Embracing the plant-based lifestyle in Malaysia

Ulam (Malaysian Herbs) Peanut Pesto

Ulam (Malaysian Herbs) Peanut Pesto

For years I’ve been making pesto sauce, and it’s been a winner every time with friends and family. My personal go-to recipe included broccoli, oregano and soft tofu in the list of ingredients. Pesto was a joy to make. Pesto was my thing. Until… I was invited to make it every Malaysian’s thing.

In late 2019, I was contacted by a journalist from The Star to be interviewed for a New Year’s article on starting the year healthy. She requested that I share with their readers a couple of recipes that were quick, healthy, easy to put together and with ingredients easily accessible to the general Malaysian public. The first thing that popped into my head was my Pesto. But I realized that it has been easy for me because I’ve been doing it for years. I know the process and the list of ingredients; the assembly comes like second nature. It clearly wouldn’t have been the same case for others.

So I revisited the recipe. I changed up the ingredients, cut the list down, simplified the method, took out the cooking step altogether.

What came out of it is something that I have ended up replacing my old pesto recipe with. It’s bursting with flavour. It’s not as soggy. It’s not as complicated. It’s healthier. AND cheaper. It’s the best of everything.

The Star shared this recipe on the second day of New Year 2019, along with Purple Sweet Potato Smoothie with Gula Melaka Swirls. Due to new subscription requirements, these two recipes are not as accessible as they used to be. So here they are republished on my blog, for you to always refer to and enjoy.

One of my favourite plant-based umami ingredient, Nutritional Yeast, contributes to the cheesy flavour of this paste. It can be found in most large supermarkets in the Klang Valley, in the Organic / Health foods aisle.  You can also find it easily on shopping apps like Lazada and Shopee. If you don’t have access to this ingredient, you can substitute it with 2-3 tablespoons of miso paste and omit the salt. You are also welcome to use less oil. I’ve reduced the measurement in previous batches to 1/3 cup of oil and it’s still tasteful.

This recipe makes use of three classic Malaysian herbs, but feel free to use any assortment of local herbs accessible to you. In the past I’ve also used Cilantro, Daun Kesom (Laksa Leaf / Vietnamese Coriander) and for my next round I’d like to experiment with Pegaga. For me, I try and keep Thai Basil in the recipe, which contributes to the pesto-ness. As for the peanuts, if you want to use any other kind of seed or nut, go ahead! I’ve previously used sunflower seeds and walnuts. Whatever nut and herb combination you use will result in a uniquely different flavour profile, creating endless possibilities.

It’s also super versatile. Aside from the usual pasta option, I’ve also had this with couscous, sweet potatoes, quinoa, pizza, rice cakes, in sandwiches and salads. Feel free to have it any way you want.

My fridge is never without a jar of this. It can keep long too. Although best consumed within 2 weeks, Pesto stored for up to 2 months in the fridge hasn’t given me any tummy trouble so far, although the flavour alters slightly as it ages. It freezes well too!

From my kitchen to yours, I hope you enjoy this nifty little recipe that adds a touch of Malaysian character to your favourite western-style meals.

5 from 1 reviews

Ulam Peanut Pesto

December 11, 2020
: 15 min
: Easy Peasy

A Malaysian adaptation of the classic Italian paste, this antioxidant-packed recipe does not require any cooking (unless you need to roast your nuts first!) and is ready in minutes. Toss into pasta dishes, roast potatoes, or spread on crackers or bread. This recipe makes about 400g of pesto.


  • 70g 'Ulam Raja' (Cosmos)
  • 50g Thai basil
  • 50g 'Daun Selom' (Water Dropwort)
  • 10 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
  • 2 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 tsp pink Himalayan salt
  • 1 cup roasted peanuts (without skin)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Step 1 Remove leaves and small stems from the main stem of ulam raja, and leaves from Thai basil. Roughly chop the selom in its entirety. Each herb should come up to one loosely packed cup.
  • Step 2 Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until it becomes an evenly combined chunky paste.
  • Step 3 Can be consumed immediately in whatever style you wish, or transfer to a glass jar and keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

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4 thoughts on “Ulam (Malaysian Herbs) Peanut Pesto”

  • Hi Davina, love to try your recipe but is there a substitute for the daun selom as its not readily available in my wet mkt in Singapore

    • Hello Belinda! Thank you for wanting to try out my recipe. You can substitute Daun Selom with any other sort of local Asian herb. I have used Laska leaf (Kesom) before, it has quite a peppery kick! You can also just substitute by adding more of the other herbs you have on hand. Actually, aside from the Thai Basil, you can use any mix of herbs you wish. Wishing you all the best in experimenting!

  • SO MUCH LOVE for this recipe! I usually don’t leave comments but I just felt so compelled to share how successful this recipe went for me. I did not have Daun Selom, sub-ed peanuts for cashews and nutritional yeast for Parmesan, but boy did that Ulam Raja and Thai Basil combo come through deliciously. Really appreciate the creative way you’ve localized Pesto. I’m currently on a journey to compile creative recipes using Ulam Raja and this is 110% a keeper. Thank you for sharing this recipe! ❤️❤️

    • Hello Katrina, wow! I’m very happy to hear that you enjoy this pesto! Comments like these really make my day. Thank you so much for giving it a try and yes sub, sub, sub away!

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