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The Absolute Best Thai Basil Pesto

jar full of thai basil pesto with peppers in the background

If necessity is the mother of invention, abundance has to be the mother of creation. After a bumper crop of Thai basil this year in my garden, I had to find something to do with it all. Enter, the absolute best Thai basil pesto recipe.

I made a few versions of this before dialing in on what I think is absolutely perfect. Trust me my Thai basil plants turn out enough of these Thai basil leaves to have plenty to experiment with.

Mixing a little of this, and a little of that until I’m satisfied is therapeutic for me, and I enjoy it. What I’ve come up with here is what I consider the perfect balance of traditional Thai flavors for a quick and easy sauce.

It’s excellent on noodles, juicy grilled chicken, mixed with ground pork, and especially with crispy fried fish.

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What Is Thai Basil?

Thai basil, like all other varieties of basil, is a member of the mint family. It comes from Southeast Asia and unlike the more popular sweet basil (also called Italian basil) that most people are familiar with, Thai basil isn’t sweet at all.

thai basil pesto with Thai basil leaves

Instead it’s more of a licorice / anise flavor with a slight spiciness to it. Thai basil leaves are narrower that “regular basil” leaves, and grow on a purple stem. Left untrimmed, it blossoms a purple flower rather quickly so it requires some upkeep when growing it.

Can You Freeze Pesto?

Yes, absolutely. I have been making and freezing classic basil pesto for years. Like that beloved sauce made with parmesan cheese and pine nuts, Thai basil can also be frozen and saved for later.

I typically put it in a vacuum sealed freezer bag, and store it in dinner sized portions. It’s good for about for six months or so. Simply seal the bag, flatten it out to save space, and freeze it.

Thai basil pesto recipe made in a glass jar

I’ve also put the sauce in ice cube trays and frozen individual size portions, but I find that takes up too much room in my freezer. It’s convenient for sure so if you have the freezer space, and aren’t cooking for more than yourself, that’s the way to go.

Where To Buy Thai Basil

This isn’t something you find very often at the local supermarket. In fact, I’ve never found it at the standard grocery stores. You can find it on occasion at a good Asian market if you have one nearby, but even that’s not a lock.

Thai basil pesto in a glass jar

Even if you’re not a gardener, consider growing it on your own. This is a really hearty plant and it’s dang near impossible to mess it up. I grow it in my garden, but you don’t even need a garden space. You can grow Thai basil (among other herbs) in an indoor garden, year round.

Thai Basil Pesto Recipe Ingredients

Sesame oil: Traditional pesto is made with olive oil, but don’t use that here. Sesame oil not only smells incredible, its rich nutty flavor is the key to this recipe.
Red jalapeño: I grow these in my garden as well and love to seed and use them. If you don’t have any, you can substitute with roughly one teaspoon of red pepper flakes; depending on your heat preference.
Water Chestnuts: These are optional, but I really like the texture they provide. Add them last so they maintain some structural integrity.
Soy Sauce: If it’s in your budget, try some artisan soy sauce. It’s on the pricey side but the flavor is so deep and intense. If it’s a budget buster, by all means use what you have on hand.

How To Make The Absolute Best Thai Basil Pesto

Serves: 4-6 | Prep Time: 10 mins | Cook Time: N/A

Ingredients
3 cups loosely packed fresh Thai basil leaves
4 cloves garlic
¼ cup dry roasted peanuts
4 green onions, cut into 3″ pieces
1 medium red jalapeño, seeded
½ cup sesame oil
1 ½ tbsp rice vinegar
1 ½  tbsp honey 
1 tbsp lime juice
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp Morton’s kosher salt, or to taste
4 oz. water chestnuts, optional

Step 1: Add the basil, garlic, peanuts, green onions, and red jalapeño into a food processor. Pulse six to ten times until the mixture is roughly chopped.

Step 2: Then, drizzle in the sesame oil, vinegar, honey, soy sauce, lime juice and kosher salt. Pulse several more times to emulsify the sauce, stopping on occasion to scrape the mixture off the sides with a rubber spatula.

mixed Thai basil pesto in food processor

Step 3: Taste for seasoning, and add more salt or vinegar to taste. Then, add the water chestnuts and pulse a few more times.

Thai basil pesto in a jar next to a food processor
glass jar of Thai basil pesto

Thai Basil Pesto

5 from 4 votes
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Course: Sauce
Cuisine: Asian
Servings: 6

Ingredients

  • 3 cup Thai basil loosely packed
  • 4 cloves fresh garlic
  • ¼ cup peanuts dry roasted
  • 4 whole green onions cut into 3" pieces
  • 1 medium red jalapeño seeded
  • ½ cup sesame oil
  • tbsp rice vinegar
  • tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 2 tsp kosher salt, Mortons or to taste
  • 4 oz water chestnuts

Instructions

  • Add the basil, garlic, peanuts, green onions, and red jalapeño into a food processor. Pulse six to ten times until the mixture is roughly chopped.
  • Then, drizzle in the sesame oil, vinegar, honey, soy sauce, lime juice and kosher salt. Pulse several more times to emulsify the sauce, stopping on occasion to scrape the mixture off the sides with a rubber spatula.
  • Taste for seasoning, and add more salt or vinegar to taste. Then, add the water chestnuts and pulse a few more times.

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