Kale Almond Pesto: An Easy and Cheaper Alternative to the Original

photo of Kale

The way I see it, kale is kind of like the book or blogger or skinny jeans you discovered back before everyone said it was cool. You genuinely liked it. You saw it for what it was. But now, set amongst the hipsters of East Nashville, you look like you’re only wearing them because the guy sitting next to you is.

photo of kale ends

It doesn’t matter if in addictive chips or green smoothies or salads massaged with oil, kale is cool. It’s giant sunglasses and “The Bachelor” and rehabbing your kitchen to look like a magazine. It’s Pinterest. And if you’re a person like me, someone who’s used to rooting for the underdog or talking about something obscure and not-noticed (kind of like you yourself can tend to be), it feels a little strange to get excited about something that’s gotten so big, as if you’re cheering for a team as they win the Superbowl or promoting a movie when it’s already won Best Picture. It feels like by pushing this product, this ingredient, you’re trying to ride on its coattails, like you’re trying to be cool, too.

photo of fresh kale

Here in Nashville, there’s this beautiful brunch spot I love, one with farmhouse tables and tall windows and mason jars and local foods, the cafe that holds the distinction of being the first place I ever ate at in this city, back when Becky and I met up with my friend Jarrelle in January of 2010, the day before I would meet Tim, the man I’d call husband less than two years later. Today, you go there on a Sunday morning and you’re looking at a two-hour wait for breakfast. Two hours.

That’s too popular, I told my friend Carrie. I think I’m done.

chopped kale

You could argue, successfully I think, that when something gains that much notoriety, when it’s that acclaimed, that beloved, it doesn’t matter much if I, one person, stop liking or reading or following it anymore. That comforts me. So sometimes, even knowing how much I like those artisan breads or thoughtful posts, I stop going back to that restaurant or that blog, and I know nobody’s too hurt in the process.

But other times, there’s kale.

photo of kale pesto in food processor

What could I really tell you about kale that you don’t already know? Half of you probably have it in your fridge right now. You’ve eaten it, you’ve juiced it, you’ve added it to smoothies. Kale is commonplace. It’s mainstream. I know. It’s true that kale is one of the most nutrient dense vegetables out there, but you’ve heard that already—probably even seen it on charts in the produce section of your local Whole Foods, if you have one nearby.

kale almond pesto

So I’m not going to tell you that there’s anything shocking or surprising about the following revelation; I’m just going to give it to you anyway, partly because it was something I didn’t know, partly because it was the best thing I ate all month:

Kale makes a killer pesto.

kale pesto toasts

Inspired by the haul at our first Delvin Farms CSA pickup, where our bushel box held two kinds of kale, collard greens, lettuce, green onions, garlic, yellow squash, sweet potatoes and strawberries (!), and which coincidentally arrived the day before we left for Florida, meaning we were hunting ways to make things last, Tim suggested pesto.

Combining kale with toasted almonds and Pecorino and olive oil was pretty elementary, and maybe it’s something you’ve already done before, but to us, slathered on toast and topped with sauteed tomatoes, it was enough to widen our eyes and have us slapping the table, looking for any and everything else we could spread it on.

It was also enough to remind me that sometimes when you like something enough, it doesn’t matter how many other people already do, too. What matters is it’s good.

Kale Almond Pesto

For another way to use the pesto: try it on pizza. We grilled one Sunday night, topped with pesto, sliced tomatoes and mozzarella, nothing else, and I’m telling you it tasted as good as any pizza I’ve ever had.


  • 1/2 cup raw almonds, lightly toasted
  • 1 large garlic clove, smashed
  • 3 cups chopped kale (or, a big handful of leaves, torn roughly)
  • 1/4 cup grated Pecorino cheese
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil

hefty shakes of salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste


  1. In a food processor, pulse smashed garlic clove until chopped finely (about less than a minute). Add kale, toasted almonds and Pecorino cheese until combined, stopping to push down the kale on the sides a couple times.
  2. With the food processor running on low, add olive oil in a steady stream until you get the consistency you want. I went with about a full cup of olive oil.
  3. Add salt and pepper; taste; adjust as you like.

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About Shanna Mallon

Shanna holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her mantra? Restoring order and celebrating beauty through creative content, photography, and food. Shanna's work has been featured in Bon Appetit, The Kitchn, MSN.com, Everyday Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Houzz.com, Food News Journal, Food52, Zeit Magazine, Chew the World, Mom.me, Babble, Delish.com, Parade, Foodista, Entrepreneur and Ragan PR.

22 thoughts on “Kale Almond Pesto: An Easy and Cheaper Alternative to the Original

  1. You articulated this dilemma perfectly! I have felt this as well — wanting so much to go against the grain that I’m tempted to abandon something I love just because it seems everyone else suddenly loves it too. But you are right: sometimes you must keep loving the popular thing because it is good, and THAT is the point. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. hooray for Kale! i will admit to being a relatively recent convert to the veg, when the craze of kale chips came along. i wish i can cite the reason that it’s not in everyday viet food but it’s really because the previous preparations were not great.

    dw can consume dairy so the next time we have kale in the kitchen, we’ll have two batches of pesto – one with and the other without 🙂

    • I would love to know what it was exactly that pumped up kale for people and moved it to such popularity. Was it kale chips? Something else? Whatever the case, glad we have it to enjoy, all of us, now! : )

  3. What a fantastic post! Pesto is one of those classics that’s fun to play with – a different green or nut, a new cheese. I recently made one with a mix of raw asparagus, basil, pecorino, almonds and a big kick of lemon. But I haven’t tried kale, and now I will. The bruschetta you’ve pictured at the end looks so inviting. Thank you.

    • I love the way you describe pesto. You’re right: there are probably all kinds of different ways to mix it up! Your asparagus version sounds interesting–thanks for the tip!

  4. So, I got on your blog to get your cauliflower pizza crust recipe because I was planning on making a pizza with… kale pesto. How perfect!

    • Love it–cauliflower pizza is a great way to put that food processor to good use! : ) Hope you guys liked it!

  5. Oh man, we LOOOOVE kale around here. Thanks for the recipe – it looks easy enough, and omg so good! I think I shall do this the very next time we have kale…and hopefully soon that will be kale from our garden!

  6. this was fantastic! just made it tonight in a big batch, and ill freeze leftovers in ice cube trays. i gave it to the kiddos (2 and 4 years old) on some noodles, and im having it myself later on some ground lamb over thai rice noodles. thanks so much! i love kale but i end up drowning in it and needing more and more ideas for how to process it all.

    • Love hearing that, Amanda! Thanks for coming back and saying what you thought! PS we had it for dinner again tonight. SO good!

  7. Your kale photos are absolutely gorgeous!! WOW!!! My mouth is watering just looking at them… especially since kale does not exist in Paris! I can’t wait to try this recipe when kale finally gets to Paris!

    Best, Kristen

  8. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this! I made arugula pesto the other week. I’ll have to make this when I get my next CSA box.

  9. Just made two batches. I’m going to try it with arugula next. Sure wish you lived closer as I have more kale and arugula in my garden than you could imagine! Thanks for the post!

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