Arugula pesto – II, no cheese method

Its veganmofo, day 30, and I think I did pretty well.  It is not easy to cook a dish a day, style, photograph and present it on the blog.  But, it is enjoyable, it is inspiring, and it keeps me creative.

I made tomato rice today for lunch, and it has already been posted on TT.  Unfortunately, I have dug into the reserves so much, that there is no Indian dish in it anymore!  When I am not cooking Indian, I am usually cooking Italian.  So today, in the spirit of veganmofo, I present one of my favourite Italian accompaniments – the pesto!  It’s not Indian, but the first time I tasted and made pesto, I thought of it an Italian chutney.  So there!  I have posted a recipe for arugula pesto earlier but that was a version that I kept close to Donna Hay’s.  When I compare that recipe with this, I like this much better.  This recipe is a little bitter because the arugula leaves are not combined with basil, but in combination with crusty, toasted basil-oil focaccia, this definitely wins over the earlier recipe.

It is so easy, that there is practically no excuse not to try making it. My cousin, her family and her parents were home last Sunday, and I had made a poolish focaccia with basil-oil. I had also made a  roasted tomato soup to go with the bread. I made the pesto a day before, and placed a small quantity on the side. I did not expect it to be tasted, much less asked for repeats. Well. Guess what? I refilled, and it became empty again, and finally I packed the rest of the pesto in a bottle for just one person. My uncle absolutely loved it and asked for the recipe.

Since then, I have been hoping that October would rush to an end and I would make a bread just to show off the pesto. I guess the pesto was just not ready to wait.

If you do not like the slightly bitter, grassy tones of arugula / rocket leaves, add a fistful of basil leaves. But, I would like you to try it once without adding. The bitterness grows on you with each bite of the bread, or a lick of the spoon. And it has a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. That got you?

The making of the pesto was inspired from a pesto photograph by Mark Chew in ‘Cook with us’ by Gary and George. I know there are no recipes I will ever reciprocate from the book as is, but it is great in terms of inspiration.

How can you not love a book that has George handing out pearls of wisdom, such as,”Please understand that your mum’s cooking will never be as good as mine.” How true!

This is best made by grinding on an ‘ammi’ or ‘silpatta’, but I used a mixer this time.

Recipe: Arugula pesto, sans cheese
Yield : Almost a cupful of joy


Arugula leaves, trimmed, rinsed and patted dry – 2 cups, packed
Toasted pine nuts | Chilgoze – 10 Nos.
Cashews – 1 (soaked) No.
Garlic – 1 clove
Rock salt crystals
Extra virgin olive oil – 3-4 tbsps.
Sesame seeds – 1 tbsp.


Place arugula leaves, along with crushed garlic, and half the quantity of salt you think you need, and run in the mixer till coarsely ground and reduced.

Add 1 tbsp. of oil, and nuts, and grind more, but retaining texture. This is not supposed to be smooth.

Adjust salt, and remove into a clean glass jar. Add another tbsp. of oil and the sesame seeds and mix with a spoon. Press into the jar and add a thin layer of oil to cover the surface completely. This prevents discolouration.

Can be stored for a day or two, if refrigerated.

Serve with crusty bread as a topping or with pasta.


Harini is a vegan food photographer, writer and recipe developer. She also loves feeding birds, reading, watching crime thrillers, and travelling amongst other things.

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  • Sarah

    Is this recipe calling for 1 cup soaked cashews? It just says ‘1’. Also questioning 10 pine nuts. Thanks.

    • Harini Prakash

      Hi, count out 10 pine nuts and 1 cashewnut in number. Probably I should have written No. next to it. Will rectify. These add a little body and flavour. I did not want the texture or taste of the nuts to overpower the flavour and taste of arugula leaves.

  • Spandana

    Amazing pictures Harini. The pesto looks absolutely delish with the lovely green color!

  • PG

    You know, I am almost repeating that what the commenter Michelle before me wrote. It practically grows wild in my garden, and I love to make the pesto with walnuts as they go well with the robust flavour of arugola. Although I love Arugola in yoghurt even more in summers.

    • Harini

      Well, all the more reason for me to try out the walnut and arugula pesto!

  • Michelle

    Harini, I make this pesto so many times, as my husband grows arugula in the garden in the summer. As this pesto freezes so well, I love making tons of it, and freezing for the winter. Nothing like fresh pesto to keep you going in the winter.

    I usually make my pesto with walnuts, as I feel that they give a more robust flavour to it. Do try it my way, and let me know how you like it. It actually mellows down the bitterness a bit.

  • Vijitha

    Simple yet spot on picture. I love arugula pesto and have been my savior for weeknight pasta dinners. I serve it with some grilled meat.

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