This easy pesto recipe uses baby spinach, walnuts and citrus for a delicious dairy-free, low fodmap alternative to traditional pesto. Yes, it is possible to make pesto without basil! The blender does most of the work, making this a quick. simple sauce that will add flavor to rice, pasta, seafood, salads and more.
Why Spinach in Pesto?
I absolutely love the flavor of a traditional basil pesto. But one problem is that basil oxidizes and turns brown very easily. Basil pesto doesn’t always look as beautiful after it sits for a while. Baby spinach leaves are a great stand-in that stay bright green and beautiful. It also provides a more neutral flavor base that works well with many ingredients.
Spinach is missing that bright freshness that basil has. So citrus in the form of lemon zest, lemon juice and orange juice, gives this pesto a bright fresh pop of flavor.
Pesto is simply a paste of nuts, oil and leafy greens. Basil, pine nuts, garlic and parmesan are used in traditional basil pesto, but I decided to mix it up a little. This spinach walnut pesto is dairy-free and low fodmap.
Spinach – I use bagged baby spinach for this recipe. It’s super convenient and already washed. Remove any long stems.
Walnuts – whole or walnut pieces will work. Walnuts give pesto it’s thick texture.
I use both lemon and orange juice for balance. The lemon adds a little acid and a bright flavor and the orange provides a little sweetness. They are a great combo for this pesto. You can use prepared orange juice or fresh squeezed. If you follow low fodmap, you can leave it out or just use the zest of the orange instead.
Extra virgin olive oil is usually the oil of choice for pesto. I prefer to use a combination of EV olive oil and another neutral flavored oil like avocado or sunflower oil. Olive oil can be a little bitter tasting and the neutral oil brings down the bitterness. Also, olive oil turns solid when refrigerated and adding in another oil prevents solidifying and keeps it creamy like a sauce.
How to Make Pesto
The easiest and fastest way to make pesto is with a food processor or this mini food chopper/processor, one of my favorite kitchen tools. It’s smaller, lighter and takes up way less space in the kitchen. It is perfect for this task.
A high powered blender will work too, but you will have to scrape down the sides and scoop the bottom a few times while blending to be sure that it is uniformly mixed.
- Start by grinding the nuts to a powder.
- Add the spinach leaves, oil, lemon zest, lemon and orange juices and a few pinches of salt. Whirl it all up again.
- Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and run on high until it’s creamy.
- Taste. If its bitter or blah add another pinch or two of salt and a little squeeze of lemon juice. That’s it.
Ideas for Using Pesto
- Toss this pesto with pasta, rice or quinoa for a quick flavor addition.
- Marinate vegetables or fish before cooking.
- Spoon over grilled chicken or my crispy roasted chicken thighs.
- Mix with some yogurt (Kite Hill Vegan Almond Milk Yogurt is my fav) for a quick, creamy salad dressing.
- Use it as a sauce on gluten-free pizza topped with vegan cheese, olives, artichoke and tomatoes.
- Serve as a dip with garlic bread
More Pesto and Easy Sauces
For another pesto alternative, try my cilantro lemon pesto recipe or my vegan creamy pesto pasta with traditional basil. This raspberry balsamic glaze is so easy and packs a punch in flavor. This cauliflower based vegan creamy pasta sauce is a snap to make. And I highly recommend trying my no tomato, low-acid pasta sauce that uses butternut squash as the base.
Spinach Walnut Pesto
- 2 Tbsp walnut pieces
- baby spinach leaves packed tightly in a 1 c measuring cup long stems removed
- 1 lemon
- 1 Tbsp orange juice
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 Tbsp avocado sunflower, safflower, canola oil or other neutral flavored oil
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 pinch red chili flakes optional
- Place the walnuts in the food processor or blender. This mini food processor is perfect for pesto and one of my favorite kitchen tools. Run on high until they are finely ground.
- Use a microplane to zest the lemon directly in with the walnuts. Here is my quick video showing How to Zest a Lemon.
- Cut the lemon in half and squeeze out 2 Tbsps juice (about 1/2 lemon).
- Add the spinach leaves, lemon juice, orange juice, salt and chili flakes to the blender/food processor.
- Run on high until the mixture forms a paste. If using a blender, stop and scrape down the sides and bottom a couple of times and blend until the mixture is uniform.
- Taste and add more salt if needed. A little more lemon juice and/or a pinch of chili flakes will also wake up the flavors if needed.
- This pesto will stay fresh in the refrigerator for at least one week.
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