I’ve been on a bit of a Southwestern kick lately. Over the last year, I’ve made more and more dishes that involve the classic combination of cilantro, lime, corn, tomatoes, and beans. Part of it has to do with the fact that so many of the things you can make with a Southwestern bent are actually super healthy. Whole wheat quesadillas filled with cumin-scented black beans, onions, and cheese; stuffed peppers with corn and avocado, cheesy enchiladas with beans and tomatoes. These are all things that I’ve been making over and over again throughout the spring and into the summer. Even though it’s been crazy hot out lately, I managed to crank up my oven to 400-degrees for the sake of those enchiladas.
Part of the equation is that all of these dishes can be made with a few staple ingredients, cycling through the different recipes so you’re eating a different meal with slightly different flavors every night, yet nothing goes to waste because it’s languishing, unused, in your fridge.
This recipe came together at the end of one of those cycles; reaching the end of my limits in terms of eating Southwestern fare, I wanted some pasta. This pesto is made from the remains of a leafy bundle of cilantro, lime juice, and peanuts. It feels like a cross between Tex-Mex, Asian, and American cuisine. The pasta and presentation feel familiar, while the flavor of cilantro is new and distinct in a pesto. The crushed peanuts sprinkled throughout give the dish a nice crunchy textural contrast, and it mirrors the effect of peanuts in pad thai. And it is, I think, a keeper. Is this not the best of all possible worlds?
Even though it seems everyone is whipping up some new, trendy version of a traditional pesto, I think this one is worth paying attention to. It can certainly be halved if you don’t have a lot of cilantro on hand, but it’s also worth picking some up just to make this. It comes together quickly and easily, and it’s filling but not heavy.
Spaghetti with Cilantro-peanut Pesto
Ever so slightly adapted from Everyday Food
1 pound spaghetti or other pasta
2 heaping cups loosely packed cilantro leaves
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
3 Tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil
Juice and zest of 1 lime (about 2 Tablespoons)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup unsalted peanuts
1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to boil. When it reaches a roiling boil, add the pasta and until done, about 8 minutes (or according to package instructions). Before draining, reserve about 1 cup of the salted pasta water and set aside. Drain and return to the pot.
2. Meanwhile, combine all the other ingredients in a food processor and blend into a paste. Add to the noodles after they’ve been cooked and drained. Stir to coat thoroughly. Add some of the reserved cooking water from the pasta to thin the sauce if it is too thick. Garnish with roughly chopped peanuts and cilantro leaves and serve.