Toasted Coconut-Sesame Cilantro Pesto

February 6, 2014

Author Notes:

Late last summer we bought a house (yay!) in the country (yay!), adding about 20 minutes to our previous 20 minute commute (cue the violins). In October I also returned to work full-time. With two active children, ages 6 and 8, suddenly I found myself in survival mode when it came time to cooking. It killed me. As we struggled to adjust, getting home late to start dinner, late to eat dinner, falling asleep at the table (or sometimes in the car on the way home – the kids, not me), I became frustrated and quite honestly, depressed. My main outlet-hobby-favorite-pastime became a difficult, awkward dance. To all working parents out there who also enjoy cooking weeknight meals every night of the week – I tip my hat to you! It’s not easy. With the New Year, I came up with a weekly routine that really eased the pressure. By assigning each night of the week a different theme, I had an orderly crutch to help plan, but also had the freedom to be creative and change things up week to week. In January for example, Monday was pesto night, Tuesday was chili night, Wednesday was taco night, Thursday was soup night, Friday was nacho night and Saturday (my favorite) was things you flip night. One Monday in January it occurred to me that coconut and sesame, while not technically nuts, would make a lovely pesto. Especially when toasted.


Serves: 4


  • 3 green onions, washed, ends trimmed, cut into 2-inch lengths (white and green parts)
  • 1 large garlic clove, peeled and halved
  • 1 bunch cilantro (from 6-7 root bunches), washed and dried, root end trimmed, cut into 2-inch lengths (stem to leaf)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened dried and shredded coconut
  • 2 tablespoons roasted sesame seeds
  • 1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon good quality fish sauce, like 3 Crabs or Red Boat
  • 3-4 tablespoons canola oil
In This Recipe


  1. Heat a small dry skillet over medium heat. Add dried coconut and sesame seeds and toast, shaking occasionally, until fragrant and beginning to color.
  2. Add green onions, garlic, cilantro, toasted coconut, sesame, 1 1/2 T lime juice and fish sauce to the bowl of a food processor. With machine running, slowly begin to drizzle in 1/2 of oil. Stop machine and use a spatula to scrape down sides. Continue to pulse until mixture is combined. Taste for acid and depending on consistency determine if you need more oil. Add as desired.
  3. Use as desired. Enjoy!
  4. I’ve enjoyed this pesto over rice noodles with tofu, sautéed until crisp, as well as with wild salmon (quickly marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar) and crispy shallots. This amount of pesto is enough for 8 ounces of 3 mm Banh Pho rice sticks or 12 ounces of regular pasta.

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