Spinach, Sunflower Seed and Sun Dried Tomato Pesto

Pesto is a great shortcut to many healthy and delicious meals.

Pesto is a great shortcut to many healthy and delicious meals.

I’m a big fan of pesto.

I like to top salmon, steak or chicken with it. It’s great on all kinds of noodles. A big dollop in a bowl of soup completely changes the flavor. You can pretty much use it on anything. It freezes well. And it’s usually made up of good for you ingredients. What’s not to like!? One of the reasons I’m so drawn to making pesto is that when you try to eat a mostly whole foods diet, sauces and condiments that are made with good ingredients in the store are hard to come by. Many store bought pestos use soybean oil or other vegetable oils and I prefer not to eat those when I can help it so having a few things in your cooking repertoire that you can make in just a couple of minutes can make all the difference between eating food that makes you feel good and gives you energy or grabbing some take out that will make you feel crappy an hour after you eat it.

Try it on salmon, chicken or steak, as a sauce for pasta, raw zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash or as a dip for fresh vegetables.

Try it on salmon, chicken or steak, as a sauce for pasta, raw zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash or as a dip for fresh vegetables.

Good basil is hard to come by in the middle of winter here in NH so I like to make pestos with whatever else I have on hand – tonight it was spinach, sunflower seeds and sun dried tomatoes. Yum!  You can literally make this in 2 minutes.

Don’t feel like you have to stick to this recipe exactly. Pesto is a very forgiving sauce! For greens, try spinach, basil, arugula, mizuna parsley or cilantro (or a mix of a couple). Blend them with walnuts, pine nuts, almonds, sunflower seeds or cashews.  Add lemon or lime juice, olive oil and salt and you have a pesto! You can jazz it up for flavor with garlic, shallots, olives, capers, sun dried tomatoes, pecorino or parmesan.  Avocado can be used in place of some of the greens and oil and you can also add a tbsp of tomato paste for a different flavor. Go crazy!

Ingredients
2.5 oz baby spinach (I used half of a package of Olivia’s 5oz)
a big handful of fresh parsley
1/2 cup raw unsalted sunflower seeds
6 or 7 sun dried tomatoes in olive oil (dried ones would work too but you’ll need to soak them in hot water first)
3 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 – 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
sea salt
1 clove garlic or 1/2 tsp garlic powder

Directions
Pour the sunflower seeds in a food processor and blend them until they are pretty well broken down (about the size of bread crumbs).

Pulse the sunflower seeds until they look like breadcrumbs.

Pulse the sunflower seeds until they look like breadcrumbs.

Add in the tomatoes and blend again (sometimes they can be tough) until the mixture is pretty evenly reddish colored. Scrape down the sides with a spatula and add the spinach, parsley, lemon juice, garlic and salt.  Blend again until well blended.  You may need to scrape down the sides again, especially if you used any parsley stems – they love to wrap around the blade! Pour in the olive oil while pulsing until it’s all blended.  Adjust seasoning if needed.

If you eat dairy, feel free to add some fresh parmesan into this like you would with a regular basil pesto. For storing, cover with a fresh layer of olive oil (it will prevent browning) and it will stay fresh in the fridge for a week. You may also freeze it. I recommend freezing in ice cube trays and then wrapping individually so that you can use a small amount at a time.

What’s your favorite type of pesto or homemade sauce?
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