Lighter Kale-Walnut Pesto (Oil-Free)

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to join my Southern California Kaiser Permanente colleagues at their Wellness Conference in beautiful Rancho Mirage, near Palm Springs, a place I’d never been.  With the dramatic backdrop of blue skies, mountains and many, many palm trees (of course), we spent a few days learning about the power of rest, meditation, and healthy eating.  I was so honored to speak on a panel about the last subject and did a couple of plant-based cooking demos, with the goal of teaching my physician colleagues to walk the walk, so they could talk the talk!  I made a few variations on grain bowls to illustrate some key principles of cooking for health:

  • add more greens, whole grains, seeds and nuts and plant-based protein into your food
  • get in the habit of meal planning and batch cooking to make weeknight cooking possible for busy people
  • feature flavor, because healthy eating should be for pleasure, not penitence!
  • eat the rainbow— eating colorfully is not only appealing, but also ensures that you’ll be getting a wide range of nutrients and antioxidants

To be as inclusive as possible, I made these grain bowls not just plant-based, but oil-free as well.  This is the type of cooking promoted in Forks Over Knives, which helped popularize the plant-based diet for disease prevention and reversal. While I don’t normally cook this way, I enjoy the challenge of creating recipes for various diets that everyone would enjoy.  Here’s one of the sauces I taught: an oil-free version of kale-walnut pesto.  I had some fun coming up with this recipe– the nutritional yeast, combined with vegetable broth, makes a surprisingly convincing substitute for the usual olive oil.

The Doctor’s Spicebox Lighter Kale-Walnut Pesto

Makes:  about 1 cup


1 cup packed kale leaves, stems removed

1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves

1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

2 T toasted walnuts

1/2 tsp salt

4T vegetable broth

1T nutritional yeast


  1. Process all ingredients together in a small food processor.
  2. Serve with pasta, mix with cooked grains for a grain bowl or salad, or use as a sauce for raw, grilled or roasted vegetables.


Thanks for coming by!

Do you cook whole food, plant-based, oil-free recipes? Feel free to share in the comments! And if you’re interested in joining our healthy cooking community, please follow The Doctor’s Spicebox on Facebook.  To cook with me, please take a class in the Thrive Kitchen at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco, where we host monthly cooking classes.  Have fun in the kitchen!