Looking for an easy way to liven up your meals? Add a fresh sauce! Let me introduce you to my latest favorite—this refreshing cilantro pesto recipe. It’s made simply with fresh cilantro, hemp seeds, garlic, optional jalapeño (for some heat) and olive oil.
Even if you don’t love cilantro, there’s a strong chance you’ll enjoy this sauce. My husband is typically in the “no cilantro” camp, but he kept going back for spoonfuls of this pesto.
I’m using the term “pesto” loosely here, since traditional basil pesto is made with basil, pine nuts and Parmesan. Instead of pine nuts, I used hemp seeds, which are high in protein and key minerals, including potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc.
When blended, the hemp seeds (also known as hemp hearts) become so nice and creamy that this sauce tastes complete without cheese. This nut-free and dairy-free pesto would be great with basil as well.
This recipe is inspired by a cilantro-hemp sauce that I enjoyed at True Foods Kitchen in Kansas City. They serve it on their “Ancient Grains Bowl,” which is topped with sweet potatoes, onions, portobello mushrooms and avocado. Naturally, this sauce goes well with all of the above, as well as almost any meal with Mexican-inspired flavors. You’ll find more ideas below!
Cilantro Pesto Serving Suggestions
This cilantro pesto tastes delicious on meals with Mexican flavors, or with just about anything that could benefit from a burst of fresh, herbal flavor. I think it would be nice on corn on the cob. It’ll bring together any basic combination of beans and whole grains (you’ll see this sauce on a burrito bowl below). Or, add a dollop to your leftover salad to wake it up.
Here are some Cookie and Kate recipes that could benefit from a spoonful of cilantro pesto:
- 10-Minute Quesadillas
- Black Bean Tacos
- Chilaquiles Rojos
- Easy Refried Beans with Cilantro-Lime Rice
- Favorite Breakfast Tacos
- Garden-Fresh Corn Salad
- Roasted Veggie Enchilada Casserole
Craving more flavorful sauces?
Here are a few of my favorites. View more sauce and dip recipes here.
- Aji Verde: Creamy, spicy Peruvian green sauce with cilantro and jalapeño.
- Basil Pesto: True Italian pesto with basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, garlic and olive oil.
- Chimichurri: Bold Argentinian parsley sauce with red onion and red wine vinegar.
- Shatta: Middle Eastern hot sauce with cilantro, parsley, walnuts and lots of jalapeños.
- Tzatziki: Greek sauce or dip with yogurt, cucumber, dill or mint.
- Zhoug: Spicy, olive oil-based, Middle Eastern cilantro sauce.
Extra hemp seeds? Make my easy vegan Parmesan cheese, or sprinkle them straight onto your salads, yogurt, breakfast toasts, etc.
Cilantro Hemp Pesto
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Total Time: 10 minutes
- Yield: ⅔ cup 1x
- Category: Sauce
- Method: Food processor
- Cuisine: Mexican
- Diet: Vegan
This cilantro pesto recipe is made with hemp seeds! It’s a fresh and healthy sauce that livens up a variety of dishes. It’s really great with Mexican flavors. Recipe yields ⅔ cup—it’s so good that you might as well double it.
- 2 cups packed cilantro leaves with tender stems (from 2 small bunches)
- ½ cup shelled hemp seeds (hemp hearts)
- Optional, for heat: 1 medium jalapeño, seeds and ribs removed, roughly chopped
- 1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, more if desired
- In a food processor, combine everything but the olive oil (the cilantro, hemp seeds, optional jalapeño, garlic and salt). Process until the ingredients are very finely chopped, pausing to scrape down the bowl if necessary.
- While running the machine, drizzle in the olive oil. Continue processing until the mixture is well combined and almost creamy in texture. I designed this sauce to be quite thick; if you’d prefer a thinner sauce, drizzle in a bit more olive oil while running the machine.
- Use immediately or store in an air-tight jar in the refrigerator for up to 5 days (I believe it would freeze well for up to 3 months, but I haven’t tried). This sauce will turn a bit darker on top during storage, but it’s perfectly edible.
Recipe inspired by the cilantro pesto at True Food Kitchen.
I hope you post that burrito bowl recipe soon! I can’t wait to try this recipe. I love love cooking with fresh herbs in the summer, when everything just seems to be more bright and flavourful. Hemp seeds are such an underrated little ingredient too – I love your nut free Parmesan with them :)
Quite the teaser right?! Don’t worry, it will be coming. :) I’m happy you are excited for it!
This looks great but my daughter has that thing where cilantro tastes like soap to her (to my dismay!). Any substitution ideas? Basil? Flat leaf parsley? Every recipe I’ve made of yours is amazing! Thank you!
Hi Mina! I think this one may surprise here. But, you could try parsley instead. That can be a good alternative. Let me know how it goes!
Since I mistakenly grabbed parsley instead of cilantro I decided to go with it and try a parsley variation of this recipe. It’s great! I can’t stop stealing tastes of it. Now I’m even more eager to try it with cilantro! Also, I made it using my immersion blender. Worked out fine.
I have to try the hemp seeds, I usually use pecans, pine nuts much to expensive. Will do it with basil as thats what I have growing. Thanks for the hemp tip.
Let me know how you like your variation, David!
Are hemp seeds the same as hemp hearts? I have hemp hearts in my cabinet now, and cilantro in the garden!
Hi Lindsey! Great question. It depends on the brand you buy what they call it. That is the same thing. I hope you love it!
Hi Kate! Thank you for what seems like another awesome recipe. I live abroad and can’t find hemp seeds here (there’s some sort of restriction on hemp and poppy seeds)…I know this would totally change the recipe but would flax seed work you think?
Hi Sana! I haven’t tried it, but you could possibly try a nut or seed like pepitas. But, the ratios and other ingredients would likely need to change. I wouldn’t know for sure without trying it.
I LOVE this dip/salad dressing/pesto/pizza sauce/eat it off a spoon recipe! I’ve made it four times already. It is incredible!
Nice blog comment thank you
Kate I was all set to make this when I realized it called for hemp seed not hemp hearts. Can I sub the hearts?
Hi Nancy! They are actually the same thing, so yes that will work.
Kate we had this for dinner tonight on corn. It was a special dinner as our grandson was in town. We had bbq Ed chicken and corn on the cob. He was pretty skeptical when he looked at it but agreed to try it. We all said “Incredible!”
Hooray! I love when that happens. Thanks for sharing, Nancy.
This was excellent. I put it on cheese tortellini. I choose to add the jalapeño and honestly, next time, I would leave some of the seeds to add more kick!!
Thanks for the inspiration! I’m having this for lunch this week. :)
Hi Kate – Do you think this would work as a pizza sauce? I wasn’t sure if it would dry out in the oven or lose nutritional value from heating the hemp seeds.
Hi! That could be interesting! I haven’t tried it, but love to hear how it would go for you. Maybe follow my pesto pizza cooking instructions as a base.
This recipe was outstanding. I made it and served it on top of black bean bowls (rice, black beans sauteed with onions, peppers, corn, etc.). Topped with diced cherry tomatoes, guacamole and this pesto. What incredible flavor. I did add citrus juice (had lemons), and I thought that this was a great addition.
I am a very good cook and your recipes are top-notch.
That sounds like a delicious combination, Kimberly! Thank you so much for sharing.
We can not stop eating this! It may be designed to go with Mexican flavors, but the first night we ate it with potato cakes and salad, and last night with rice and stir-fried bok choy. It is so delicious and creamy it enhances just about anything! I’ll bet it would make a delicious salad dressing, thinned with a little water. If you’re hesitating to make this, don’t wait another minute. Like almost every Cookie & Kate recipe I’ve made, this one excels. Thank you, Kate!
I love all your creativity! Thank you for sharing, Susan. I appreciate the rave review.
You provide the greatest and easiest vegan recipes I’ve seen online. Thanks for your easy-to-follow videos, ingenuity and fresh ideas!!
You’re welcome, Pamela! :)
OMG!!! Best condiment sauce that I have EVER tasted!!! For Cilantro aficionados, it is like heaven in your mouth!
Almost buttery! A delicious addition to the burrito bowl!
So delicious and easy. I made first time with cilantro and used some of it with zoodles. Then the rest used as dip for pita chips. Yummmm. I was craving the dip and chip today but did not have any cilantro. Since I had a lot of basil, I used that instead. Wow!! I don’t think I’ll go back to making traditional pesto since this is SO easy and so few ingredients. Whipped it up in my Vitamix since I don’t have a food processor. I have tried 5 of your recipes so far, and each one was delicious. You make magic with such simple ingredients. Everything is a keeper. So glad I found your website. Thank you Kate. You make this very so-so cook look like a pro. LOL.
An update on my earlier rave: my husband and I just polished off our THIRD double batch of cilantro hemp pesto. We put it on and in just about everything, including omelets and grilled cheese sandwiches. A big spoonful goes into dressings for cole slaw and potato salad and it’s the bowl my husband reaches for when he’s looking for dip for chips. MAKE THIS. You will be glad you did.
I made the Cilantro/Hemp/Garlic sauce to add to Spicy-Bean Tacos….SO delish, now I don’t think I’ll ever be without this sauce!!!
This sauce is a cilantro and hemp seed lovers dream!!! I’m licking the spoon like it’s cookie dough….I can’t wait to have it tonight on my stuffed peppers! Thank you!!
Loved this so much! I’ve never used hemp seeds/hearts before, so it was really fun to try something new. Lovely thick creamy texture. I made your vegetarian stuffed peppers recipe and it was delicious as a dressing. Thanks!
I’m excited you loved it, Meg! I appreciate your review.
Made this today to go with your burrito bowls. It was a little too salty, so I added the juice of add of a lime and that seemed to do the trick! Looking forward to trying everything together!
I am looking at the rec. notes for a less cilantro taste and all I see is your inspiration for the rec. I am not a fan of cilantro either…I really would like to try this. I am thinking of doing a split of parsley and cilantro…?
Hi! Yes, that could work. Let me know what you think!
Delicious! It almost surpasses (your) zhoug, to my opinion!
I’m happy you love both of these recipes, Nathalie!
my husband was hesitant but he ended really like the black bean bowl made with this pesto
That’s great! Thank you for letting me know you both enjoyed it, Cathy.
Very very good, but for me it needed something acidic…so i added lime juice and apple cider vinegar. LOVE your recipes Kate! Keep them coming :)
Than you, Tracey!
didnt have a jalapeno, but added a lime and dash of crushed red pepper, and that did the trick.
just had the blackbean bowl with the onions and that cilantro sauce this was spectacular. Do you have a special olive oil brand?
Hi Maria, I enjoyed Whole Foods 365 organic and California Olive Ranch.
I’ve been making this at the rate of a big batch a month for almost two years now and it has become my prize recipe. I shared some with a friend and now every time I make it, I have to share with her or I hear about it! We have dubbed it *cilesto* and it goes on just about everything we like to eat. Grilled cheese sammies? Yes. Omelets? Yes. Tacos, burritos, anything Mexican-ish? Yes. A spoonful on stir fry veggies? Yes. I even put some on a peanut butter sandwich and it was amazing. Thanks, Kate. Your great recipe has given me a topnotch reputation as a good cook. The secret is the *cilesto*!
I love that you enjoy this with so many dishes! I appreciate your comment and review.
It was amazing how the normally very strong Cilantro flavor was not noticeable in this recipe. I had never heard of Hemp seeds before and now have a bag of it to use up. I will be making this once a week because it’s very good, even on crunchy baguette chips.
Thank you for your review, Shelley. I’m delighted you enjoyed it.
I put this on my toasted tuna sandwich. Delicious! What a great nutritious addition to anything.
Hi! I can’t have oil, is there a good substitute to replace it? Should I add additional hemp or another type of nut? Or a roasted vegetable? I’m dying to eat something with flavor like cilantro but haven’t been able to find a good recipe sans oil! Would love any ideas! Thanks for all your healthy recipes they are a go to for me!
Hi Fleur, can you have another oil? You can omit but it’s not going to be quite the same.
This is genius and amazing. I never thought to use hemp seed. It is packed with nutritional value and it’s so easy to make. Thank you for the recipe and the black bean bowl recipe. My non vegan kids are becoming more plant based and never miss the dairy or meat anymore.
You’re welcome, Shirley! I’m delighted you enjoyed it.
Your blog is impressive, thanks to the quality of your recipes & other content.