Cilantro Pesto is a spicy Southwestern twist on traditional Italian pesto sauce – calling for cilantro, Jalapeno pepper, nuts, garlic, onion and lime juice.

glass bowl of cilantro pesto

As with so many of my recipes, this Cilantro Pesto was born out of a desire to use up an ingredient leftover from making another dish.  I had purchased way more cilantro than I needed to make my Mexican Chicken, Black Beans and Rice, so I decided to make a pesto sauce with the leftovers.

Roughly following a traditional Italian pesto recipe, I substituted cilantro for the basil and almonds for the pine nuts. I kept in the garlic and olive oil, and added a Jalapeno pepper and some red onion. So many of my Southwestern recipes call for spicy peppers and red onion, so these additions seemed natural to me. It still seemed to be missing something, so I added in some lime juice. Then lots of kosher salt to reduce the acidity of the juice. It turned out great!

I now make this Cilantro Pesto frequently and use it not only in Southwestern dishes – like my Pesto Chicken with Black Beans recipe (in my cookbook Fresh Tastes) – but also on sandwiches and even hamburgers!

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glass bowl of cilantro pesto

Cilantro Pesto

  • Author: (By Lee Clayton Roper)
  • Yield: Makes around 1 cup 1x
  • Category: quick and easy, dairy free
  • Method: No cook
  • Cuisine: Southwestern
  • Diet: Gluten Free


  • 23 large bunches cilantro, thick stems removed
  • 1 (2-inch) Jalapeno pepper, seeded (can leave some seeds for more spice)
  • 3 to 4 medium to large garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup toasted almonds
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, see Note
  • Juice from around 1/2 large lime
  • kosher salt, to taste


  1. In a blender or food processor, combine the cilantro, pepper, garlic, and nuts. Process until well blended.
  2. With the machine running, slowly add the oil until blended.
  3. Add the lime juice and kosher salt to taste.
  4. Cover and let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, to allow the flavors to blend.


Note on olive oil: If you use 1/4 cup oil, the consistency of the pesto will be like a paste. With 1/3 cup, it will be more liquid.


Lee Clayton Roper


I’m Lee Clayton Roper, and I’m passionate about making cooking and entertaining easy, elegant and fun. Here you’ll find scrumptious recipes, helpful tips and seasonal menus that will spark inspiration in your kitchen!
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Access more recipes in Lee's award-winning book, Fresh Tastes!

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