When I told the yogi I had made a batch of dandelion pesto, he was dubious. ‘Is that really pesto? I thought pesto was made with basil…’
He’s quite the food connoisseur and has been known to
question my culinary authority
make suggestions while I am cooking. I have to admit, the yogi’s instincts are usually correct. But in the case of pesto, he did not know the whole story. (Though really it’s beside the point — since I’m Italian and pesto is Italian, I automatically win.)
Basil pesto, or pesto alla genovese, is the version we’re most familar with in the US. But the word pesto simply means ‘to pound’ or ‘to crush’ — as this is a sauce traditionally made using a mortar and pestle — and it can include just about any greens, leafy herbs, and nuts or seeds you can get your hands on. Its mainstays are garlic, olive oil, and a salty and savory component (often an aged cheese like Parmigiano-Reggiano or Romano) for depth and richness. I’ve made pesto with arugula, radish greens, green pumpkin seeds, and walnuts. Loved them all.
This dandelion and sunflower seed version worked quite nicely, too. The brightness and bitter edge of the dandelion greens create a fresh, clean foundation, and using miso in place of cheese for the salty-savory-umami component makes for a lighter taste and texture that’s perfect for spring. Sunflower seeds, which are nuttier and less rich than pine nuts, also contribute to the overall lighter feel of the pesto.
I tossed some of the freshly made pesto with cooked soba (thin Japanese buckwheat noodles), chickpeas, artichoke hearts, and sliced radishes for a simple and delicious one-bowl meal. The next day I added a dollop to roasted sweet potato cubes – the bright, garlicky greenness was a surprisingly great match for the potatoes’ earthy sweetness. And I’m thinking the pesto also would be tasty stirred into scrambled eggs, spread on bruschetta, or added to a soup…so many possibilities.
dandelion pesto with sunflower seeds and miso
Young, tender dandelion leaves are best for pesto and other raw preparations, since they are more tender and less bitter than larger, older leaves.
Yield: approximately 1-1/2 cups
- 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
- 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 1 bunch of dandelion greens, washed, lower portions of stems removed, and roughly torn (about 5-6 cups)
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (plus more, as needed)
- 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 Tbsp mellow white miso paste (chickpea miso would be good too)
- 1/4 tsp crushed red chile flakes
- sea salt, to taste
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Toast the sunflower seeds in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until golden and fragrant (about 8 minutes). Transfer to a plate and allow to cool.
In a blender or food processor, pulse the garlic until finely minced. Add the cooled sunflower seeds and blend until finely chopped. Add about half of the dandelion leaves and half of the olive oil and blend until it forms a loose paste. Repeat with the remaining leaves, adding olive oil as you go along.
Add the miso paste, lemon juice, and red chile flakes and blend until incorporated. If the pesto seems too thick, blend in a bit more olive oil and/or a little water. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.
The pesto is best used right away but will also keep for a couple of days in the fridge, though its color might darken. It also freezes well; when ready to use just thaw and stir well.