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  • Karen Haralson

Arugula Pesto: Fast and Delicious Recipe

Pesto is simple to prepare and can add an upscale, visually beautiful, and healthy flare to almost any dish. Pesto consists of four main ingredients; greens & herbs, nuts, cheese, and oil.

Although classic pesto is a combination of basil, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, and olive oil, there are so many options for substitution that can add unique flavors and added health benefits.

Pesto Is Not Just For Pasta

Most people are familiar with pesto as a pasta sauce, but it can also be thinned with extra oil and used to add flavor to a veggie grain bowl or be used as a salad dressing. It’s also a delicious spread for flatbread pizza or sandwiches and can also be used to top grilled fish, poultry, or beef. It can even be incorporated as a dip into snack plates or boards.

Today I’m sharing one of my favorite pesto recipes: Arugula Cilantro Pesto. It’s a great winter staple that uses delicious and nutritious ingredients and is always the answer to “what can I do with a ton of arugula?”.

If you’re worried about your arugula pesto being bitter, use baby arugula. The younger leaves have a softer flavor profile and contain fewer bitter compounds.

Here are some of the awesome nutritional benefits of the core ingredients in this pesto recipe:

What is Arugula Pesto Made Of?


Also known as rocket, has a pleasant peppery taste and is naturally low in calories and fat. Arugula has a lot in common with other leafy greens, but it comes with its own unique powers too.

Arugula is an excellent source of vitamin K and a good source of vitamin A. Vitamin K assists with nerve and heart function and is an essential nutrient for blood clotting. Vitamin K has a synergistic relationship with vitamin D, together they play a role in bone and cardiovascular health.

Vitamin A is involved in immune function, healthy vision, and reproduction as well as maintenance of the heart, lungs, and kidneys. Arugula is rich in cancer-fighting antioxidants, carotenoids, and flavonoids.


Although walnuts contain the word “nut” they are not a true botanical nut. They are really edible seeds.

Walnuts are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. The most prominent positive role for omega-3 fatty acids is observed for cardiovascular health, but this type of fat has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, lowering the risk or severity of multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and other major medical conditions (Office of Dietary Supplements, 2015).

Walnuts contain higher amounts of antioxidants than most other foods. Antioxidants are in turn involved in improved brain health while reducing the incidence of heart disease and cancer.

Olive Oil

Known for its rich flavor, versatility, and health benefits, olive oil is an excellent choice for roasting, frying, baking, or sautéing. It is jam-packed with antioxidants and heart-healthy fats.

Similar to walnuts, the oils produced from olives have been shown to have many health benefits, including protection against heart disease, combating cancer, and alleviating inflammation.

There are several grades of olive oil, which vary in terms of their nutritional content and the amount of processing that they undergo.

The three main grades of olive oil include:

  • refined olive oil

  • virgin olive oil

  • extra virgin olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil is the least processed variety and is often considered to be the healthiest type of olive oil. It’s extracted using natural methods and standardized for purity and certain sensory qualities, such as taste and smell.

Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is a deactivated form of yeast, with a pleasantly cheesy flavor it is most often used as a plant-based (vegan) substitute for cheese.

Nutritional yeast can be added to sauces & scrambles, and can also be sprinkled on top of a baked dish, roasted vegetables, or baked potatoes.

Nutritional yeast is rich in vitamin B-12 which is an essential requirement for the function and development of the brain, nerves, and blood cells. A deficiency can result in low energy levels and difficulty concentrating.

Nutritional yeast is also a source of other B vitamins including thiamine and iron which thiamine (vitamin B-1) enables the body to use carbohydrates as energy and is essential for glucose metabolism, nerve, muscle, and heart function.

Arugula Cilantro Pesto Recipe


2 cups fresh cilantro leaves (not packed down)

2 cups fresh arugula leaves

⅓ to ½ cup raw walnuts (or toasted)

⅓ cup parmesan cheese

1/3 cup virgin olive oil

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/2 cup water

½ teaspoon kosher salt


Simply add everything except the oil into your food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the oil through the feed tube with the processor on until it reaches the desired consistency. Water can be substituted for oil to modify the thickness. Adjust the seasoning and your homemade pesto sauce is ready to go!

Pesto stays fresh when refrigerated for up to 7 days. If you prepare a batch of pesto and have leftovers, try dispensing portions into an ice cube tray. The frozen cubes can be quickly defrosted and combined with some additional oil as needed for another day.


Making pesto is fun and a great way to experiment in the kitchen. Here are some other possible substitutions and ideas to consider based on what is in season and what you like to eat:

Choose Greens & Herbs:

Spinach, parsley, arugula, cilantro, mint, lemon basil, swiss chard, kale (baby or dinosaur) carrot or beet tops, power green blend

Choose an Oil:

Olive oil, walnut oil, or avocado oil

Choose the Cheese:

Parmesan, pecorino, manchego, asiago, cashew nut (vegan)

Choose a Nut:

Pine nuts, pepitas, sunflower seeds, almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios

Suggested Pesto Combinations:

Arugula & pistachio

Spinach & walnut

Kale & pepitas or pecans

Carrot tops & walnut or pine nuts

Power green blend & pepitas

Parsley & mint with walnuts or almonds

Let us know which combinations or substitutions you used in the comments below! Did you try a delicious combo that's not listed here? Tell us about it!


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