Gardener’s Favorite Kale Pesto Secondary Title: A Healthy, Cheap Twist on Pesto

One way to get the most out of your garden greens this summer, is to preserve them, by turning them into pesto. You can make a green sauce out of nearly any green from your garden. The green that holds up the best however, is kale. Kale pesto is a summertime favorite around our house. This recipe uses some ingredients that can easily be grown in your garden. By substituting basil for kale, you turn an already tasty and healthy sauce, into a highly nutritious miracle condiment. My recipe also leaves out cheese, making this a vegan friendly sauce, that can be frozen and enjoyed throughout the year.


Traditional pesto, consists of basil, garlic, olive oil, and pine nuts. There are many variations of this classic recipe, but those four ingredients are the staples that give pesto its signature flavor. For this recipe, I sub both the basil for kale, and the pine nuts for sunflower seeds. These substitutions help make this recipe more affordable, sustainable, and nutritious, than the already healthy sauce.

This is a rough list, feel free to experiment with ratios and substitutions. Making a large batch, enough to eat fresh, and freeze is how I like to do it. So if you’re looking for a small, one-time meal recipe, make sure to pare it way down.


1 lb., or about 8 cups of rinsed and chopped kale (any kind of kale will work, you can even mix in swiss chard or beet greens if you have an excess)

3 1/2 cups of extra virgin olive oil

1 cup basil, oregano, or mix thereof (can be dry, for flavor)

1 cup of sunflower seeds

8-10 cloves of garlic

Salt and pepper to taste


1.  Blend kale, herbs, sunflower seeds, and garlic in food processor until they’re chopped coarsely.*

2. Add about 3/4 of the oil to the mixture, and blend until smooth.

3. Add salt and pepper to taste, blend.

4. If serving immediately, add remaining oil, to pesto and blend until at its final consistency. If freezing, move the pest to a freezer safe container, and pour the rest of the oil carefully over the top before freezing.


*If you’re using a regular blender (which I don’t recommend, but, is possible) add the oil first so the blades will be lubricated, and able to process this difficult to blend mixture. While a regular blender is capable of doing this, the pesto will likely be a bit stringy, because kale is hard to blend completely without a food processor.

This is a loose recipe, that can be a great jumping off point for other dishes. Pesto can be used as a marinade for seafood or chicken, a condiment for a sandwich, a sauce for pasta, and in a number of other satisfying recipes. Turn that summer harvest of kale and sunflower seeds, into a delicious and healthy meal year-round!

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Emily Manke is a health and lifestyle blogger in Portland, OR. Her interests include biking, hiking, cooking, gardening. She is a bit of a health-nut, and loves learning about all things health-related. She sometimes contributes to the blog for this dentist in Portland, OR.