There are times when I have made exceptionally good food by simply clearing out the fridge, using what I know will work but what I know isn't textbook stuff (or cookbook stuff). Some of the greatest meals I have had are down to impulsive improvisation, and involve me throwing unlikely ingredients together and hoping for the best. Really, thing's can't go that wrong. If you're baking or attempting a recipe with a little science involved, then maybe. But with things like dips, sauces, spreads, goodness bowls and quick and easy lunches or dinners, there really are no major rules, and no major risks when it comes to making things up with whatever you have to hand.
A few secrets to successful recipeless improvisation:
Mindfully stocked cupboards and fridges
Welcome to my first example
We have blenders to thank not only for smoothies and soups, but more recently dips, spreads and nutty goodness. You know how nowadays, we're all like "there's an App for that". Well, when it comes to the kitchen, it's more like "there's a way to blend that". I'll admit to getting carried away and sometimes ruining a perfectly acceptable solid/3D meal, but most of the time, if I enjoy a food enough, I will use it in any way that I can, and that definitely means I will somehow make it into either a dip (like pesto or houmous), a soup, a dressing, a sauce, a drink or a pudding. You just gotta know your ingredients, know what to add what not to add, and I guess have a lot of trust in your blender.
Pesto brings back certain memories for me. It never played a huge part in my childhood - always seemed very Mediterranean in comparison to our crustless, white breaded ham and cream cheese sandwiches (which our dad used to cut into heart shapes for us much to our junior-self's embarrassment). However, when I met Lamont, one of my best friends from secondary school (who was later nicknamed Sacla' - read on to find out more), things in packed lunch and after school snack land changed drastically for me. Her parents owned a deli in town named Goodies (what a great name?). After school we would stop by the deli, ravenous and ignorant to the fact that the store was only about 1/2 a meter wide and full of dignified customers waiting patiently. We'd bustle into the deli, hang our by the cured ham and take in the smell of real proper olive oil and antipasti essentials whilst Martha (or Sacla' if thats easier for you to keep up with) found out from her mum if there was anything going spare. Pesto was always involved in this excursion, not to mention in every single sandwich or homemade quiche that my culinarily developed friend ever brought to school with her. And so developed the nickname. She was branded Sacla' by a bunch of boys in our friendship group (who clearly just did not understand pesto like she or we did).
Although I think she has since reduced her intake of pesto (probably ever so slightly), every time I hear the word or slide a dollop of it onto my place, I will think of her, and all the good times at Goodies.
Anyway. The real point of this post: blenders are great, and pesto is delicious. But one thing pesto isn't is difficult. Nor does it have to be unhealthy. There will be no parmesan cheese (unless you want there to be), and more goodness in the form of dark green vegetables and healthily fatty nuts and seeds than any other pesto you have had before. Dips and spreads are hands down the easiest, most flavoursome and most crowd-pleasing way to make anyone in the world eat some form of vegetables (in most cases, without them even knowing it).
There is no real recipe here - just a few helpful guidelines on how to make the perfect pesto without fail every single time. Hurried, indecisive lunch time after hurried, indecisive lunch time I'd find myself making pesto in answer to all of my hungry confusion, usually using whatever i could find in the kitchen. The fridge and the cupboards between them usually permitted great things to happen and no matter what I used, it always tasted pestoey, and always tasted goooooood. Whether I made it with spinach, kale or watercress, and whether I used brazil nuts, cashews or sunflower seeds, I was always left with a winning combination. But writing out pretty much the same method and on very slightly different recipe for each one seemed pointless. So, instead, I've outlined the foundations of a successful pesto below, along with my favourite combinations and flavour suggestions. There is no need for you to write down what you use just so you'll remember for next time. You should make it differently each time. It will always work, it will always taste good, it will always be nutritious, and it will just keep exciting you. Off you go now.
+ And be sure to make far too much than you need, because you can store it in the fridge to use for breakfasts, lunches, snacks and dinners for up to 2 weeks, and too much pesto in this place is not a depressing matter.
T H E F O U N D A T I O N S O F A G O O D P E S T O
(for one pretty large portion)
1 Handful Nuts or Seeds
1 Large Handful Basil Leaves
2-3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Large Handful Green Leaves
Generous Pinch of Himalayan Pink Salt or a Splash of Tamari
1/2 Teaspoon Lemon or Lime Juice
Nutritional Yeast, optional
1/2 - 1 Clove Garlic
+ If the mixture seems to thin / runny, add a few more nuts or seeds.
+ If the mixture is too thick / chunky, add more oil, or a little boiling water (cold water will not combine with the oil and the consistency will be ruined
+ If the mixture is too bland for your personal taste, add more salt, garlic, lemon juice or nutritional yeast (can also use cheese if you are not dairy intolerant / vegan
T H E N U T S & T H E S E E D S
. Sunflower Seeds
. Brazil Nuts
. Pumpkin Seeds
. Pine Nuts
. Chia Seeds
. Hemp Seeds
M Y F A V O U R I T E C O M B I N A T I O N S
. Spinach and Sunflower Seed
. Brazil Nut and Cavelo Nero
. Cauliflower Leaves and Almond
. Watercress and Brazil Nut (I love Watercress as they support local farmers and their products are 100% organic)
. Kale, Pumpkin Seed and Cashew
. Basil, Sunflower Seed and Walnut
. Broccoli and Mixed Nut
. Basil, Pistachio and Parsley
. Roasted Red Pepper and Basil
. Sun Dried Tomato, Cashew and Basil
. Avocado Pesto Cream (just add 1/4-1/2 Avocado to your usual pesto recipe, and maybe a little more oil)
. Rosemary, Basil, Watercress and Sunflower
. Walnut, Spinach, Basil, Avocado and Tahini Creamy Pesto
. Sunflower, Pumpkin, Ground Flax, Watercress and Spirulina Basil Pesto