Watercress Pesto is the Besto

Watercress Pesto made using a simple and easy to follow pesto recipe. Delicious served over seared salmon and red quinoa and about as healthy as it gets!


Watercress Pesto is the Besto

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A few weeks ago when I was shopping for stuff to go in my honey mustard potato salad, a big bunch of fresh watercress caught my eye. To be honest, I had only eaten watercress a few times up to that point, but I figured it might work out nicely with the potato salad.

When I got home, I tried a few leaves by themselves and that bite freakin’ floored me. They look like little tiny harmless leaves, but they pack a serious punch! They immediately climbed way up my greens hierarchy ladder and I started thinking of other stuff to do with them.

I think watercress works best with really big flavors so I figured if I used it in a pesto instead of basil, it might just do the trick. Not only is this Watercress Pesto one of my favorite pestos, but it also makes for one heckuva pretty plate served over salmon and quinoa.


Watercress Pesto

Watercress Pesto made using a simple and easy to follow pesto recipe. Delicious served over seared salmon and red quinoa and about as healthy as it gets!
2.43 from 7 votes
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 25 mins
Total Time 45 mins
Course Main Dishes, Pantry Staples
Cuisine American
Servings 4 Servings



  • ½ cup walnuts toasted
  • ½ cup sunflower seeds toasted
  • 1 bunch watercress about 2 cups
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¾ olive oil
  • 1 lemon juice only
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 pound salmon filet
  • Red quinoa or brown rice for serving


  • To start pesto, add nuts to a dry skillet over medium-low heat and toast until fragrant, about 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add nuts to a food processor and pulse a few times until roughly ground.
  • Add other pesto ingredients to the food processor and process until an even consistency. Season with salt and pepper.
  • For salmon, cut into four even servings or cook as one piece and cut up later. Season with salt and pepper. In an oven-safe skillet, add a drizzle of oil over medium-high heat. Once hot, add salmon, skin-side up and sear the salmon for 3 minutes.
  • Flip salmon and transfer to a 350 degree F. oven. Cook for 8 minutes until the salmon is just cooked through. You might need an extra minute or two if you’re cooking the salmon as one whole filet.
  • Serve salmon over red quinoa or brown rice with a good amount of the watercress pesto.


Serving: 1plateCalories: 471kcalCarbohydrates: 11gProtein: 36gFat: 33gSaturated Fat: 7gPolyunsaturated Fat: 14gMonounsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 84mgSodium: 490mgPotassium: 818mgFiber: 3gSugar: 2gVitamin A: 287IUVitamin C: 15mgCalcium: 272mgIron: 3mg
Keyword Easy Fresh Pesto, Homemade Pesto, Watercress

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Watercress Pesto

The Pesto

This Watercress Pesto is a pretty standard pesto recipe with the obvious watercress-basil substitution. The only other change I made was to sub out some more flavorful nuts for the pine nuts that are normally in pesto. Also, I happened to have them in my pantry so I just used them instead of buying new stuff.

Honestly, I think you could use a pretty wide range of nuts for the pesto. Go crazy.

basics for Watercress Pesto
Go nuts!

Whatever nuts you settle on, give them a quick toast in a dry skillet over medium-low heat until they are fragrant. That quick toast will really bring out some of their flavors.


Then toss them in your food processor and give them a whirl!

I like to pulse my nuts a few times before adding the other ingredients to make sure they are roughly ground.

Do these first.

Then you can just add in all your other pesto ingredients except the oil which you should pour in as the pesto processes.

For the watercress, wash it but you can leave the stems and leaves in for this recipe. No need to just use the leaves.

watercress about to be Watercress Pesto
Pack it in.

Pulse it until the mixture is smooth and drizzle in oil as you go.

When the Watercress Pesto is done it should be a really pretty green color. Season it with salt and pepper and set it aside until you need it.

done - Watercress Pesto

Serving Options

There are a ton of ways you could serve this Watercress Pesto. It’s really versatile. I think it would be fine just on pasta, but would also go great over grilled or roasted chicken.

Personally, I seared a nice piece of wild caught salmon and served it over that.

When I cook salmon, I keep it simple normally with just salt and pepper.

With the skin.

Then I make sure my oven is preheated to 350 degrees F.  In an oven-safe skillet, add a drizzle of oil over medium-high heat. Once the oil is shimmering and hot, add the salmon skin-side up and sear it for about 3 minutes.

Then give the salmon and flip and transfer it to the oven for about 8 minutes to finish cooking. The skin should crisp up nicely in the oven which is a bonus.

The salmon is done when it’s just starting to flake apart.

Watercress Pesto over seared Salmon
Seared and then ovened.

I served all of this over red quinoa which was really tasty, but you could use brown rice or a smaller pasta like orzo. Heck, you could even serve it over a salad if you wanted.

It’s a very flexible recipe.

Watercress Pesto - Macheesmo
So good.

I like a standard pesto as much as the next guy (as long as that guy likes pesto), but this Watercress Pesto was a delicious change that Betsy and I both really enjoyed.

I think I might be buying more watercress this spring and summer…

4 Responses to “Watercress Pesto is the Besto” Leave a comment

  1. I just tried your watercress pesto over salmon on a bed of red quinoa. The first bite I took was of uncertainty, but something kept me going back for more. Do you have any other suggestions on dishes that might incorporate this unusual yet addictive pesto and how long will it keep in the refrigerator?
    Thank you for your amazing recipes!


    1. Hey Michele,

      Glad you tried it! It should keep fine in the fridge for 3-4 days. It’s also great on grilled chicken or mushrooms. Good luck!

  2. Hey Nick! If you enjoyed the watercress and are looking for other great ways to use it, it is an excellent foil against starchy/naturally sweet veggies in a salad. My favorite cress recipe comes from a Rick Bayless cookbook – spicy/smoky sweet potato salad with caramelized onions and a chipotle vinaigrette served warm over cress with cotija sprinkled on. On occasion I have substituted upland cress for watercress, with great success. Sans cheese, it is an excellent vegan dish as well!

  3. I NEVER want to eat salmon without pesto again! This was delicious. I made the pesto with coriander, rocket and walnuts, and mixed some edamame and rocket into the quinoa. Full marks.

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