Lincoln Heights Pesto

by LiamBean

Lincoln Heights is the oldest neighborhood in Los Angeles. Today it is home to mostly Mid & South American and Chinese descendents. Thus this ethnic inspired recipe.

Pesto, the Italian version, is typically made with basil, olive oil, pine nuts, and Parmesan cheese. In order to create this Lincoln Heights version, I needed to substitute for the basil and Parmesan. What I found was an Asian radish called Yulmoo, Cotija (pronounced ko tee ha) cheese, and, of course, pine-nuts which come from New Mexico.

We are only going to use the leaves of the radish to replicate basil.

About the Ingredients

These are great substitutions

As always you should use the best olive oil you can buy. The pine-nuts should be somewhat pear shaped and an ivory color. The radish greens look odd, but they are quite edible and have a slight peppery finish; perfect for pesto.

Yulmoo Radish Leaves

These are also called "baby radish." The radish themselves are small white tubers, and while edible, hardly worth the time and trouble to clean and peel. What you are really after here are the leaves. The leaves are slightly thick and leathery, but not quite so much as chard.

Cotija Cheese

The Cotija (ko * tee * ha) cheese is an excellent choice as it is as savory as Parmesan, but with a slightly different flavor. I recommend buying a small quantity at first. Cotija can be purchased pre-shredded or in a block. It is also known as "Mexican Parmesan," but is considerably cheaper than the Italian cheese.


Pine-nuts are expensive. I believe this is primarily due to how labor intensive it is to remove the nut from the pine-cone. Still, a little goes a long way. I make pesto about once a month and a five ounce package has lasted me six months. Not bad for an item that is about eight dollars for less than half a pound.


When roasting the pine-nuts keep a close eye on them. They tend to cook very quickly and going from the ivory color to a roasted brown can take mere seconds. Burned pine-nuts are very bitter and will ruin the pesto. In other pesto recipes I've tried the recommended method of roasting the nuts was either "dry-pan" frying or oven roasting. The dry-pan method only browns a small part of the entire nut and the oven roasting requires opening the oven often to make sure you don't burn them. Neither method is particularly easy.

Roasting the nuts in oil means they get an even browning and you can see the progress with no problems. Since you are going to have to add olive oil to the pesto anyway why not this method?

Pesto Consistency

The object is to get all of the ingredients into a paste-like consistency. Since the radish is a bit tough you want to chop this up first. After that add the pine-nuts and garlic and chop for a slightly finer consistency. Finally, when the pesto is just about the right fineness you want to add the cheese and chop until a paste-like consistency is reached.

Using the Pesto

You can use this pesto as you would the Italian version. I like to add mine to cooked pasta, cooked rice, on crusty bread, and as a topping to spaghetti with marinara sauce.

Yulmoo Radish Leaves
Yulmoo Radish Leaves
Cotija Cheese
Cotija Cheese
Korean (New Mexico) Pine-Nuts
Korean (New Mexico) Pine-Nuts
Completed Pesto
Completed Pesto
Author Supplied
Ingredients and Directions

Ingredients and Directions

This works best with a food processor, but you can use a large mortar and pestle

Prep time 15 min  -  Total time 20 min  -  80 cal/serv
Ingredients for 10 servings
3 Cups Yulmoo radish leaves, washed and cut up  • 1 1/2 Cup grated Cotija cheese  • 3 Tablespoons pine-nuts  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil  • 3 cloves garlic  • Salt and pepper to taste

1. Completely wash the Yulmoo radish leaves and cut them into manageable sizes. You want about three compressed cups.

2. Shred the Cutija cheese. You want about a cup and a half.

3. Over medium heat, pan roast the pine-nuts in the olive oil until they just turn light brown.

4. Chop the Yulmoo in the food processor until you get a very rough paste. Pulsing works best.

5. Add the now roasted pine-nuts, garlic cloves, and oil. Pulse until blended and you have a slightly finer paste.

6. Add the cheese and once again pulse until the cheese is blended. You should now have a relatively fine paste.

7. Check the pesto. If it needs more olive oil add it now. This is also the step to add salt and pepper. Pulse until just blended.

Recipe  5.0/5 Stars (1 Votes)
Updated: 04/06/2013, LiamBean
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