Chipotle Cilantro Pesto Pasta

My favorite flavors are spicy and smoky. Chipotle peppers have both my favorite flavors rolled into one. It’s no wonder I use chipotle so much! I use them in rice, salad dressing, roasted vegetables, pasta … and I even made a chocolate chipotle pepper ice cream once which was amazing!

Chipotle means “smoked chili” in Mexico. Jalapeño peppers are left to ripen on the plant until they are bright red. Then they are smoked using wood in a smoking chamber over several days. This results in a deep, smoky flavor. In this recipe, I use chipotles in adobo sauce, a brilliantly red colored sauce made of tomatoes and spices. Chipotle in adobo sauce comes in small cans and can be found in the Mexican aisle of the supermarket.

Aside from the smoky chipotle peppers, this pesto has lots of fresh cilantro, Parmesan cheese, sautéed peppers and onions. I skipped the copious amounts of olive oil and nuts that a traditional pesto has. There is plenty of flavor packed into this pesto, so you really don’t need lots of oil or any nuts. However, if you want to keep this pesto dairy-free, leave out the Parmesan cheese and use slivered almonds instead.

Make this pesto ahead of time and save it in a jar in the fridge. Then, when you are ready to eat, all you need to do is boil some pasta and toss it with the pesto. Super easy!

More ways to use chipotle cilantro pesto

  • Add to scrambled eggs
  • Use as a sandwich spread
  • Spread some pesto on a precooked pizza crust or pita bread, top with cheese and bake it in the oven
  • Toss with steamed vegetables
  • Mix it into mayonnaise or ranch dressing to spice things up

Chipotle Cilantro Pesto Pasta
Serves 3 to 4

Ingredients for the Pesto:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (available in the Mexican aisle of the grocery store)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • Juice and zest of 1/2 lime
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan (or substitute with slivered almonds)
  • Salt

For the pasta:

  • 1/2 lb pasta


  1. Heat the oil in a medium skillet. Add the diced peppers, onion and garlic. Cook, stirring, on medium heat until the onion is soft, about 3 minutes.
  2. Now add the chopped chipotle peppers, cumin and oregano to the skillet. Cook on medium heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool completely.
  3. Wash the cilantro bunch to remove any sand and grit. Place the washed cilantro in a food processor bowl. Pulse the cilantro until it is minced. Add the cooled pepper mixture, lime juice and zest, Parmesan and salt to the food processor. Pulse just until everything is well combined.
  4. Store the pesto in an airtight container in the refrigerate for up to 5 days.
  5. Cook and drain the pasta according to package instructions, making sure it is al dente and not overcooked. Return the drained pasta to the pot. Toss half a cup of pesto with the hot pasta. Taste the pasta, and add more pesto according to your liking.

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Photo credits: Sala Kannan