I was on holiday recently at a friend's house which has row after row of vegetable patches. We dug up some thin, colourful carrots to roast, but what spiked my interest was their tall and bushy tops. I can’t stand wasting food and am intrigued by any recipe that claims to make use of food by-products – meringues made from chickpea-can water? Crispy roasted potato skins? Sign me up.
The leafy tops of root vegetables can make fabulous pesto. I improvised using the ingredients at hand: we didn't have any lemon juice so I used the limes from last night's Mexican meal. I found a bag of hazelnuts lying at the back of a cupboard, some garlic, salt and oil. The result was unexpectedly delicious. It got me thinking: pretty much every ingredient in pesto can be substituted in an interesting way – time for another adaptable recipe!
I like how adaptable recipes make you really get to grips with a cooking technique. Learning a technique and then applying it to different scenarios is the very essence of being skilled, confident and creative in whatever it is you are doing. I use the adaptable one-pot vegan curry recipe as the basis for pretty much every curry I cook, and have had feedback that it's helped others get to grips with Indian cuisine, which can seem intimidating.
You may think that replacing the traditional basil in the pesto with parsley or mint wouldn’t work because they are such strong herbs. Fortunately this isn't the case; the powerful subsidiary ingredients – toasted nuts, pungent garlic, acidic lemon or lime – complement and tame the herbs.
Rather than replacing the conventional Parmesan with nutritional yeast or vegan cheese, I decided not to substitute it at all. There's enough fat from the nuts and olive oil, and I think to add any more is a little overkill. Granted, nutritional yeast doesn't add any fat but its cheesy flavour is slightly artificial, which I wanted to avoid to preserve the purity of pesto.
I recommend that you use a food processor for this pesto. You can also use a stick blender, adding the herbs in batches. If you don't have either of these, or if you find yourself with some time to kill or just a particular desire to make the best possible pesto texture, I've included instructions on how to use a pestle and mortar. The process is laborious and slow, but achieves a consistency impossible to replicate with a motor.
Adaptable Vegan Pesto
Makes 1 cup/240ml
|50g/1.75oz||one of: almonds, pine nuts, cashews, walnuts or pistachios|
|100g/3.5oz/2-3 tightly packed cups||one of: basil, parsely, rocket (arugula), baby spinach or mint leaves*|
|45ml/3 tbsp||lemon or lime juice|
|1 medium||clove garlic, crushed or finely chopped|
|1/4 tsp + more to taste||fine salt|
|90ml / ⅓ cup||extra-virgin olive oil or rapeseed (canola) oil|
*only 50g of these needed
- (Optional) dry toast the nuts in a medium frying pan, over a medium-high heat, for 5-10 minutes until toasted and fragrant. Keep your eye on them and toss regularly so they don't burn.
- Put the chosen herb, nut, citrus juice, garlic and salt in a food processor. Pulse until roughly blended. You could also use a stick blender or pestle and mortar, adding the herbs in batches.
- Drizzle the oil in slowly, with the motor running.
- Stop to scrape down the sides, pulse again, then taste and add more salt if needed. Transfer to an airtight container.