What’s better than a super simple homemade kale pesto packed with parmesan cheese, pumpkin seeds, fresh parsley and a little crushed red pepper? How about the fact that it only takes FIVE MINUTES to make? You HAVE to try this easy, fresh, healthy, versatile sauce recipe!
Around this time of year I always begin to crave fresh, healthy, green foods. That’s what springtime is all about! And while it may be warmer here in Texas than other parts of the country, this delicious kale pesto is good year-round used any number of ways.
Whether you’re serving the pesto on pasta, using it as a spread on a panini, stirring it into a soup, or using it to season chicken or fish, this kale pesto is a fun, unique alternative to the basil pesto you’re probably used to.
Kale itself doesn’t have much flavor to it, but it adds an earthy, slightly bitter taste to this recipe that’s balanced out beautifully with fresh lemon juice, plenty of parmesan cheese, a little crushed red pepper, and fresh parsley.
The other unique thing about this is that it’s made without nuts – it uses pumpkin seeds (aka pepitas), making it a nut-free pesto recipe!
How to make kale pesto
It’s so easy to whip up this kale pesto in your food processor in only 5 minutes! Here’s how.
- First, add most of the ingredients to your food processor. This includes chopped kale (with the stems removed), fresh parsley (you can leave the stems on for this), lemon juice, shredded parmesan cheese, crushed red pepper, kosher salt, and a smashed clove of garlic to your food processor.
- Turn the food processor on for 1-2 minutes, or until a pretty smooth consistency forms. You may have to pause and scrape the sides of the food processor down a few times. I like using a silicone spatula to do this.
- Add the pumpkin seeds to the food processor and cover it.
- Gradually drizzle in olive oil through the top of your food processor while pulsing it. You’ll probably need about 10-20 pulses, or until the pumpkin seeds are all chopped up and the oil has integrated fully into the sauce.
Ta da! That’s it!
How to make it vegan
The only animal product used in this kale pesto is parmesan cheese. To make it vegan, simply omit the parmesan cheese.
If you omit the cheese, I recommend doing two things to pump up the flavor.
- First, add a little more salt. Parmesan is salty, so leaving it out may cut down on that basic seasoning.
- Second, I recommend toasting the pumpkin seeds before adding them. Toasting them will add a deeper flavor with a hint of umami, that you may be missing without the cheese. You can do this in a dry skillet over medium heat, tossing them frequently to avoid burning, or in your oven at a high temperature on a parchment-covered baking sheet.
How to store homemade pesto
Homemade pesto will keep for at least a week – maybe even longer – in an airtight container or jar in your refrigerator.
If you want to store it for longer than that, you can freeze homemade pesto for up to 6 months. This is great if you want to portion out the pesto or make it in bulk.
Wondering how to make the kale less bitter?
I’ve got you. Kale CAN be bitter, especially if it’s grown in warm weather, but it doesn’t have to be.
Here’s what I recommend: cut the kale BEFORE washing it, and soak the cut kale in ice water. Then wash, dry, and use!
Here’s more on how to prep, cut, wash, and store kale.
How to use kale pesto
You can use kale pesto in any way that you would use basil pesto.
- Add it to cooked pasta, along with a little bit of the cooking pasta water, and stir until every piece is coated. Yum!
- Use it to make pesto pasta salad or crispy pesto gnocchi with goat cheese and cherry tomatoes.
- Coat chicken breasts in it and bake it for a two-ingredient pesto chicken recipe. Or do the same thing with fish!
- Stir a spoonful or two into soup, like this green minestrone soup.
- Spread it on a pizza in place of red pizza sauce.
- Mix it with a little mayo and use it as a spread on a sandwich or a panini.
- Use it to make pesto chicken lasagna roll-ups.
There are so many pasta-bilities! …get it?
Other recipes with kale
- Massaged Kale Salad with Apples and Goat Cheese
- Crispy Bacon and Kale Pizza
- Zuppa Toscana (Sausage and Kale Soup- Olive Garden Copycat)
- 15 Bean Soup with Kale
- Creamy Potato, Caramelized Fennel, and Kale Soup
More unique pesto recipes
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- Food Processor
- 2 cups packed chopped kale stems removed
- 1/2 cup packed fresh parsley stems included
- 1 clove garlic smashed
- 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from about 1 lemon)
- 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds see notes for substitute
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Add all ingredients except for the pumpkin seeds and olive oil to your food processor. Turn on until mixture is pretty smooth (about 1-2 minutes), pausing and scraping down the sides of the food processor as needed.
- Add the pumpkin seeds (1/2 cup). Cover the food processor and gradually pour in the extra-virgin olive oil (1/3 cup) as you pulse the food processor about 10-20 times, or until pumpkin seeds are finely chopped up and olive oil has fully incorporated into the sauce.
- Store the pesto in an airtight container or jar in your fridge for about a week, or in the freezer for up to 6 months. Use on sandwiches, on pasta, on chicken/fish, or any other way you would use basil pesto!
- Replace the pumpkin seeds with another seed, such as sunflower, or a nut, such as pine nuts, almonds, or walnuts, if you prefer. Go nuts! Hahaha. Hah.
- Make it vegan by omitting the parmesan cheese and adding more salt. If you do this, I recommend toasting the pumpkin seeds (or nuts) to add more deep flavor and umami.
- If you're sensitive to spicy foods, omit or decrease the amount of the crushed red pepper.
- Traditional parmesan cheese may not be suitable for a strict vegetarian diet because it contains animal rennet. If you prefer, you can look for a suitable vegetarian substitute, such as a parmesan made with plant rennet.