Pattaya Pesto

Whilst shopping for my New Year’s Eve dinner at my favorite 99 Ranch Asian megamarket, I grabbed a big package of Thai basil.

I’m not sure why. I rarely use Thai basil. But I’ve been making vaguely Southeast Asian rice noodles lately as my wife takes one of her periodic breaks from gluten, and so I suppose the zeitgeist was right for the herb to capture my passing eye.


Thai basil is different than Italian basil. When you hold it in your hands and then smell it on your fingers, it evokes not vineyards and villas but temples and tuk tuks. It’s scent is exotic and sultry. Because it is spicy and insistent, I find it less useful for the wide variety of applications appropriate to Italian basil. So I made noodles, I used a little for a sauce in my Asian-accented New Years Eve dinner. And still, the bulk of it was left on the bottom shelf in my fridge.

“You need to make some pesto with this basil,” my wife said as she straightened up the fridge.

“That’s Thai basil, not Italian,” I replied. She asked what the difference was, and I explained it in roughly the same florid, poetic language I used above. Her eyes glazed over.

But it did give me an idea what to do with the copious amounts of Thai basil that remained after I’d already used them for noodles and sauce. Perhaps I could create a tasty Thai pesto that would be good over noodles, grilled chicken, dumplings… maybe even as a salad dressing.

Thai basil pesto

Thai basil pesto

I began throwing things in the Cuisinart while my wife, forever concerned I’m going to get hit by a bus or fall off a cliff and leave the family foodless, watched and took notes. In addition to fistfuls of Thai basil, I put in a number of the ingredients I would use in a typical Thai sauce — lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, ginger — thinking I could adjust the seasoning after the first pulsing if need be. Need didn’t be — “That is off-the-charts good,” my wife said, tasting it.

If you’ve never had a good reason to get Thai basil before, this could be it. And to be quite honest, you could even do this with Italian basil if you had lots of that. Like I said, that basil is more flexible. I would suggest spooning this sauce over some grilled chicken thighs and legs set on top of steamed rice.

Why is it “Pattaya” pesto, you may reasonably ask? I was looking for a good “P” location on a map of Thailand to name the pesto after. And then I remembered a favorite song by the Pogues, “House of the Gods,” which contains the lyric: “I’m just a wally hanging out on Pattaya Beach.” Sometimes inspiration just works that way…


*    *    *

Pattaya pesto
makes around 1 cup

2 cups Thai basil leaves
1 tbsp. chopped ginger
2 scallions, chopped
1/4 cup peanuts
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
1 tsp. Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce
1 tbsp. soy sauce
juice 1 large lime
1 tbsp. sugar

Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until smooth but still slightly chunky, about 10 to 15 seconds usually. Store in a sealed container in the fridge and use as needed. Pesto will keep for about a week, and be best on the second and third days.

28 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. La valise de louise
    Jan 21, 2014 @ 01:24:50

    Love the naming of the recipe!


  2. Michelle
    Jan 21, 2014 @ 02:26:08

    Now I know what to do with all that Thai basil I grow every year. I have to admit that I throw a leaf or two into dishes now and then, but then end up letting it die on the vine. (Stupid.)


  3. apriljulianne
    Jan 21, 2014 @ 03:15:58

    Sounds delish!


  4. M. R.
    Jan 21, 2014 @ 03:57:41

    I don’t know why I’m even bothering, seeing as how I’ve been waiting at my letterbox forever, expecting the delivery of a ( …. ?) pumpkin. Sighh … Where was I? … oh yes: this does look very good, but a vego like me doesn’t have much use for sauces. I did like the description of your wife’s eyes glazing over. 😀


    • scolgin
      Jan 21, 2014 @ 14:40:18

      You can drizzle the sauce over the pumpkin when it finally arrives. I couldn’t send it by post, though — so I fitted it with a little mast and sail, shoved it off the beach at Malibu and watched it sail west into the sunset. Expect it in 4-6 weeks, if it doesn’t wind up in Japan.


      • M. R.
        Jan 21, 2014 @ 17:19:18

        [brightens immediately]
        Oh, goody! Such happy news! You don’t think it might get a bit affected by seawater over 6 weeks …?
        Oh well: probably be easier to get the peel off.

      • scolgin
        Jan 21, 2014 @ 17:26:06

        You can eat the skin of kabocha pumpkins, that’s one of the best parts! Just consider the six weeks to be brining time. 🙂

      • M. R.
        Jan 21, 2014 @ 17:29:00

        Oh, I see! – so there really IS a reason for your specifying one in the recipe. As I’ve never in all me life heard of a pumpkin with a skin you can eat, I think I can safely say they’re not available here. Japanese?

      • scolgin
        Jan 21, 2014 @ 17:31:41

        Yeah, apparently it’s called “Japanese pumpkin” in Oz/NZ, although it’s used in several different Asian cuisines (Thai, Indian, etc.) and like all squash probably originated in some form in the Americas.

      • M. R.
        Jan 21, 2014 @ 17:34:24

        Now then – honestly, OK?: does the recipe really require one of these, or were you just being the usual culinary wanker? They tell me that as soon as one gets to where one can really cook, that’s what happens. For myself, I wouldn’t know. [grin]

      • scolgin
        Jan 21, 2014 @ 17:36:03

        Did you just call me a “wanker”!?? 😉

        Nah, use whatever you want — butternut, acorn, any kind of squash, a sweet potato, whatever!

      • M. R.
        Jan 21, 2014 @ 17:39:12

        Silver tongue, that’s me. 😀

  5. linnetmoss
    Jan 21, 2014 @ 12:29:03

    Fabulous idea. Does it turn dark from oxidation like regular pesto?


  6. canalcook
    Jan 21, 2014 @ 20:28:35

    What a great idea, Thai style pesto. A lovely combination of flavours, and way cheaper to make than regular pesto


    • scolgin
      Jan 21, 2014 @ 20:30:46

      Hi Canal Cook! Yes, it turned out nicely and was very versatile. We put in on dumplings, on noodles, on fish. And I pointed out in an answer to another comment above, because of the lime juice it didn’t oxidize and turn brown the way regular pesto does. So it lasted for a week in the fridge! Cheers//s


  7. Jessamine in PDX
    Jan 22, 2014 @ 07:07:53

    I had the SAME problem. Wish I had thought of your solution. Had a bunch of Thai basil leftover from Christmas. Used some up in some stir-fries but the rest got so sad I tossed it. Totally doing this next time!


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