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Kaffir Basil Pesto

Kaffir Basil Pesto

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This unique kaffir basil pesto offers citrus flavor with a Thai twist and is a great way to change up your usual pesto game!

This pesto recipe was born from my need to use up some remaining kaffir lime leaves. I usually use kaffir leaves in Thai cooking, and especially in Thai curry. You can find them at most well-stocked Asian grocers; at mine they are with the refrigerated produce, separated into small bags. You can find more information about them here. These leaves will give your pesto a bright, citrus zest that is reminiscent of lemon-lime, but really is a flavor all its own.


This recipe begins with lightly toasting your pine nuts over medium-low heat without oil. Make sure to keep an eye on them and stir often- it is easy to torch pine nuts. You will know they’re done when they turn a light brown on each side and become more fragrant. They’re bitter when they’re burnt so it’s best not to use them and toast another batch.


The rest of this recipe is made in the food processor. I know there are Italian grandmothers rolling over in their graves at this idea. Pesto purists demand pesto made with a mortar and pestle, but unfortunately I don’t have those. If you do, use them! It will probably come out even better. Another common trick for pesto is to whisk in the olive oil by hand after food processing the pine nuts and leaves. I’m willing to concede that it may be user error, but I had better luck actually drizzling the olive oil into the food processor; it emulsified better into a more perfect sauce. It works best if you slowly drizzle it into the processor instead of dumping it all in at once.


Although the flavor is decidedly more citrus-y than typical pesto, this kaffir basil pesto is appropriate in just about any circumstance that regular pesto would be. I especially like it over noodles paired with roasted cherry tomatoes, as pictured. The dish is simple but elegant, and sure to please. It also makes a great sandwich or toast spread. I recently had it spread over garlic bread on the side of lasagna! You can also stir a little into some mac and cheese or top mashed potatoes; or try spreading over a white fish such as sole or cod. If you don’t use it right away, it can be stored in a glass jar in the fridge for up to two weeks. It may separate, so be sure to re-stir before use!



Kaffir Basil Pesto

This unique kaffir basil pesto offers citrus flavor with a Thai twist and is a great way to change up your usual pesto game!

Course Sauces
Cuisine American, Italian, Thai
Keyword citrus pesto, kaffir lime leaves, pasta sauce, thai pesto, unique pesto, unusual pesto, use up kaffir leaves
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Servings 1 cup


  • 2 loose cups basil (approximately a 3-oz package)
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 3/4 loose cup kaffir lime leaves (about 20 leaves)
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (optional)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup high quality olive oil


  1. Heat a small pan over medium-low heat (no oil). Toast pine nuts in the pan, stirring often, until golden brown on each side- about 4 or 5 minutes. Keep an eye on them as they can burn easily!

  2. In the meantime, pull your basil leaves from their stems and measure out about 2 loose cups. Do the same to the kaffir lime leaves, if necessary.

  3. Place toasted pine nuts, garlic, crushed red pepper, and salt into a food processor or mortal and pestle. Pulse until a paste is formed that clumps and sticks together. You may have to scrape the sides of your food processor a few times.

  4. Add basil and kaffir leaves to the food processor and pulse until thoroughly chopped and combined.

  5. Leave the food processor on and slowly drizzle olive oil in until the sauce is completely emulsified. Makes about 1 cup. Store in a glass container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

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