Monday, March 27, 2017

Vegetarian garlicky cleavers walnut pesto. Keto foraging recipe, paleo and vegan optional.

This pesto is not only the best pesto I've ever made, it's the best pesto I've ever tasted, period. If you have cleavers, please try this pesto now. If you trust no other recipe on this site, trust this one. This garlicky cleavers pesto is something you need in your life.

This pesto is fast, simple and can go on absolutely ANYTHING, but of course, I enjoy it best simply tossed with some pasta. This wild herb pesto is a great condiment, it's super healthy because of the nutritious cleavers, and low-carb keto, as well as being vegetarian. If you omit the cheese, it's also Paleo and Vegan!

This recipe has some weird steps, that I came upon entirely by accident, but they worked out so well!

Cleavers are a very common backyard "weed" that's super easy to identify. If it's early to mid-spring, I guarantee that you can find some near you, perhaps in a local park. They have a great herbal flavor, vaguely like oregano, but mostly uniquely their own. Cleavers should be boiled before eating, and I prefer them pureed as well, to avoid textural issues.

The story of the blackened walnuts

Ok so I've made a variation of this pesto before, and it was good. I opted for walnuts instead of the pinenuts, because I felt that walnuts stronger flavor played out better with the cleavers. But the thing about walnuts is they are always a tad bitter. So I thought I'd try cooking them this time. The only problem was that I'd already dumped the cleavers water, and I didn't feel like waiting for the water to come back to a boil.

So I thought I'd pan-fry them instead. Well, we just bought a house with an electric stove, rather than gas, and I forgot that electric stays hotter for longer . . .and I wound up blackening the walnuts! At first I thought I'd ruined them, but then I tasted one, and I really liked the flavor! So I tossed them in. For whatever reason, they worked perfectly.

Some leftovers of the blackened walnuts

Garlicky cleavers pesto 

Makes about 2 cup of sauce

6 packed cups of cleavers
8-10 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 cup walnuts
1 cup quality extra virgin olive oil + more
3 oz. parmesan cheese, roughly chopped
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. aged balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boil. Add in your cleavers, breaking apart any clumped stems, so the whole plant is exposed to the boiling water. Work in batches, if needed. Boil each batch for a solid 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. They will turn rich olive green.
  2. Drain the cleavers. If you like, reserve the boiling liquid and reduce to drink as a tea or use as a broth, it has kidney and liver supporting benefits.
  3. Add a very light drizzle of olive oil to a pan. Heat over medium-high heat, and toss in your walnuts. Stir constantly, and cook until the nuts have blackened areas on about 50% of their surface. It takes about 3-5 minutes. Remove the nuts from the pan.
  4. In the same pan, over medium to medium-high heat, add about 1 tbs. of olive oil. Add in your garlic, and cook, stirring constantly, until softened and translucent.
  5. Add all the ingredients, including the cleavers, to the food processor. Work in batches, if needed. Puree until smooth, taste and season as needed. 
  6. Serve with pasta, over meat (especially chicken and pork), vegetables; or as a dip or spread on bread, veggies or crackers. Pesto will keep for about 2 weeks in the fridge, and can also be frozen.
One final note of caution: take some time and make sure that cleavers are all you gathered. I have been doing this for years, and still I always get some other plants mixed in with my cleavers, and I catch it in the kitchen. Mostly it's just grass, but you never know. Cleavers adhere to other plants readily, and you can gather them without knowing.

If you aren't sure how to identify cleavers please check out my post here!


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  2. How do you store cleavers if you can't use them right away. Mine were wilting by the time I got them home, and I can't make the pesto until tomorrow. Should I put them in cold water in the fridge or leave them dry and in an open container in the fridge?

    1. I would definitely leave them dry. I use a paper bag in the fridge dry. If it will be more than a couple of days before you can get to them, you can wrap the ends of the stems in a damp paper towel--but no wetter than that.