't garlicky enough. I eat garlic like crazy, and since the overwhelming oiliness and pine nut bitterness always seemed to dominate I never got more than a whisper of it when it was in a bowl of pasta.

However, as I began cooking for myself and growing my own herbs, I realized that the basil-oil-pine nut-cheese formula was a guideline, not a hard and fast rule. I also realized that what should happen with pesto, what doesn't usually happen with the jars on the shelf, is that the herbs should be the stars. Sure, cheese and nuts are nice, and fruity olive oil is delicious, but with lackluster herbs (or poor treatment of good ones) there is nothing that will make the paste worth indulging in.

I had to put the garden to bed this past weekend, which meant hauling out all the dead tomato plants (*tear*) and cutting back the herbs. This gave me a lot of fresh basil and lemon balm, more than I could scatter on pasta or make tea with for a lifetime, so I thought I would combine the two to make a pesto perfect for the upcoming holiday season. In place of nuts (which some of my friends can't eat) I used sunflower seeds, added a lot of extra garlic and a dash of lemon juice to keep the colours and the flavours vibrant. I had initially intended to add nutritional yeast instead of cheese (which I can't eat), but got so into tasting and making sure the consistency was what I was looking for that I simply forgot to add it. The flavour didn't suffer - in fact the herbs popped even more, and by using just a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in the balance of canola I got the flavour without the overwhelming fruitiness. I opted to keep the pesto on the thicker side, so that when it was added to something like pasta the cooking water would loosen it to the proper texture without being oily or soupy. A tiny scoop mixed with freshly cooked rice and roasted carrots (the carrot and beet glut is another story!) needed no extra liquid at all, and I thoroughly enjoyed the fresh, slightly citrusy flavour I got, with a definite pop of garlic and just a whisper of olive.

Are you a pesto fan? What's your favourite kind?

Basil and Lemon Balm Pesto
Makes ~1 cup, 16 tablespoons
2 cups packed lemon balm leaves*
2 cups packed basil leaves
5 cloves garlic
¼ cup sunflower seeds
1 tbsp kosher salt
½ tsp black pepper
¼ cup canola oil
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
  1. Combine the herbs, garlic, seeds, salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse to finely chop.
  2. With the motor running, stream in the canola oil, EVOO and lemon juice until a relatively smooth paste is formed.
  3. Transfer to a jar (or ice cube mould for freezing) and store in the fridge up to 1 week or freeze up to 3 months.
*No lemon balm? Use all basil and add the zest of 1/2 lemon

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 60.9
Total Fat: 6.1 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 8.8 mg
Total Carbs: 1.3 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.6 g
Protein: 0.7 g