Kale Pesto

What do olives, feta, Dolmas, and kale have in common, aside from their Mediterranean origins? Easy – They were all considered utterly repulsive by yours truly, at one point or another. These delicacies have all, gratefully, recovered from their former habitation on my do-not-get-anywhere-near list and have since climbed the ladder into my good, no great, graces.

Kale is a particularly interesting case. I don’t quite know when I hopped on the Kale Caboose (possibly sometime around when this Instagram was taken), but I do know that I jumped aboard like a desperately unpopular hobo afraid of being left behind. If everyone jumps off a bridge, you probably shouldn’t, but if Bon Appetit says you should eat kale, you’d better oblige.

I started with simply sautéed kale. A bit of lemon and garlic made me nearly forget that what I was eating tasted all too similar to the innards of a lawn mower. I soon learned about massaging the kale! Not only was this green stuff the object of everyone’s affection…now it demanded to be pampered like a self-righteous bachelorette! Yet, like a 6’3 and brawny Swedish woman living full-time in Vegas, I obliged, and massaged the heck out of that damn kale till it was good and tender.

With time, I became fond of my leafy, leathery, and all too trendy captor. I raved (and still dream about) Mei Mei’s Magical Kale Salad and would travel offensive distances for my helping of Sweetgreen’s Kale Caesar. I might have a case of Stockholm syndrome for my dearly beloved kale, but I’m happy being naïve enough to go on loving it.

This Kale Pesto has been in the making for quite some time. That’s not to say I’ve been tweaking and perfecting multiple batches before sharing with you. No! To be fair and honest, this is the first time I’ve made it. What I mean is, my willingness to potentially defile the great and sacred name of  “pesto” with a potentially malicious and bitter vegetable was no small accomplishment. It took a lot of gumption to get where I am today, but I am proud to say that Kale Pesto is actually, really and truly, good eats.

Now, when you make this – and I really hope you make this – don’t expect it to come out like pesto of the basil variety, because it won’t. This stuff is intense. Good intense! This pesto forgoes the stubborn texture of the raw leaves for the silky, rich, and entirely pungent flavors within. It’s sharp and green-tasting in the best way, and blends flawlessly with potent parmesan, citrusy Meyer lemon, and earthy pine nuts. It’s all brought together in harmony by the olive oil, which makes everything silky and whole.

Like traditional pesto, its uses are rather diverse. In the few days that it’s been in the fridge, I’ve mixed it with gnocchi, tossed it with salad, smeared it on crackers, and fluffed it into couscous. I can imagine it would also be delightful on turkey sandwiches, with over easy eggs, or with sautéed summer veggies. Unlike kale’s rather rigid posture, this pesto is malleable in every which way.

And, while traditional pesto will usually cost you an obnoxious amount of money for fresh basil, this recipe calls for less than a bunch of kale, leaving plenty of leaves left over for Swedish massages, should you be so inclined.


  • 8 leaves of your favorite kale (I used Dinosaur from my garden)

  • ½ cup olive oil

  • 2-3 cloves fresh garlic

  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, shredded (But not the pre-shredded kind. C’mon!)

  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest (Use Meyer lemon for a sweet touch)

  • ¼ cup pine nuts

  • Salt to taste.

1. Tear kale into pieces, removing the stiff stems.

2. Combine all ingredients in a food processor or super-awesome blender. Pulse until combined. You may need to use a spatula to coax ingredients together every so often. Add more olive oil if mixture is too thick. Serve immediately or store in the fridge, where the flavors will magically meld together.