Cilantro Pesto (Aliyyeh)

December 8, 2008  •  Category: ,

Fry alyyeh

The Italians have their pesto, the French their pistou and the Lebanese have the cilantro pesto commonly called aliyyeh. It is a simple mixture of fresh garlic, cilantro and olive oil, sauteed for mere seconds till the fragrance is released and the ingredients bond together into a manageable paste.

The idea is to barely cook it, then set it aside and swirl the mixture into your dish as a final step. This is the secret step that gives  the dish an intoxicating kick of flavor. In addition,  the alyyeh can be conveniently frozen for up to 6  months in small containers or plastic pouches and pulled out of the freezer at a moment’s notice. As a child growing up in Beirut I knew when the fragrance of alyyeh was in the air that we would be eating soon and  my mouth would water…

INGREDIENTS. This is for a single dish and if you want to store extra, just multiply the quantities.

1  Bunch of cilantro, stems removed and leaves chopped (2 ounces)

8 cloves of garlic (the equivalent of one tablespoon mashed)

3 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

dash of  salt


  1. Wash and dry cilantro (use a salad spinner for speed). Chop leaves and discard the stems.
  2. Peel and chop garlic and mash with a teaspoon of salt in a wooden pestle or with a mini-processor.
  3. Chop the cilantro leaves either in a mini-processor or by hand, preferably by hand.
  4. Heat the olive oil for 3 minutes then add the cilantro and garlic. Mix it in the skillet with a spoon until it forms a compact mixture and the fragrance rises up, about 2 minutes, no more.
  5. Set it aside and either use immediately or cool and freeze the cilantro pesto  in small containers with a film of olive oil for added protection for up to 6  months.


I strongly recommend multiplying the recipe to save time. Use a whole head of garlic and 4 bunches of cilantro and up to 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil to maximize your time in the kitchen; divide the remaining mixture into single servings and freeze.

If you like more garlic flavor, by all means bulk up the amount of mashed garlic in this condiment. It is a matter of taste.


This pesto is used to add flavor to stews, potatoes, soups, chicken, fish and any yogurt sauce, cooked or uncooked.


14 Comments  •  Comments Feed

  1. Henia says:


    I just love pesto but this is interesting … cilantro huh?We here have a mixture called chermoula … is it similar? I will try this out .. sounds nice!

    • Joumana says:

      I am going to have to try chermoula. I have heard about it. This alyyeh is used a lot in Lebanese stews. You put a tablespoon or so at the last minute and it infuses the stew with a fabulous flavor that Lebanese folks are very fond of.

  2. Sarah says:

    interesting, sounds similar to taqliyya (guess its another spelling variation of the same thing), which is like your recipe or using dried coriander seeds like I read in
    an Egyptian cookbook. It is used to add flavor to Mhlouyia. I have not tried it using fresh coriander (cilantro) but I can imagine how aromatic it is.

  3. Vanita says:

    Add a little cayenne and turmeric to this and toss in
    fried cubed potatoes;or fried cubed eggplant or fried cubed okra.
    Mix well and cook covered for a couple of mins.
    You can also use a mix of all 3 vegetables or can also use fried cauliflower.

    • Joumana says:

      @Vanita: Sounds fantastic and actually we do have a dish for mezze called batata harra with that pesto, and some chili pepper, that is to do for! sounds great with cauliflower; there is a cauliflower stew made with that pesto but I like the idea of an appetizer better!

  4. Omar says:

    Do you ever use the stems for the pesto?
    I have found cilantro stems to work well (unlike parsley).

Add a Comment