Spicy Asian Pesto
Makes about 16 ice cube-size cubes
One of the tastiest and most versatile discoveries we made recently was Spicy Asian
Pesto. It bears little resemblance to the standard Italian version that's made with basil,
walnuts (or pine nuts) and olive oil. This Asian version is a combination of basil and
Chinese parsley (coriander) which give it a bright green color. Peanut oil and sesame oil
are used instead of olive oil. I make mine fairly spicy by adding some chili peppers, but
you can adjust the spiciness to your taste by reducing or increasing the amount of chili
peppers shown in the recipe.
When fresh basil is in season, I make up a large batch of this in my blender
and freeze it in plastic ice cube trays. After the cubes have frozen, I remove them from
the tray and make packages of 2 small cubes wrapped in plastic and then in aluminum foil.
They'll last through the winter.
- Put the following ingredients into the blender and blend until finely chopped:
- 1 cup washed basil leaves (loosely packed)
- 1 cup washed coriander leaves with most of the stems removed (loosely packed)
- 1-2 serrano or jalapeno peppers (seeded and roughly chopped)
- 3 large cloves garlic (peeled and inner green sprout removed)
- 1" fresh ginger (peeled and coarsely chopped)
- 2-3 TBS lemon juice
- In a separate bowl, combine 3 TBS peanut oil and 1 TBS sesame oil. Then with the blender
running, slowly add the combined oils. Continue to blend into a smooth thick paste. If the
mixture is too thick to blend into a smooth paste, add a little water and continue to
blend until you get the right consistency.
- Taste before adding salt and pepper.
- At this point, you can either use the pesto fresh or freeze it in ice cube trays.
Spicy Asian Pesto is used as a condiment in the same way you would use Italian Pesto --
a little bit goes a long way. To keep the bright flavor and color of this pesto alive and
vibrant, it's best to add the pesto to the main dish after it is cooked. It's fine to cook
with it, but it will loose its bright green color when cooked.
Here are a few ideas for using Spicy Asian Pesto. All of these are perfect for a quick
and light Sunday Supper served in bouillabaisse bowls:
Velvet chicken breasts, Chinese noodles and snow peas:
- Shred (tear) the cooked breast along the grain after "velveting".
- Lightly steam the snow peas and julienne them.
- Mix a little pesto with cooked noodles (hot or cold) and put into individual
- Top the noodles with shredded chicken and julienned snow peas.
- Put a few dabs of pesto around the top.
Grilled shrimp on a bed of salad greens:
- Put the shelled shrimp on a bamboo skewer and brush with sesame oil. Grill.
- Make the salad, dress with oriental vinaigrette and put into the
individual bouillabaisse bowls.
- Arrange shrimp on top of the salad.
- Dab the pesto on the grilled shrimp.
- Pass a bowl of pesto for those who want more.
- Make the pizza with any Asian-flavored toppings (i.e. shiitake mushrooms)
- Dab the pesto on after the pizza is cooked.
Oriental minestrone soup:
- Dice a small Chinese sausage or piece of smoked ham (ham hock is also o.k.) and sauté
in peanut oil.
- Any assortment of oriental vegetables (i.e. Chinese flowering broccoli, Chinese long
beans, bok choy, leeks, mustard cabbage, Napa cabbage, tat tsoi, chrysanthemum leaves,
flat Chinese chives, etc.) and add to the sauté pan. Stir fry for a few minutes.
- Add a handful of shelled fresh soy beans or any other beans of your choice.
- Add chicken broth diluted with water to cover.
- Simmer soup over a low flame for about 30 minutes.
- Add a handful of Chinese noodles (fresh or dried) cut into 2" lengths.
- Cook slowly for another 15 minutes.
- Serve in individual bouillabaisse bowls with a dollop of Spicy Asian Pesto
- Blender: I've tried making this both in the
blender and in a food processor. I much prefer the texture of the pesto when made in the
blender. It should have the consistency of a thick sauce. I found that doing it in the
food processor doesn't puree the basil and coriander enough and doesn't emulsify the oil
enough to make it into a smooth thick paste.
- Peppers: The hotness of peppers varies quite a
bit depending on the type of pepper you use, the season and where the peppers are grown.
Unless you know how hot the peppers are that you are using, it's better to start by adding
just one and tasting the pesto to see if it is spicy enough for you. Use only green
peppers so as not to detract from the bright green color.
- Velveting: The "velveting" technique
comes from Chinese cuisine, but can be used to cook chicken breasts for any use. Everyone
notices the creamy, succulent texture. To make "velvet" chicken breasts:
- Bring 3-4 cups of water and a few slices of ginger to boil in a deep fry pan or sauce
- Remove from heat and put the chicken breasts into the hot water. (Water should cover the
- Put lid on the pan and let breasts sit in hot water for 30 minutes or so. They are
cooked when firm to the touch.
- Oriental vinaigrette: Blend the following
ingredients in a blender or food processor (recipe makes about 2 cups so adjust the
quantity as needed):
|˝ cup rice vinegar
1 cup olive oil
2 TBS soy sauce
1 TBS sake
1 TBS sesame oil
|1 TBS chopped garlic
1 TBS ginger
1 TBS shallots
1 TBS chopped green onions
salt and pepper to taste