Substitutes for Pesto Sauce

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Pesto traditionally includes basil, pine nuts and parmesan cheese.
Pesto traditionally includes basil, pine nuts and parmesan cheese. (Image: John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Pesto makes a healthy and tasty addition to meals, serving as everything from a dip for vegetable nibbles to a condiment for sandwiches to a sauce for pasta. When the allure of traditional pesto made with basil, pine nuts and Parmesan wears off, wake up your palette by altering the ingredients. Change one or all of the key ingredients to complement the dish you are making.

Greens

Replace the basil in traditional pesto recipes with other types of greens. For a spicy kick, include arugula, also known as rocket lettuce, or escarole instead of basil. Another way to spice it up a bit is with the addition of dandelion greens; find them for free in your yard, but only pick those that haven't been touched by chemicals. Punch up the power of pesto by incorporating kale or spinach as the green in the mixture. Both kale and spinach contain essential vitamins and minerals.

Arugula adds a spicy kick to pesto.
Arugula adds a spicy kick to pesto. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Basil Variations

Enjoy the basic flavor of basil, but with a twist. Make pesto using one of several varieties of basil that offer a distinct taste. Use lemon or lime basil to incorporate the light flavor of citrus into pesto; serve with pasta or seafood dishes that pair well with citrus. Add Thai basil to pick up the strong licorice flavor of that herb in your pesto; the flavor complements stir fry dishes. Cinnamon basil gives your pesto a bit of smokey spice.

Try a variety of basil that offers a distinct flavor.
Try a variety of basil that offers a distinct flavor. (Image: John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Nuts

Vary the taste of your pesto sauce by changing the type of nuts you use. Instead of the typical pine nuts, try adding walnuts. Toast the nuts in a pan on the stove over medium heat for three to five minutes or in the oven on 350 degrees form five to eight minutes or until they begin to brown. Toasting enhances the flavor of walnuts, which add a meaty texture to the pesto. Cashews and peanuts, which are less expensive than most other nuts, are other tasty additions to pesto.

Walnuts add a strong flavor and meaty texture to pesto.
Walnuts add a strong flavor and meaty texture to pesto. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Cheese

Change the cheese in pesto sauce to give it a completely new flavor. Traditionally made with parmesan, a basic pesto recipe adapts well to all types of cheese, hard or soft. Make a smooth and creamy pesto by incorporating goat, gorgonzola or feta cheese into the mixture. For a sharper taste and chunkier texture, use cotija, Romano or asiago cheese. To bring out the flavor of the cheese, grate it just before adding it to the pesto sauce.

Use your favorite cheese in pesto sauce.
Use your favorite cheese in pesto sauce. (Image: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

Vegan

Go vegan and leave the cheese completely out of your pesto sauce. Instead add miso paste or nutritional yeast. Miso paste has a thick texture and salty taste that substitute well for parmesan cheese. Nutritional yeast also has a nutty flavor and a similar texture to that of grated cheese.

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