Cheap Eats — Kale Pesto

by Katy on January 31, 2014 · 22 comments

The downside of mostly cooking from scratch is that there’s not a lot of grab-and-go food. However, I do try and stock the fridge with a few convenience foods, and one of my favorites is kale pesto.

Why not basil pesto?

Because kale is like 1/10th the price of basil, super healthy and I actually prefer the milder flavor of kale. And the best part is that kale pesto is super quick and easy to make, and it lasts for ages in the refrigerator.

The recipe is loose, but it always turns out perfectly.

Kale pesto

Step One: Take 1 bunch of kale and roughly chop it. Do not include the ends of the thick woody stems.

raw kale

Step Two: Steam the kale for 5 minutes or so. (I tend to stop when it starts to smell all kale-y.) Put it in a colander under running cold water and then press the extra liquid out.

steamed kale

Step Three: Place the steamed kale into a food processor with garlic, salt, parmesan cheese and olive oil. How much garlic, salt, parmesan cheese and oil? It depends on how big your bunch of kale is, how garlicy you like your pesto and how thick you like your pesto.

It’s a good idea to start with just a small amount of garlic and salt and then add small amounts until it tastes right. Continue pureeing until the texture is pleasing to the eye and tongue. (What you like and what I like is going to be different.)

Did you notice how I didn’t include any nuts? That’s because I only include nuts when I have them on hand, which is rarely. No one has ever noticed or complained.

pesto puree

This batch of pesto made enough for a whole pan of tortellini and a full 750 ml glass jar.

finished pesto

Step Four: Mix into a pan of warm pasta and enjoy. So delicious and hearty, and dare I say it? Cheap.

Like to eat cheaply? Here are more Cheap Eats recipes:

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Kate January 31, 2014 at 4:56 am

No nuts? You bet I noticed! My husband and son are allergic to nuts, and although they’ve never been tested for the pine nuts that are often in pesto, my stack of epi-pens and I are unwilling to do a home test to find out. I’ve missed pesto a lot, so I can’t wait to try this. Thanks, Katy!


cathy January 31, 2014 at 4:18 pm

We also have nut allergies in our house, along with a ton of other food allergies. I’ve been making a version of chimichurri that’s actually nut-free and vegan and super easy: 1 bunch of parsley, 1 bunch of cilantro, 1 bunch of basil, fresh garlic, about 1/2 an onion, lemon juice, olive and/or canola oil, salt and pepper. Just do it all up in a food processor. Costs me about $3.50 (for me, slightly more than the kale version, but no cooking and still the flavor of “regular” pesto) and as much as Katy’s jar of kale pesto. The onion and garlic give it the chunkiness of regular pesto.

I freeze pesto in ice cube trays, then toss the cubes in a Ziploc so I can pull out just the amount I need.


Kate February 1, 2014 at 6:31 am

That looks great, too. Thanks, Cathy! Nuts are just the tip of the food allergy iceberg for us, too, but nothing in your recipe is unsafe for us, either.


Jenny February 2, 2014 at 8:09 pm

I don’t do dairy, so I’d put the nuts in and leave the cheese out!


Sarah J January 31, 2014 at 6:08 am

Thanks for the recipe- we love pesto around here. How long can you keep it in the fridge?


Yankeegal January 31, 2014 at 8:19 am

Love this idea! I am a kale addict-thanks for another way to use it!


Ani Mia January 31, 2014 at 9:09 am

I grow at least 3 basil plants in the summer to make pesto in bulk. Store bought basil is a ridiculous $3 a bunch for an amount not even big enough for one batch of pesto.
I freeze it flat in gallon bags and break off a piece when needed. I also use bulk walnuts because they are cheaper than pine nuts and use a mixture of red wine vinegar and olive oil and we don’t care for the full olive oil flavor kind.


Sharon January 31, 2014 at 10:38 am

Well done, Katy!

I’m following the recipes of Dr. Terry Wahls (her new book is coming out in April, and I’ve pre-ordered it “The Wahls Protocol”) and she recommends tons of leafy greens like kale.

The more greens I eat, the better I feel. I am so happy to have another recipe to add to my collection. I’m feeling like a miser who found a gold coin. heh heh.


Sarah Schneider January 31, 2014 at 12:31 pm

I want to second the call for using walnuts, they are one of the cheapest nuts and a few go a long way for pesto. We toast them in a pan for a nice nutty flavor. We usually make ours with spinach instead of basil, garlic, salt, olive oil and lemon (I like a nice bright flavor). I don’t put cheese in the pesto itself because the good stuff is pricey, I just grate it on top when I have it on hand.


Tina January 31, 2014 at 2:58 pm

YUMMMMMM. My ancient La Leche League cookbook has a recipe for “Green Spaghetti” which is pretty similar to this one — only it’s cooked spinach, and you thin it out to a spaghetti sauce consistency with a little chicken broth and a splash of cream or milk. We love green spaghetti and I am super excited to try kale pesto!!!


Lynn D. February 1, 2014 at 9:59 am

I always use raw sunflower seeds in my pesto; they’re very cheap and add a bit of protein. I toast them a bit before adding to the pesto.


Diane C February 1, 2014 at 9:02 pm

Oh, Katy, you’re such an inspiration! (You know just which accent to use.)
I bought mustard greens yesterday for the first time ever, just because they looked so darn pretty. I googled “Mustard Greens Pesto”. I found a yummy-sounding recipe that contained ingredients I had on hand. Served it for dinner and everyone snarfed it down, plus I have a jar left over, which I’m sure will taste even better tomorrow once the flavors have melded. Thanks for pointing me in a new frugal direction!


Katy February 2, 2014 at 9:11 am

Sounds delicious! I also try to keep dry pasta on hand at all times, as well as heartier options such as dried tortellini.

Having instant meals on hand helps us from eating out simply because we can’t figure out what to cook.



Diane C February 2, 2014 at 6:14 pm

Ha! Costco just had 8 pounds of organic whole wheat spaghetti on sale in January. I bought one for now and one for “later”. I shopped again on the last day of the circular, forgetting I had purchased some for “later” and bought another. Now I have 24 POUNDS of spaghetti. Yes, it was a great price and yes, it will keep and yes, my family would happily eat a taco/spaghetti rotation forever, but sheesh, 24 Pounds? Yeah, I’d say I have a few instant meals on hand… Good thing I learned a new pesto recipe thanks to you.


Katy February 2, 2014 at 7:36 pm

That is a lot of spaghetti!


Marcella February 2, 2014 at 6:17 pm

Third the call on using other cheap nuts instead of pine nuts, which are priced like these are made of gold dust. We had a ‘pesto’ party at a friends place… he had a huge crop of basil and we all tried lots of different recipes. Bascially:

– Anything leafy green
– garlic
– salt
– parmesan-like cheese (pecarino is also acceptable)
– oil

I have used walnuts, pine nuts, almonds. I’ve even done an ‘asian’ style pesto, which used thai-basil, peanuts, plus peanut oil in place of olive oil. I threw in a few chillies too.


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