Lemon-Pepper Pesto

No, no… Not that pepper. Red chili peppers! So traditional pesto is basil, garlic, top-quality parmesan cheese, pine nuts, olive oil… You’ve probably made it before.  I always liked adding a pinch of red chili flakes to mine for some depth. Then I started playing with lemon zest. And now? Well now I’ve decided to just dive right in. Lemon-Pepper Pesto. It’s bright, spicy, yet very pesto. And it’s dairy free.

I like using cashews to create creaminess in dishes these days and since I’m omitting the parmesan cheese, cashews seemed like a fun alternative. And let’s face it, with all that lemon and spice against fresh basil, something had to take a back seat. Bye-bye pine nuts. (And bonus, I probably just saved you $10!)

This pesto packs quite a punch, which makes it the perfect partner for a hearty burger. I had it two ways tonight: on a grilled burger and on roasted baby red potatoes. (I am stuffed!) I’m including a recipe for the potatoes as well for those who are interested. But the sky is the limit with this! If you need a bold, fresh sauce (or just another way to use up the basil your summer garden has produced) this one might just work for you.

Lemon-Pepper Pesto | Popular Paleo

2 cups fresh basil leaves
zest of one lemon (about a tsp)
juice from one lemon (about 2 TBSP)
1/4 cup raw cashews
2-3 cloves garlic
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp red chili flakes
5 TBSP Extra virgin olive oil

Add all of the ingredients except for the olive oil in a food processor. Pulse a couple times to break everything down, then let it run to start pureeing. Stream in the olive oil and blend until creamy. Done.

If you prefer your pesto to be looser than what I’ve got here, just keep adding more olive oil until you get what you want. I recommend doing it a tablespoon at a time to give yourself more control. You can always add more, but correcting a heavy pour will be a pain in the butt.

Lemon-Pepper Pesto zest | Popular Paleo Lemon-Pepper Pesto cashew | Popular Paleo

Kitchen tip: Zest like a pro with a microplane! The zest is fine and melds perfectly with whatever dish you add it to. I’ve been using this one for years and it’s still sharp. 


I love to have baby red potatoes here and there (*Remember: potatoes are tubers, tubers are Paleo = potatoes are Paleo!). Tonight I thought why not roast up some baby reds and toss them in this zesty pesto? This was a very, very good idea.
Pesto & Baby Reds | Popular Paleo
1 pound baby red potatoes, quartered
1-2 TBSP lard (extra virgin olive oil could be substituted)
1/4 cup of Lemon-Pepper Pesto
Salt & black pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (Fahrenheit). Melt the lard. Toss the quartered baby reds in the melted lard (or room temperature olive oil) and season lightly with kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast for 45-50 minutes or until done.
Remove the potatoes from the oven and allow to cool slightly (maybe 5-10 minutes) before spooning a quarter cup of Lemon-Pepper Pesto over them and tossing to coat. Garnish with some fresh basil and serve warm.  Beyond tasty!  

By the way, I did try tossing the quartered raw potatoes in the pesto prior to roasting and it did not work as well. The pesto lost a lot of its oomph and the cashew texture really stood out. I would not recommend it.  Roast first, dress second. It’s a winner.
Lemon-Pepper Pesto with Roasted Baby Reds | Popular Paleo

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