I have always been a pesto gal. In fact, pesto is one of the few foods I did not have to warm up to as I grew older. I loved it from the very first bite. But who doesn´t!? It looks ravishingly green, can be combined with almost anything and it tastes delicate and fresh. Apparently, however, I have not been paying attention in class, because I was actually not aware that the pesto from the supermarkets contains cheese until my mum pointed out that it is the parmesan cheese that makes it so good. Be that as it may, at that point my mum did not know about the brilliant cheese substitute I had up my vegan sleeve, making this pesto even better than any pesto from the store.
The most essential thing to get this baby rocking is to get really fresh and aromatic basil. I decided to go downtown to ”Torvhallerne” (a Danish inside market) where I bought the most beautiful and flavorsome basil at Christen Olsen´s boot. I love that place. It is packed with all kinds of fresh herbs and you get so much quality for your money that the supermarket can´t even begin to measure up. I wish I could buy the whole place and fill my apartment with fresh smelling herbs in all forms and shapes! After buying the basil, I had a discussion with myself while biking to the supermarket whether or not I was going to use a large chunk of my food budget to by pine nuts (C´mon, do they really have to be that expensive?), or if I should settle for another type of nut. As the perfectionist that I sometimes am, I decided to go all in with pine nuts, and rather live on pesto for as long as possible. Tasting the result I did not regret it. (However, since I have made this pesto several times over the past few weeks, I have also tried making it with walnuts, and it is an excellent alternative and probably what I will turn to in the future. For special occasions however, I will use pine nuts, because they have an extraordinary flavor that is hard to replace.)
While brainstorming for the ingredients, I knew I probably had to include some lemon juice. Lemon does wonders with almost any dish, and especially this pesto, making it fresh and a little tart. After throwing in some garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil as well, I was nearly hitting a homerun…One thing was still missing though – the cheese substitute: Nutritional yeast!
OK, so I`m gonna level with you. As a former cheese-lover I am not going to pretend that this in any way actually tastes like cheese when eaten out of the box. It does not. Not even close. However, when you mix it with other ingredients, like in this pesto, you do get that cheesy flavor, so to call it a semi cheese substitute might not be that far-fetched. Nutritional yeast does not contain active yeast. It does, however, hold a lot of protein, as well as fiber and folic acid. Also, it is an excellent source of vitamin B-12. Vitamin B-12 is extremely important for the human body. It is involved in the production of red blood cells and myelin, the protective insulator around the nerve cells. Since B-12 is found mainly in animal products, it is essential that vegetarians, and especially vegans, find other sources (or take B-12 supplements) to make sure they get the recommended daily dose.
Even though the lemon, garlic and nutritional yeast, are all important side-acts in this dish, there is little doubt what plays the main role. You said it! Basil – the king of herbs. This beautiful herb has been around for thousands of years, and is sacred in India where it is considered a powerful protector. And protector it certainly is! Turns out, phoenix tears are not the only cure against the bite of a basilisk. Harry Potter should probably have brought some basil down in the Chamber of Secrets, as it has always been considered the most effective cure against wounds from the huge serpents (If you have no idea what I am talking about right now, there is really only one way to redeem yourself: Go straight to the closest bookshop and buy all seven Harry Potter books. Buy food for the next couple of days so you will not have to leave your room, and read! Not into magic, you say? First of all, you should probably see someone about that. Secondly, trust me – the Harry Potter series is a cult classic not to be missed out on, and even though you might think it is not to your liking, I bet you will end up loving it).
Anyway, basil is not only helpful to have at hand if you are bitten by a basilisk. Aside from being one of the most popular herbs, it is also highly nutritious. 2 tablespoons of fresh basil provide 30 % of recommended daily value of vitamin K, and 6% of vitamin A, as well as iron, calcium, manganese and other important minerals. Traditionally, it has been used to cure migraine and headaches, as well as digestive challenges and sleeping problems. It is also antiseptic and antibacterial, and works as a general strengthener.
All in all, this recipe is the result of quite a few tries in the kitchen, and to me, it is the ultimate pesto – it is a lot better than the expensive stuff you get in the store. Although I never have trouble finding ways to use the pesto I make, I want to give you an extra bonus this week (just because you are so freakin`awesome), and share two inspiring ways of serving it.
Classic Vegan Basil Pesto
100 grams fresh and aromatic basil
65 grams pine nuts
1 clove of garlic
3-4 tbsp fresh lemon juice
¼ cup (½ dl) olive oil
2-3 tbsp nutritional yeast
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp freshly grounded pepper
½ small date (optional)
Add the basil to a food processor, and let it run until the leaves are all mashed together. It is quite important that you use exact measurements when it comes to the basil. Also, as stated earlier, the result will turn out best when using very aromatic and strong basil. If your shops only offers the small and fragile basil plants, you might have to add some more of it. Blend in the nutritional yeast. I use 3 tablespoons, but the amount depends somewhat on the type you use. Start out with 2 tbsp, and taste your way from there. Add the rest of the ingredients, and let the food processor run for a little while until everything is well blended. It is as easy as that – the pesto is ready to be consumed and enjoyed!
Oven-baked Mushrooms and Cherry Tomatoes with Pesto Stuffing
This dish is so easy to make! It is the perfect appetizer, or as part of a “tapas” serving. Sometimes I just make them as an evening snack. They taste incredible!
Slice the top of the cherry tomatoes and remove the seeds. Remove the stem from the mushrooms. Fill the tomatoes and mushrooms with pesto. Bake in the oven for 5-7 minutes at 200 OC.
Zucchini Pasta with Homemade Pesto and Fresh Tomatoes
This dish is made in 5 minutes tops (after you have made the pesto), and is one of my go-to dishes whenever I want a quick dinner. Also, it tastes delicious!
Make pasta of the zucchini. You can use a cheese slicer or a mandolin slicer (vegetable peeler) to make long and thin slices of the zucchini. Then, cut the broad zucchini ribbons with a knife to get the perfect pasta strings. (Each ribbon of zucchini can be cut lengthwise into 4 strings.) Mix the pesto with the pasta, preferably using your hands or a big spoon. Cut the fresh tomatoes in suitable bites, and add to the dish. Serve + enjoy!