June 6, 2009

Cheese-Free Pesto with Radish Tops and Pepitas

I FINALLY got a food processor! So I decided to christen it by making PESTO. Pesto is one of my favorite things - rich, herbaceous, garlicky, creamy and grainy at the same time. Plus it's a delicious way to get raw garlic into the diet. Garlic contains a compound called allicin, which has antiinflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Allicin is released when the garlic clove's cell walls are ruptured - and its concentration increases if you allow the garlic to sit for a little while (10-15 minutes) before consuming. However allicin is destroyed by cooking, so to get the full benefits you need to eat that garlic raw!

Okay, enough about micronutrients...I had also picked up a bunch of big, red globe radishes at the farmers' market. Normally I don't do much with the radish leaves -- but this time I remembered that the terrific food blog Chocolate and Zucchini recently posted a recipe for radish leaf pesto, so I decided to try it out.

I was running low on pine nuts, so I used pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds) instead. And I wanted to make a cheese-free pesto, so instead of the usual Parmigiano I added a few splashes of umeboshi vinegar -- the salty, tangy liquid that forms during the pickling of Japanese ume "plums". Umeboshi are a fruit in the apricot family; they are picked unripe and pickled with salt and shiso leaf. Umeboshi can be used in a variety of dishes; ume vinegar adds a nice salty and tangy note to salad dressings, soups, sauces, etc. It really wakes things up. Like adding lemon and salt, but way better.

Whole pickled umeboshi (although not the vinegar) have medicinal qualities. They are contractive and alkalinizing, and are particularly effective in counteracting overly expansive conditions (after consuming too many sweets, too much alcohol, etc). Although some people pop whole umeboshi "straight up", they are very salty so I prefer them in small quantities -- for example soaked in hot water to make a tea, or in an ume-shoyu-kuzu drink.

This pesto would be terrific with any variety of greens: arugula, cilantro, parsley, radish or turnip tops, and with all different kinds of nuts and seeds: almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds -- whatever's on hand. Pesto is great on pasta of course, and also works as a dip for fresh veggies, as a base for salad dressing (thinned with additional olive oil and lemon juice), in potato or grain salads, and as a marinade or sauce for fish, chicken, or tofu.

Radish Top and Pumpkin Seed Pesto
makes about 1 cup

2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
3 cups radish tops (leaves only, discard stems), washed well
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2-3 teaspoons umeboshi vinegar (to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Pulse garlic in food processor, blender, or mortar and pestle for about 30 seconds, till finely chopped. Add pumpkin seeds and pulse until pulverized. Add radish leaves and pulse until finely chopped, 30 seconds - 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to make sure all the bits are getting incorporated.

With the food processor running, gradually drizzle in olive oil. Add umeboshi vinegar and black pepper to taste, continuing to pulse until combined.


  1. I am surprised this post found no comment. To me it is a terrific recipe! I made a salad with radish leaves once and I loved it and now I am exploring other ways to use the leaves, plus they are so nutritious it is a shame to waste them!

  2. Hi Taste of Beirut - thanks for stopping by! I was so glad to learn that radish leaves are edible and quite delicious! I also tried them sauteed them with spring onions, and I'll use them in a salad some time if I have some very tender greens.

  3. this is great. i always threw out the radish tops (oops!) never again! so creative, Nancy :)