3 Healthy Pestos for Summer Soirées

With warm summer nights—the primetime season for soirées—quickly approaching, it’s exciting to think about all the upcoming barbecues, rendezvous, and outdoor gatherings for summer fun. Not to mention the endless array of simple summer foods. There’s one particular sauce that offers many culinary options; it’s mixable, spreadable, perfect for sharing purposes, and portable. It’s the almighty pesto! Full of flavor and nutritional might, pesto’s health benefits alone may have you burst with creative culinary curiosity for discovering its multiple uses. The versatile spread can be used to enliven simple pizzas, make unique pastas, dress up plain potatoes, and even spice up simple summer frittatas. Here are three healthy pesto recipe ideas to get your summer soirée culinary juices flowing.

1. Pea Pesto

Mind your peas! By bringing green peas to the pesto party, you’re adding an ingredient that’s considered a top food for your brain. Beans (peas are a type of bean) are one of ten brain-friendly foods in a study by researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. They help to reduce neuronal damage in the brain and decrease the incidence of risk of brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Peas are loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and flavonoids. One cup of green peas gives you 36 mcg of vitamin K1, a good chunk of the recommended daily allowance. According to Harvard School of Public Health “low levels of circulating vitamin K have been linked with low bone density,” which can mean a higher risk for osteoporosis. Eating more peas is one way to increase your vitamin K intake and benefit your brain and bone health.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen green peas, thawed
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1 tablespoon sweet white miso
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

Place the basil, peas, nuts, miso, garlic, and salt in a food processor and begin processing. With the machine running, slowly add the water and oil in a steady stream through the open feed tube of the lid. Process until the mixture forms a paste.

Store covered in a container in the fridge for 1 week.

Makes 2 cups

Recipe from The Natural Vegan Kitchen: Recipes from the Natural Kitchen Cooking School.

2. Arugula and Walnut Pesto

Walnuts have many health benefits—with their rich source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. According to George Matejan in the book Worlds Healthiest Foods, “a host of studies have shown that increasing the dietary intake of walnuts has favorable effects on high cholesterol levels and other cardiovascular risk factors.” Combining walnuts with the spicy, green arugula adds to the pesto power. According to the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index score (a scoring system rating foods on a scale from 1 to 1000 based on nutrient content), arugula is considered one of the top 10. Arugula contains large quantities of sulfur compounds that  can help prevent cancer.

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces of arugula
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup toasted walnuts
  • 1/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

Combine arugula, garlic, and walnuts in food processor and chop until the arugula is broken down. Add parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper and continue processing until fully combined.

With the food processor running, slowly add the oil.

Makes approximately 1 cup

Recipe from Brian Millman, chef at Uncommon Ground.

3. Pumpkin Seed Pesto

Seeds are another fantastic pesto ingredient thatadd tremendous taste and health benefits to any dish. Seeds are also a nice alternative to nuts for anyone with nut allergies. Pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas, make a delicious pesto and are full of concentrated protein, zinc, free-radical scavenging manganese, and muscle-relaxing magnesium that will give you a serious boost, according to George Matejan in the World’s Healthiest Foods. Research also shows pumpkin seeds benefit prostate health due to their high levels of essential fatty acids, zinc, and phytosterols, according to The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. Additional research has found that the phytoestrogen found in pumpkin seeds may play a role in breast cancer prevention, too. Some great reasons to power up your pesto with pumpkin seeds!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups unsalted hulled (green) pumpkin seeds
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Toss pumpkin seeds with 2 tablespoons of the oil and salt then spread out in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Roast 10 to 15 minutes, until seeds are puffed and fragrant, then set aside to let cool.

Combine seeds in a food processor with 1/4 cup water, lemon juice, garlic, cilantro, and remaining 4 tablespoons oil. Pulse until mixture forms a coarse paste then season with salt and pepper. Cover and chill until ready to use.

Makes approximately 2.5 cups

Recipe from Whole Foods Market.

As summer draws near, don’t forget that pesto’s uses can extend well beyond dressing pasta. Additional ways to add these spreads into your summer soirée repertoire is to mix them into rice, smear onto toasted sourdough, use as a dip for crackers or your favorite veggies, or serve hot or cold over your sustainably caught fish or ethically raised chicken—and enjoy!

*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program. 

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About the Author

Fran Benedict

Health and Nutrition Counselor
Fran Benedict is a certified health and nutrition counselor and the founder of SimplyMindful.com . She has been on a path of health promotion and behavior for more than 15 years and loves discovering new ways to bring attention and intention into everyday life. She believes in the extraordinary power of the mind to create a quality of life every person deserves, with an emphasis on the relation to oneself as the foundation for everything else. A member of American Association of Drugless Practitioners, Fran enjoys supporting a range of health-promotion initiatives from multi-week wellness programs in the corporate setting, to nutritional...Read more