Sunflower Seed Basil Pesto

Food Allergies Recipes

My daughter’s newly diagnosed peanut and tree nut allergies have brought some big changes to my kitchen.

For one, I’ve purged every bag of nuts, every jar of nut butter and every bag of nut meal. No more walnuts in my Rainy Day Chocolate Chip Cookies and no more almond meal in my Banana Oat Blender Muffins or Blueberry Almond Zucchini Muffins. I hope to tinker with these recipes in the future to find substitutions, but that will have to wait.

Being an allergy parent also means compulsive label reading.I already do this to a degree considering my line of work, but now nothing gets a pass. And although I am generally a big believer in buying pre-made versions of things I would otherwise make myself given enough time, I’ll be making more of our food from scratch now, too.

One item I’ll really miss is jarred pesto, which always contains nuts. It makes for such a quick meal, such as my Cherry Tomato Tortellini. My favorite jarred version contains both cashews and pine nuts and I haven’t come upon a widely available alternative that is nut-free. Sad face.

Fortunately, pesto really isn’t that hard to make. Ingredients -> food processor -> done. In this recipe, I chose to swap in sunflower seeds (a nut allergy mom’s BFF!) for the traditional nuts instead of leaving them out altogether. I often serve pesto on our meatless nights, so I like that the seeds add a bit of protein.

Sunflower seed basil pesto
Pasta has always been a meal my toddler loves to help cook!

Another great thing about homemade pesto is that it freezes well, so I can process a huge batch without having to pull out (and clean!) my food processor every time. I already knew this, but stocking my freezer with my latest batch gave me confidence that we’re going to handle this allergy thing alright. Baby steps, after all!

Sunflower seed basil pesto
You made pesto just for me? Thanks, ma!

Sunflower Seed Basil Pesto


  • 2 cups packed basil leaves
  • 3-4 cloves garlic or garlic dots
  • 1/2 cup raw unsalted sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 2 oz. un-grated or 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese*
  • Salt to taste


  1. Add all ingredients to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until well-combined, scraping down sides as necessary.
  2. Serve immediately and/or portion into freezer-safe containers for later use. Makes three 1/2 cup batches. 1/2 cup is enough for 8 oz./four servings of pasta.

Recipe Notes

*I used Pecorino Romano and it was very salty, so I did not add any additional salt.

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