Cilantro Pesto

This Cilantro Pesto is one of the best condiments to have on hand. It's great for pasta, grilled meat, veggies, and more. Plus it's made with only 6 ingredients in less than 5 minutes.

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There is almost nothing better to me than a delicious pesto. I love the combination of delicious herbs, nuts, lemon juice, garlic, and just a touch of cheese. While the popular choice basil pesto, cilantro pesto is so delicious. The bright, zingy flavor of cilantro makes this homemade pesto something special. 

When it comes to meal prep and adding flavor to leftovers, sauces are the secret weapon. They instantly transform a simple grain bowl or leftover grilled protein into something crave-able. It's also one of the easiest ways to elevate a simple dinner like roasted chicken and potatoes.  Drizzle a yummy sauce on top and the meal is suddenly something special. 

During the summer months when fresh herbs are plentiful, I love making cilantro pesto for just this reason. We add it to grilled chicken, grilled vegetables, and leftovers to make the most delicious summer meals.  It is also delicious for grilled tacos and fish with the bright cilantro flavor. 

No matter how you use it, this homemade pesto is a must! 

What is pesto?

Pesto originated in Genoa, Italy, and was originally made during Roman times with crushed herbs, garlic, and walnuts. The most popular version of pesto is made by combining basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese.

Traditionally pesto was made with a mortar and pestle but often today it is made with a food processor or blender. Today pesto is made with all different herbs and flavors including cilantro, kale, spinach, arugula, and even sundried tomatoes.

Key Ingredients

Here is everything you need to make this homemade cilantro pesto.

  • Fresh Cilantro: Make sure to get fresh cilantro bunches for this recipe that are bright green and not wilting. Remove the stems so you mostly just have the leaves. 
  • Parmesan cheese: Parmesan cheese or pecorino romano are the traditional cheeses used in pesto. Something hard and salty. For a more Southwestern spin, swap in Cotija cheese. For a dairy-free option, use nutritional yeast or vegan parmesan cheese.
  • Garlic: The amount of garlic really varies from recipe to recipe. Raw garlic has a strong flavor, which is more pronounced when it is processed in a food processor or blender, so add it slowly so the garlic doesn't overpower the recipe. 
  • Lemon juice: Fresh lemon juice is the traditional acid used in pesto. Lime juice works as well. Lime juice is a good choice when pairing this with a Mexican dish.
  • Olive oil: Choose a good-tasting olive oil for this recipe since it is a big part of the flavor.
  • Nuts: Traditionally pesto uses pine nuts, but it will also work with almonds, walnuts, or even seeds.

Ways to Use Cilantro Pesto

Pesto can be used in so many different ways. It can be a sauce, marinade, sandwich spread, or salad dressing. The options are almost endless. Here are some favorites.

  • Swap in this pesto on a pizza instead of marinara sauce.
  • Add a drizzle of pesto to grilled and roasted vegetables.
  • Combine cilantro pesto with Greek yogurt and olive oil to make a delicious homemade pesto salad dressing.
  • Drizzle chicken, pork, steak, and seafood with pesto. It's also a great way to add flavor to a rotisserie chicken.
  • Use pesto as a sandwich spread or add it to your morning eggs. 
  • Add this zesty sauce to your favorite pasta with vegetables. 

Storing and Freezing Pesto

Cilantro pesto can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for 4-5 days.

Pesto also freezes well. The best way to freeze leftover pesto is in an ice cube tray. Then just pull out the cubes from the freezer as you need them. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the answers to the most common questions about this cilantro pesto recipe.

Pesto can be made with almost any herb, including cilantro. Just swap in fresh cilantro for the fresh basil. It's up to you if you adjust any other ingredients. Some people still like to use pine nuts, while others prefer using almonds to walnuts with cilantro.  

Similarly, sometimes people will swap in Cotija cheese for the Parmesan to give it a Mexican or Southwestern spin. 

There are a few reasons that pesto can turn out bitter. The most common is that the pesto has been overprocessed and some of the bitter notes in the olive oil come out.

It can also become bitter when older cilantro is used. The older leaves, which are beginning to brown, are more bitter than the fresh, new leaves. 

If you find the pesto is bitter, you can try and counteract the flavor with a touch of sugar and salt. You can also make the pesto in the food processor with only water or broth. Then add the olive oil after. 

Pesto should always be made with fresh herbs that are bright in color with no brown spots or wilting. It will not work with dried herbs. 

The Recipe
Cilantro pesto in a small white container with cilantro leaves, olive oil, lemon juice, and Parmesan cheese.

Cilantro Pesto

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  • 2 cups cilantro, packed
  • 6 tbsp. water (or vegetable broth)
  • 4 tbsp. Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup almonds (or other nut – walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios)
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 garlic cloves (more to taste)
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper

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Add everything to a food processor or blender and blend until smooth.


Taste and season as needed with additional salt and pepper. Store in an airtight container for up to one week or freeze.

Nutritional Facts
Serving Size: 2 tbsp.
Amount Per Serving
Calories 78
Calories from Fat 67
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 7g
Saturated Fat 2g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Cholesterol 2mg
Sodium 133mg
Total Carbohydrate 1g
Dietary Fiber 1g
Sugars 0g
Protein 2g

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

The Nutritional Values provided are estimates only and may vary based on the preparation method.

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About the author Meet Kristen McCaffrey
Hi, I’m the cookbook author, recipe developer, and food enthusiast behind Slender Kitchen. I am obsessed with making healthy food that is easy to prepare and absolutely delicious. Meal planning is my secret weapon and I hope I can make meal time easier for you with our tried and tested recipes and foolproof meal plans. Learn More
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