If you’re out of basil, you can still make pesto. Some of the substitutions for basil (although traditional Italian cooks may gasp) include cilantro, parsley and even kale. While you’re at it, walnuts are just as delicious as those expensive pine nuts when making pesto. Read on to learn how to substitute basil in pesto.

Things You'll Need

Use fresh parsley. Measure the same amount of parsley as the basil that is called for in the recipe when adding to your blender or food processor. Of course, this will create a different taste but is delicious on pasta or roasted potatoes, and even as a topping for steak, chicken or tofu.

Try substituting fresh cilantro for the basil, again in the same amount as specified for the basil. This “Chinese parsley” used widely in Chinese and Mexican fare has its own distinctive and wonderful taste, great on pasta, potatoes or meats. If you have the extra cilantro to use, count yourself lucky.

For greens eaters, dig up some kale to replace the basil for a contemporary spin. This newfangled recipe uses coarsely chopped kale cooked in salted water for 10 minutes.

Try one of the many asparagus versions of pesto, especially in the spring. Using one bunch asparagus, rinse, trim ends, then snap into two-inch pieces. Cook in boiling water or steam for four to five minutes, until barely tender. Add to blender instead of basil, or with a smaller amount of basil, such as 1/4 cup. Another alternative is to replace the basil with both asparagus and two handfuls of rinsed baby spinach. The asparagus pesto is best blended with added lemon juice, ideally fresh squeezed from half a lemon. Otherwise, try 3 tbsp. lemon juice from whatever source you have.


  • Don’t forget that pesto of any kind is always a great topping for pizza.