I would have to tell you a little bit about my background before you could truly appreciate how strange it is that I’m excited about a dish called Walnut Basil Pesto. Let me just say this – I grew up in a small town. When I make that statement to people from other countries and they say, “Me too” I usually ask them, “Oh, really? How many people makes a small town in your country?” Usually the answer is something just shy of a million…especially if you’re talking to people from China. Then I like to see the look on their face when I say my small town had a population of one thousand people. I don’t know about any of the small towns you’ve been to, but the one I grew up in was not known for its culinary appreciation. Let’s just say this…pesto was not on the menu of our local diner. Wait. Is pesto on the menu of any local diner?
It’ a good thing that taste buds are so malleable. Otherwise I’d be stuck with a diet of macaroni and cheese and Count Chocola. I certainly wouldn’t be eating Walnut Basil Pesto served over pasta with steamed broccoli, chopped tomatoes and black olives. I hated just about all of this stuff when I was a kid. But the thing is, our taste buds? We can rebuild them. They can be better than they were before. Better…stronger…faster.
That TV flashback moment was brought to you by yours truly.
Anyway, back to veggies. Those dreaded childhood veggies can be cooked in different ways. Appreciated under different circumstances. The things that we previously have never heard of, but sounds kind of scary, can be tried…and possibly even liked. I would put guacamole in that group. I thought it looked completely disgusting and wouldn’t even TRY it until I was an adult.
I’m making up for lost time on that one now.
Taste Bud Retraining Program
Good news! You don’t have to enroll in expensive training programs to get your taste buds set on a new path. I’ve got plenty of AHA moments I can share with you from my own experiences going from small town comfort food eater to a health-focused, plant-based eating vegan! Here are a few of my tips for retraining your taste buds toward eating healthier foods:
- Make sure it’s high quality. I love my mom and most of the things she makes taste amazing, but veggies are not really her strength. Her idea of broccoli is found in a box in the freezer section of the grocery store. After she gets it home? She boils it and then serves it with cheese. It’s a bit mushy which probably explains why I didn’t like broccoli for the longest time. Having steamed broccoli can with a little bit of olive oil and salt could be a great way to re-introduce yourself to this nutritional powerhouse!
- Give yourself permission to take small bites. Don’t pressure yourself to finish your plate. If you’re trying something new or something you hated as a child, don’t set the expectation that you’re going to fall in love with it in one meal. Take a bite or two and if you don’t gag, that might be a good sign. leave it at that and move on.
- 1:7:5. If spinach is on your “bucket” list then try it at one meal once a week for five weeks. One day out of seven for five weeks. See? 1:7:5. Our taste buds can be influenced by other things, like our mental clutter. If you’re still reliving those moments as a child when you were forced to eat spinach and hated it, you may not be giving it a fair chance. If you try it once per week over five weeks and you still don’t like it, you may rest assured, like an unrequited lover, that you’ve given it every chance you could.
- Variety is the Spice of the Veggie. If you’ve got a blacklisted veggie, I highly recommend searching out some different ways to prepare it. Maybe you haven’t found that one way of fixing it that works for you. My favorite way to serve up just about any veggie – from Brussels Sprouts to Broccoli – is lightly steamed with olive oil, garlic, and a little bit of sea salt. You might also like drizzling it with a little balsamic vinaigrette. There are several ways to dice it, so experiment. See if there’s one that works for you.
A Different Kind of Pesto
OK. I will confess I’m not a pesto expert. I can’t tell you that pesto is basically an Italian word that means “to crush” and that pesto usually consists of crushed fresh basil, garlic and pine nuts combined with olive oil and parmesan cheese. Oh wait. I guess I just did. But I only know that stuff because I looked it up, so I don’t think it really counts.
Most pesto recipes I’ve seen call for a lot of oil. I mean a lot of oil. I like olive oil and all, but it can be kind of, I don’t know, oily. There have been times I could have taken a bath in the oil at the bottom of my pasta bowl. I bet I would smell good after that!
I also didn’t use pine nuts in this pesto, although that’s something traditionally called for. That’s what happens when you look in the pantry and there are no pine nuts. It’s another small-town skill I developed. It’s called improvising!
Life is a lot like jazz…it’s best when you improvise. — George Gershwin
So here you go – my low-oil, walnut-infused version of pesto. It’s the best pesto this small-town girl has ever tried. I hope you agree!
- 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- ½ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup walnuts
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves
- 2-3 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
- 1 tablespoon vegan parmesan (optional)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Place the chopped garlic in a skillet with one tablespoon olive oil. Cook over medium-low heat until the garlic is slightly tender.
- Place the cooked garlic and the remaining ingredients in a food processor and pulse until the ingredients are combined and to the texture of your preference.
- Serve drizzled over pasta with steamed broccoli, sliced cherry tomatoes and black olives. It' also makes a nice a topping for warm, toasted bread.