asian pesto

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Asian Pesto

From the book Everyday Asian by
Serves 4
Prep Time 30 minutes

Culinate editor’s note: I have loved this pesto since the first spoonful. Now I like to keep a jar on hand for a quick meal tossed with soba or whole-wheat spaghetti noodles. It’s also great slathered on grilled vegetables.


In this stylish twist on classic Italian pesto, I use peanuts instead of pine nuts, peanut oil instead of olive oil, and three herbs — cilantro, mint, and Thai basil — in place of Italian basil. I’ve made it with different herbs, depending on what I had on hand (once I even added marjoram to supplement a short supply of basil), and it’s always good: fresh, rich, and aromatic. Thai basil gives this dish the right flavor, so make an extra effort to get some. If you can’t find it, however, regular basil will do. Italian pesto uses Parmesan cheese to intensify the savoriness; this recipe uses only salt, so make sure you use enough or the flavor of the herbs will be lost.


½ cup raw peanuts
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 large bunch basil (2 cups tightly packed leaves, plus sprigs for garnish)
1 bunch mint (½ cup tightly packed leaves, plus sprigs for garnish)
1 bunch cilantro (1 cup tightly packed leaves, plus sprigs for garnish)
1 tsp. salt, or more to taste
~ Juice of 1 lemon
½ cup peanut or canola oil
1 tsp. chile sauce
1 lb. thin Chinese egg or wheat noodles, or thin spaghetti
~ Lemon wedges
~ Herb sprigs


  1. Roast the peanuts in a 350-degree oven or toaster oven until golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. Grind the garlic in a food processor or blender until it is finely minced. Add the peanuts and process again until the peanuts are chopped into very small pieces; don’t let them turn into a paste. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.
  3. Process the herbs in small batches until finely minced (reserve a few sprigs for garnish). Add them to the bowl. Stir in the 1 tsp. salt, lemon juice, oil, and chile sauce. Make sure everything is well combined. Add a bit more oil if necessary. The pesto should be loose but not excessively oily. Let the pesto rest for 15 minutes, then taste to see if it needs more salt (I find that it usually needs a heaping teaspoon total).
  4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the noodles, loosening the bundles with tongs, until just done, 5 to 8 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water.
  5. Add the noodles to the sauce in the bowl and toss thoroughly with tongs. Do this just before serving for the freshest taste. Transfer the noodles to a large serving bowl. Garnish with lemon wedges and a few sprigs of herbs.


This sauce can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator for several days. The color will change from bright to dull green but the flavor will hold.

This content is from the book Everyday Asian by Marnie Henricksson.

There are 5 comments on this item
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20% recommend this recipe
1. by Pat Bitton on Sep 1, 2010 at 1:32 PM PDT

I can’t get raw peanuts any more - our co-op won’t stock them since the contamination issues last year. Any substitution suggestions?

2. by Kathryn Madison on Sep 1, 2010 at 1:38 PM PDT

I’ve had good luck buying raw peanuts at Uwajima- both packaged and in bins. This recipe sounds great.

3. by Raw Organic Nuts on Sep 1, 2010 at 5:27 PM PDT

Raw Organic Cashews make a creamy paste in a food processor with out the roasting.I just added the Asian Pesto to my Recipe Box for Pestos.

4. by Carrie Floyd on Sep 1, 2010 at 6:26 PM PDT

I actually buy dry-roasted peanuts and skip the first step of roasting.

5. by anonymous on Dec 5, 2012 at 4:39 PM PST

I have a very healthy ‘lemon basil’ plant in my garden can I use it instead? And, would I need to make any other changes?

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