Mint Pesto

Mint pesto recipe

Holidays always feel like a sprint to me. Perhaps because I spent a lot of time working in restaurant kitchens, holidays don’t feel so much as celebratory, as they do an extra dose of work. I’m used to it and know that the key is advanced planning. I don’t cook much in advance, nor do I freeze things (except ice cream), but I make sure I’ve done all the shopping and preparation of any components as far ahead as possible, without flipping myself out too much.

Mint pesto recipe

In Paris, that means making sure you have shallots to make mignonette sauce for oysters and a few days before, have a leg of lamb resting in the refrigerator studded with garlic and perhaps rosemary or thyme, waiting to be roasted off. But it also means fielding desperate S.O.S. messages from friends and visitors to Paris, trying to find a restaurant that’s open.

Just a note for the future, that if you’re looking to come to Paris to try a variety of the newest, or best, restaurants in the city, don’t come the week of Christmas. Nearly all of them are closed. I try to recommend to people to instead, take a stroll around, stopping into a café that looks decent, and having a modest, relaxed meal, with a carafe of wine, and enjoy the downtime without the stress of making sure every meal is a home run. (And that’s coming from someone who works himself into a tizzy making sure that each meal I have while traveling is the best I can find.)

Mint pesto recipe

But with age brings wisdom, and many of the things that used to stress me out I try to let go of. (The keyword there is “try.”) Still, no matter how well-planned the week before any holiday may have been, the day of the big meal is always a bit of a panic, no matter how many easy-entertaining books tell you to relax and enjoy the days with friends and family. For me, it’s not a holiday unless I wake up at 6am and already feel like I have too much on my plate, even though dinner is fourteen hours away.

Mint pesto recipe

One good thing about long-cooked meats, like a roasted turkey or leg of lamb, is that you just toss it in the oven and let the oven do its thing on the main course while you prepare other things. And most roast meats need nothing more than a sprinkle of salt and pepper, sauce optional, although the French often serve Dijon mustard with lamb and other roast meats, while one can also make a sauce from pan drippings. But I was fortunate I opted for this because there was no liquid left in my pan and I was thrilled to have the foresight to make jar of mint pesto.

In spite of the seemingly near-universal restaurant shut-down during Christmas week in Paris, the outdoor markets are open, although mine only had about one-quarter of the usual merchants. Still, I was able to find two very generous bunches of fresh mint for a whopping 80 centimes. Sold, and sold.

Mint pesto recipe

This fresh mint pesto was the perfect accompaniment to the lamb. Unlike the quivering lurid green jellies you (and I) have seen in days of yore alongside lamb, this one is naturally colored, and naturally delicious. While this was great with the garlic studded lamb that I slathered with Dijon mustard, then packed on a crust of breadcrumbs whirled up with some fresh thyme and more garlic before I roasted it off, a vegetarian guest enjoyed a big helping of it with the roasted root vegetables that I also got at the market. Speaking of do-ahead, the other good news is that since I’d made a double batch (making twice the recipe, below), I plan to put the leftover pesto to good use on pasta. But you might find it so good that you won’t have any leftovers, no matter how much you make.

Mint pesto recipe


Mint Pesto
Makes about 1 cup (240g)

Recipe adapted from The Kitchn

This easy pesto can be made in a mortar and pestle* or machine. To blanch the almonds, drop them in a small pot of boiling water. After one minute, drain them in a small sieve and run cool water over them. The skins should slip right off with your fingers.

For a more luxurious version, you can substitute shelled unsalted pistachios for some, or all, of the almonds. For a more pistachio-based, garlic forward sauce, you could check out the Pistachio aillade.

While I served this with lamb, you can use it like basil pesto to dress pasta. A dollop would be great served with pork and beans as a condiment, or you could add a spoonful to disperse in a bowl of warm bean and vegetable soup. It’s also nice with roasted root vegetables or if your tastes run toward an exotic tagine, I can’t imagine it not being perfect with that, too.

  • 4 cups (40g) lightly packed mint leaves, rinsed and spun dry
  • 1/3 cup (40g) almonds, blanched - see headnote
  • 2 medium cloves garlic peeled and minced
  • grated zest of one lemon
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) olive oil, plus more if necessary

1. If using a food processor or blender, grind the mint leaves, almonds, garlic and lemon zest together until finely chopped. (You’ll need to stop the machine a few times to scrape down the sides of the bowl or blender.) Season with salt and pepper, then slowly add the olive oil while the machine is running until the mint is a loose paste.

2. To make in a mortar and pestle, coarsely chop the mint leaves and almonds. Put the almonds, garlic, and lemon zest in the mortar and pound until smooth. Start adding the mint, pounding to incorporate the leaves and create a paste. Keep adding the mint, then add the salt and pepper, then drizzle in the olive oil, using the pestle to pound it in until smooth.

3. Whether you’ve used a food processor or mortar and pestle, if necessary, add additional olive oil to get it to a loose consistency.

4. Taste, and season with more salt and pepper.

Storage: The mint pesto can be made a day or two ahead, and refrigerated, but will lose some of its nice green color the longer it sits. It will also need more oil to loosen it up after it’s been refrigerated. The pesto can also be frozen for up to two months.

*Yup, that’s me in the New York Times trumping the merits of a mortar and pestle. But with such a huge bounty of mint, and a shortage of time (and one of my knees still out of commission, in a splint), I opted for the plugged-in version. But you can make it either way.

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  • December 26, 2015 3:02pm

    But which mortar/pestle is best for the home cook? Specific recommendation, please-and-thank-you.

  • December 26, 2015 3:09pm

    Sounds like a lovely holiday dinner. Nice to know even the pros feel the pressure the day of a big meal. I hope you were able to relax once you sat down at the table, and I hope someone else did the dishes. Mint grows like a weed in my backyard, so this recipe will be put to good use soon.

  • Meg
    December 26, 2015 3:15pm

    I’ve got lots of mint in my garden so I’ve got to try this. And it would be a a fun gift to give to friends for the holidays. Thanks David, and happy birthday!

  • Regina
    December 26, 2015 4:49pm

    Happy Holidays Daveed! Made your Pecan Pie with Bourbon & Ginger for Christmas dessert. Big hit! Thanks for all of your great recipes that I have made and called my own over the years. Not really, I always give credit where it is due. Must give you a warm, fuzzy feeling to know how often your name is mentioned at dinner tables around the world over the holidays. XXOO, Regina

  • Anne
    December 26, 2015 5:54pm

    Dear David,
    Christmas dinner dessert: caramelized pineapple with hot pepper jelly, served warm with vanilla ice cream. Had made it previously with bitter orange marmelade. Hot pepper jelly is a brilliant medium. Gave you and Dorie total credit as the guests clamored for more.
    Thanks so much for helping me be a better home cook.

  • December 26, 2015 6:17pm

    I think mint is the most underused herbs around. Try dressing some roasted red peppers with this pesto. Serve with some crusty bread and fresh ricotta. Red peppers will never be the same!

  • Richard
    December 26, 2015 7:19pm

    I thought that mint would make a good pesto. Thanks for telling me how to do it.

  • December 26, 2015 7:19pm

    Merry Christmas David. I enjoy stopping by here and reading your wonderful stories of life in Paris.

  • December 26, 2015 7:22pm

    It’s tricky to travel to Paris either during christmas or the summer vacations as we found this past august. We still found some good places as you said by just strolling through the city. As you mentioned, it’s a great luck to have the markets year round (!) wish we had that here. Hope your knee gets better pronto. Warm holiday cheers from snowy Colorado.

  • berit
    December 26, 2015 7:42pm

    MINT Pesto immediately reminds me of Astérix chez les Bretons :D

  • Angharad
    December 26, 2015 8:01pm

    Love your site, love your writing. Joyeux Noel, Bonne Annee , Bonne Sante du Canada

  • Rita
    December 26, 2015 8:55pm

    Hi David! Your blog makes me very happy. Thanks for sharing so much of your expertise and for wonderfully articulating the “je ne sais quoi” of cooking. I love your approach and outlook. A practical question – what is the approximate size of the mortar bowl you use, and do you have trouble with spices flying out as you crush? Thanks and all the best!

  • Audrey
    December 27, 2015 1:14am

    Quote of the year:
    “For me, it’s not a holiday unless I wake up at 6am and already feel like I have too much on my plate, even though dinner is fourteen hours away.”

  • Gavrielle
    December 27, 2015 5:23am

    Lamb is unsurprisingly a popular dish in New Zealand, but I know not of this lurid mint jelly you speak of. The traditional accompaniment here is mint sauce. However, since I love pesto and I love mint, mint pesto sounds like da absolute bomb.

  • Elle
    December 27, 2015 3:09pm

    David, can the garlic be omitted or subbed for? I will be having a dinner guest who is allergic to garlic and the onion family. Any suggestions?
    Thank you and a happy Parisian new year.

    • December 28, 2015 10:14am
      David Lebovitz

      You could leave it out. I don’t know a substitute for garlic but you could perhaps up the lemon and maybe add more zest, or a bit of juice.

  • Sharifa
    December 27, 2015 7:20pm

    I just received your book, “My Paris Kitchen” as an early birthday gift from my daughter! (She lived in Paris for 5 years.) I’m reading it like a novel and yes, I did skip to the end because I love desserts! Thank you for writing this lovely book. Happy New Year!

  • Kay
    December 27, 2015 9:51pm

    In 2003 we were in Tours for Christmas. We had planned to cook Christmas Eve but time got away from us, so at 8 p.m. we ventured out to search for a restaurant. Crazy, right? The three or so open restaurants we saw during our hour long walk were packed. We finally came upon a Lebanese restaurant, also packed, but they let us have a table in the back where the wait staff hung out. Our meal was fabulous, and the evening was the most memorable Christmas Eve of my life.

  • Lynne cloutier
    December 27, 2015 11:52pm

    If you have one mortar how can you use it for both savory ( garlic,etc) and then use it for ingredients for sweet recipes as described in NYT article. Thanks Lynne

    • December 28, 2015 10:15am
      David Lebovitz

      Granite is one of nature’s toughest materials and I wash my mortar and pestle with soap and water. If it has odors that I want to get rid of, a rinse with white vinegar or a very light bleach solution swirled and quickly rinsed out removes lingering odors.

  • December 28, 2015 9:01pm

    An interesting take on the mint sauce that we Britons traditionally eat with lamb (although redcurrant jelly runs it a close second). Thank you.

    I often think that wandering around and landing in the first half-decent café that you see may well get you a better meal than an expensive “Réveillon” in a big-name place!

  • December 29, 2015 10:13pm

    It sounds like this is the perfect thing to do with the bounty of mint you scored at the market. I love to have slightly offbeat pestos stored in my fridge/freezer, and I love the idea of adding this in my rotation.

  • Angel
    December 30, 2015 12:31am

    What kind of mint is commonly used? I grew peppermint and sweet mint this year, but didn’t really like them so much.

  • Charlotte
    December 30, 2015 12:52am

    Thank you so much David! I decided to go for the aillade instead – wanted to make a pesto with all my Christmas pistachios but didn’t have mint on hand- next time ! The aillade is the JAM! Used cassis in place of kirsch- and a few kale leaves for xtra Green – next year I will gift this for Christmas! So delicious! Might even use it as a base for pizza tomorrow! Merci and Bonne Année!

  • Charlotte
    December 30, 2015 1:42am

    Had the aillade w/ salmon and haricot vert- it was magical!

  • December 30, 2015 2:56pm

    We had cinnamon braised lamb shanks at my house for Christmas dinner. But mint pesto and lamb are just a match made in heaven!
    Happy holidays, David :-)

  • Bill
    December 31, 2015 11:52pm

    Lurid mint jelly! I thought I was the only one who detested that overly sweet, overly green condiment. Your pesto recipe makes me want to try mint with lamb again. The garlic, lemon, pepper, etc , sound much cleaner than sugar!. I can’t wait for my mint patch to sprout! I assume you are using spearmint. Do you think lemon balm might work as an alternative “pesto”?

  • January 1, 2016 5:47am

    Looks so yummy… kinda reminds me of Indian Chutney since my mom makes a lot of chutneys with mint.

  • January 2, 2016 3:54pm

    This pesto looks incredible. I love to have lamb and this looks like the perfect condiment to accompany it. Mint is however a touch difficult to find the right wine to go along side it, but I think maybe a Heitz Martha’s vineyard (which always has a distinct minty character) would work perfectly with some rack of lamb and this sauce.

  • Lana
    January 19, 2016 10:06am

    Hi David,

    I’m a big mint fan, when saw you posted a mint pesto recipe, i was eager to try it. After 2 busy weeks, i’ve finally made it last night.
    I had it with my sandwich this morning. Toast, mint pesto, cold meat and cucumber slices. It was delicious. Will try it with a grill sometime this week. Thanks for adding another amazing dressing to my cooking that is also easy to make.