Nut & Dairy Free Cilantro Pesto – Three Ways


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If you’re a regular reader then you know that my daughter has a lot of food allergies; nuts and dairy being the main ones. When we first found out, this felt like a death sentence. Dramatic much? ;) I know.

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But really, it was a huge adjustment for me. I can happily say that we are finally getting the hang of it, and reaping the health benefits of trying to adapt to her diet. Not only that, but it’s fun finding out that eating “vegan” can be super delicious.

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Like this Cilantro Pesto I concocted. Which…is nut and dairy free of course.

And I’ve prepared it three different ways. It’s pretty versatile. Like…a basic skirt. Dress it up, dress it down. It goes almost anywhere.

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To make my pesto allergy friendly, I simply omitted the Parmesan and used my secret ingredient: toasted sunflower seeds!

Easy to find, inexpensive, and a two thumbs up yum factor, makes sunflower seeds my favorite go to nut substitute.

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Let’s make some pesto, shall we?

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Nut & Dairy Free Cilantro Pesto

1 bunch of cilantro (about 2 loosely packed cups of leaves – remove stems)
2 cloves of toasted garlic
1/3 c. toasted sunflower seeds
juice of 1 lemon or 2 limes (about 2-3 tbsp.)
zest of 1/2 lemon or 1 lime (about 1 tsp.)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp of salt or to taste
Optional: Add 1/2 of a small  de-seeded jalapeno for a little bit of heat. 
*Yields about 1 scant cup of pesto.

1. Toast garlic cloves with peels still on in a pan on medium heat. Toss and heat until you see brown spots on the garlic skin.

2. Toast the sunflower seeds for about 30 seconds to one minute over medium heat. The seeds toast quickly, so keep it quick and remove them from the heat once you start to smell it toasting.

3. Process the garlic in a food chopper or food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth.



+ Before cutting into your lemon or limes, roll them between your palm and the counter top, applying pressure with the heel of your palm. This helps release the juices and allows for easier squeezing.

+ Prepare this pesto the night before to get maximum flavor. The pesto will last up to a week in the fridge.

Cilantro Pesto (15 of 57) Cilantro Pesto (14 of 57) Cilantro Pesto (18 of 57) Cilantro Pesto (19 of 57) Are you ready to spread this pesto three + ways?

Let’s go traditional first.

Cilantro Pesto (29 of 57) Cilantro Pesto (24 of 57) Cook up some of your favorite pasta, and toss the pesto in. Add a little bit of pasta water to the mix to help loosen things up and so that the pesto coverage is even. 

Cilantro Pesto (34 of 57) I like to use corn pasta because it tastes great and it holds it’s texture and shape better than the rice varieties. We don’t have gluten allergies but it seems that most gluten free pastas are also free of dairy, nuts and eggs. So, that’s what we buy! 

Second way…dress it up!

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As in…salad dressing.

This cilantro pesto can easily be remixed into a dressing with just a few small additions:

Add additional 1/4 c. of olive oil, 2 tbsp. white wine vinegar, and 2 tbsp. pesto.

Shake it up and pour it on.

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Cilantro Pesto (40 of 57) It makes a nice, savory vinaigrette.

Okay…last but not least. My favorite way…

Cilantro Pesto (51 of 57) Taco relish! 

Taco relish? …you say. If that wasn’t a thing before, I now declare that it is! Because, well because it is so good.

Remember when I said we like eating vegan? Well…I should mention that we eat vegan plus meat. Sounds like an oxymoron, but we choose to eat vegan because of allergies. So, we simply avoid dairy and eggs, not actual meat.

Which explains this… ;)

Cilantro Pesto (41 of 57) Cilantro Pesto (44 of 57) Before baking my fish for fish tacos, I spread this pesto on…mwah! so good.

Then I add the hot flaky fish to a warm corn tortilla with avocado, black beans, tomatoes, a little bit of Sriracha (love culture mixing my food!)

Cilantro Pesto (46 of 57) Cilantro Pesto (47 of 57) Oh yes, and the pesto…or cilantro taco relish… and N O M.

This is the stuff my food dreams are made of. :)

If you are a real vegan, you could omit the fish and use a firm tofu, or some toasted black beans?

Now…I have to address the cilantro haters. I hear ya. Cilantro tastes differently to different people. It’s kind of a polarizing food.

Cilantro Pesto (57 of 57) If you want to use traditional basil, by all means. I would just reduce the amount a bit because basil has a stronger flavor than cilantro. You could also use fresh baby spinach mixed in or even by itself. It has a nice mild flavor and does the job nicely. 

More ways to use the pesto:

- in a chicken marinade

- spread on a turkey sandwich

- to boost flavor in a fresh mex type soup

Can you think of some more?

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P.S. The cute heart shaped measuring spoons were generously provided by as a gift for attending ALT Summit. Which starts today! :) Exciting stuff!


  1. Erin @ Crafts & Sutch says

    Delia, this looks positively delish! :) I haven’t commented in ages, but I’m still popping in to see what cool things you’re whipping up! So glad all is well! :)

  2. says

    Yum! That looks so good! The tacos I will have to make! Just love your blog. The new look is great and your photos are simply amazing as always.

  3. says

    Um this looks so good I may just get over the fact that I don’t like cilantro. Also come take pictures for me please! I mean you even captured the steam!! The steam!!! You are too cool.

  4. Jenny says

    This recipe looks great. My 8 year old daughter has a severe dairy allergy along with eggs and some nuts. I often make pesto with toasted pumpkin seeds. She finds it yummy. My husband came up with word meagan to describe her diet.

    • says

      Ooh pumpkin seeds are a great idea! Thank you!

      My daughter has had reactions to uncooked pumpkin, but I would be curious about how she would deal with the seeds, since baked in pumpkin works for her? And meagan is a great nickname. haha!

  5. says

    hi delia! at what point did you add seeds into her diet after finding out about her allergies?

    my little boy is 1 year old and ever since his reaction to peanuts at 9 months (and the subsequent blood tests revealing more allergies), the MD said no seeds until he’s 2 and we retest. i feel like it would be SO AWESOME if we could add chia, pumpkin, flax, and sunflower seeds into his diet! but because he tested positive for sesame (in the same amount as his peanut allergy which was anaphylaxis) the allergist wants to nix all seeds. is sesame one of her allergies?

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