My Two Cents: A Great Pesto

Cilantro Flat leaf parsley Curly parsley

My Two Cents is a weekly opinion column from Bethesda resident Joseph Hawkins. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

When cooking, I frequently use parsley (also known as curly parsley), flat leaf parsley (also known as Italian parsley), and cilantro (also known as Chinese parsley).

My favorite trick is to combined all three herbs into a pesto, which I’ve used to flavor fish (it does a wonderful job as a fish marinate) and meat (it goes great as a steak condiment) or simply to mix the pesto in with cooked pasta.

Joseph HawkinsBecause I know these herbs, I have no trouble picking them out. Most Bethesda grocery stores do a wonderful job of labeling them anyway. I’m asked periodically by shoppers to help them figure out which herb is which.

Of the three herbs, cilantro is the easiest to identify, mostly because of its strong smell. I’m not in total agreement that it smells like soap, but it comes close.

If you’re shopping for cilantro and still in doubt about what you’re putting in the grocery basket, pinch a few leaves from the bunch, break the leaves open between your fingers (a gentle rub should do it), and smell your fingers. You definitely will get back a strong onion-like odor.

For me, both curly and Italian parsleys smell somewhat grassy — although, a rub of either between the fingers can result in no noticeable odor at all. So picking out either of these in the store probably comes down to sight over smell.

After the jump is my pesto recipe. I make the pesto in a blender; however, a food processor also works.

Step 1: Wash, dry, and chop 1 bunch of curly parsley, 1 bunch of flat leaf parsley, and 1 bunch of cilantro. Set aside in a large mixing bowl.  (Note: Should you use the stems?  I usually use the stems, but if the stems are super dirty or full of grit, I will discard them.)

Step 2: Put the following ingredients into your blender and mix thoroughly:

  • 1 1/2 cups of olive oil
  • 1/2 of lemon juice
  • 4 ounces of grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup of toasted pine nuts. This is easy: Place in a skillet with a little olive oil on 5 minutes on high heat.
  • 1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 3 chopped garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • ½ teaspoons of hot red pepper flakes

Step 3: Begin putting handfuls of the parsley and cilantro into the blender and blending it with the liquid. Continue blending until everything is a nice smooth liquid. The liquid should be on the thick side. (Note: If you find that the pesto paste is too thick, simply pour in more olive oil.)

Step 4: Taste your pesto.  If you think the pesto needs more salt, add more and blend a few more seconds.

Step 5: Pour into a container and refrigerate until you are ready to use. The pesto can hang out in your fridge for several weeks.


Joseph Hawkins is a longtime Bethesda resident who remembers when there was no Capital Crescent Trail. He works full-time for an employee-owned social science research firm located Montgomery County. He is a D.C. native and for nearly 10 years, he wrote a regular column for the Montgomery Journal. He also has essays and editorials published in Education Week, the Washington Post, and Teaching Tolerance Magazine. He is a serious live music fan and is committed to checking out some live act at least once a month.

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