Yesterday I was fortunate enough to find fresh basil at a local gardeners market for a great price. I bought lots so that I could make basil pesto, for the first time ever. It was so easy and it turned out pretty well.
Fresh herbs are always magical to work with, but here's what's special about basil. A study done in Russia a few decades ago showed that basil alleviates depression. They put a basil plant on the nightstand of people who had been diagnosed with depression and that was enough to alleviate it. I remember reading about that as a teenager. I think it was my first exposure to the concept of aromatherapy. Since then I can't smell fresh basil without being reminded of that study, and noticing how happy I feel.
Making your own basil pesto has the double advantage of that beautiful ‘happy' aroma and lots of tasty, creamy basil pesto as a result.
2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup raw cashews, soaked for several hours
1-2 large cloves fresh garlic
1 handful of fresh watercress or parsley
juice of one lemon
dash of Himalayan sea salt
Soak the cashews (from several hours to overnight). Drain, discard the soak water and rinse. Rinse the basil and watercress/parsley. Toss all ingredients into a high-powered blender or food processor. If your blender is on the whimpy side, roughly chop the parsley/watercress and basil leaves to make it easier.
Blend to a thick paste, stopping occasionally to scrape the sides of the blender, so it all gets evenly blended.
Cover tightly and store in the fridge. I'm not sure how long it will last since this is the first time I'm made it. But I imagine it will keep refrigerated for several days if not weeks. For longer term storage it can be frozen. Just pour it into an ice cube tray and pop it in the freezer. This makes it easy to take out whatever amount you need, without thawing the whole lot.
Healthy Food Notes
Many pesto recipes call for pine nuts. You certainly could substitute them for the cashews in this recipe. But there are several reasons I use cashews instead. Most importantly, almost all pine nuts you buy in stores are rancid. Pine nuts are quite fragile, and full of oil which goes rancid quickly. Rancid oils are not healthy, in fact they are a burden on the liver. Cashews are also much cheaper and usually easier to find. And they still taste great.
Makes about a cup.