Making the Most of Greens: Pesto and Beyond

Running out of ideas for using up all of those extra leafy greens and herbs from your garden or CSA? There are many options for utilizing a bumper crop of greens, and we’ll be covering many of them on the UW Farm blog this summer. For part one of Making the Most of Greens we’re going to focus on pounded and pureed sauces; which are simple, freeze easily, don’t require any cooking to make (if we have another heat wave you are going to want to stay away from that stove!), and can help to use up all sorts of ends and bits that you may have previously thrown in the compost bin.


Before we get started though, a word on storage. Always wash your leafy greens and herbs to remove dirt and critters, but make sure they are not soaking wet when you put them away or they may start to rot sooner than you would like. Remove any dead or slimy leaves and place your greens in perforated plastic bags in the coolest part of your fridge. The leafy tops of many root vegetables (like turnips, carrots, and beets) are also edible and worth saving. Just make sure you remove the leaves from your veggies as soon as you purchase them (before they wilt) and store them separately from the roots.

Turnip greens and carrot tops; destined for the compost bin? Maybe not!

 Pesto: A very versatile favorite

We all know that traditional pesto relies on Basil as it’s star ingredient, but many other variations are possible, and if you use the other pesto usual suspects (garlic, olive oil, etc) as a base, you can swap in just about any leafy green with delicious results. This technique is particularly helpful in winter when Basil isn’t available and you are getting bored with simply stewing and sauteeing your tough winter greens. Here are some ideas to get started with, but be creative, you never know what you’ll discover through experimentation!

 Base Recipe:

2 cloves garlic

⅔ Cup Olive Oil

¼ Cup Pine Nuts (pumpkin seeds, walnuts, or sunflower seeds are some more frugal substitutes)

2 tsp fresh lemon juice (or more if you like a very tart sauce)

Salt to taste

Add in 2 Cups of one (or a combination) of the following:

Kale: Make sure you remove the tough central ribs and blanch the leaves by plunging them into simmering water for 1-2 minutes. This helps to soften them and makes the end result a little more digestible! I recommend adding in a bit of goat cheese as well; the creamy pungent taste really compliments the spicy/briny taste of the kale.

Carrot Tops/Turnip Greens: Yes you can eat these! Both types of greens have a lovely spicy taste.

Spinach: Another great winter or spring option. No blanching required!

Cilantro: One of the best Basil substitutes. Cilantro’s spicy, herbal flavor will perk up any dish.

Puree all ingredients together and toss with pasta or roasted veggies, or mix in with a little mayo for a great sandwich spread.

Pesto made with Kale; a spicy, briny alternative to  Basil.
Pesto made with Kale; a spicy, briny alternative to Basil.


Other Herbal Sauces

There are a plethora of other traditional pureed sauces similar to Pesto that can can be made with leafy green herbs. Here are just a couple:

Green Harissa: You may have heard of Harissa before, that spicy and aromatic chili paste used in North African and Middle Eastern cuisine, but there is also a green version with a brighter, lighter taste that is perfect for summer dishes. This is a great recipe to use if you have an abundance of cilantro and mint.

1Cup Cilantro

½ Cup Mint

1 Clove Garlic

Juice of ½ a Lemon

1 Jalepeno or Serrano Chili, seeded and deveined per your heat preference

½ Cup Olive Oil

½ tsp Ground Cumin

½ tsp Salt

Puree and toss with roasted veggies, mix with mayo or greek yogurt for a spread, or slather on broiled fish or meats.

Chimichurri: A pungent Argentinian sauce traditionally used with grilled meats.

1Cup Parsley

2 tbs Fresh Oregano leaves

3-4 Garlic Cloves

½ Cup Olive Oil

2 tbs Red or White Wine Vinegar

1 tsp Salt

Puree and use as a marinade or sauce for grilled steak, shrimp, or chicken.


Freezing your sauces:

If you’d like to make your green sauces ahead of time or in bulk, freezing is the best option for storage. Line an icecube tray with plastic and fill each pocket with sauce. Once the cubes are frozen, remove them from the tray and store in freezer bags for up to nine months.