Winter has been very mild here in central Florida this year. My herbs still look great. After pruning back my basil and lemon balm plants, it appeared that it was time to make pesto again. Pesto is one of my favorite sauces! 🙂
I do have one problem with traditional pesto recipes – not only do they contain a lot of oil, they contain a lot of olive oil. Most people have been led to believe that olive oil is a “health food”, and that just isn’t the case. Most plant based oils have omega fatty acid ratios that favor omega-6 and lead to inflammation. As I have a history of inflammatory disease, I try to eat very little oil, but when I do need to use a little in a recipe, I opt for flaxseed oil, which is very high in omega-3 fatty acid, making it an anti-inflammatory food. Flaxseed oil is a little pricey though, so in order to reduce the total amount required in the recipe, I make a thicker pesto spread instead of a sauce. It is wonderful in sandwiches!
Another ingredient in traditional pesto, which is problematic, is pine nuts. Standard variety pine nuts have THREE HUNDRED TIMES more omega-6 than omega-3. According to Dr. Joel Fuhrman, the Mediterranean variety of pine nuts is much better with a 1:30 ratio. It is significantly better (10 times to be exact), but still very high. We can do even better than that be replacing the pine nuts in traditional pesto with hemp seeds. Hemp seeds have a 1:3 ratio – 10 times better than even the Mediterranean pine nuts. They also have a nutty flavor that compliments the flaxseed oil nicely. By replacing pine nuts with hemp seeds, we have literally made the omega fatty acid ratio of the nut/seed component in recipe one hundred times better.
The last ingredient that I have replaced in this recipe is the cheese. There is a lot of controversy regarding the health benefits of dairy when all factors are considered (whether or not it is from grass fed animals, whether it not it is pasteurized, etc.). Regardless of these things, I’m allergic to it, so dairy is a non-negotiable ingredient exclusion for me. Instead of cheese, I use nutritional yeast in this recipe. It is an inactive yeast that contains all essential amino acids, and multiple B-vitamins. Some brands, like Red Star Nutritional Yeast, are also fortified with B-12.
It’s also REALLY good in sandwiches.
- 3 cups basil (replace up to 1/4 cup with lemon balm, if desired)
- 1/4 cup flaxseed oil
- 1/4 cup hemp seed
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
- 3/4 tsp sea salt
- 1 TB Trader Joe's "21 Seasoning Salute" (or your favorite garlic or Italian-inspired spice blend)
- Combine all ingredients in a food processor until an even, but slightly chunky, consistency is achieved.
- I used lemon balm to replace some of the basil because I had it in my garden, but you don't have to do that for this recipe. It adds a nice hint of lemon to the recipe, but is not necessary.
- I experimented with the Trader Joe's seasoning mix since I had swapped out a few other ingredients, but you don't have to use it. You can use a garlic powder based seasoning blend or an Italian-inspired spice blend of your choice, and it would probably still taste great.