Habanero Pesto Shrimp

When we first moved to LA from Austin (almost three years ago, holy cow!) we came with but one Mexican restaurant recommendation in our pockets. Kay N’ Dave’s in Culver City. Habanero pesto shrimp was a thing on the menu and for a while it was Chris’s favorite thing on the menu until they re-did the menu and took it off, along with a few other items.

These years later, I’ve still thought of it and finally thought, what the shit, I’ll make it my own self. Habanero pesto shrimp

It’s basically a basil pesto with a habanero pepper added. Which sounds kind of weird to be sure, but it works so well. Be sure to cut the seeds out of the habanero; it should have the fruitiness of the habanero and be a little spicy but not so  much that it overpowers the basil. At the restaurant it was served with beans and rice and a big pile of saucy shrimp but it’s really nice with pasta, too.

Instead of pine nuts (which I never buy) I used pecans in the pesto for their sweetness. It’s also a cheese-free pesto but you could add some parm if you want it. The pesto keeps for 7 days in the fridge so this makes a perfect meal prep recipe if you’re the type to make a bunch of food on the weekend for the upcoming week, which is the kind of person I aspire to be but rarely become these days.

If I’m serving this with pasta, I’ll do a salad on the side. If with rice, fried plantains are excellent, as is simple sauteed zucchini.Habanero pesto shrimp


Habanero Pesto Shrimp

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  • Author: Hilah Johnson
  • Total Time: 15 mins
  • Yield: 6 1x




  • 1/4 cup pecans (1 ounce weight)
  • 1 habanero pepper, seeds removed
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 1/2 cups packed basil leaves (about 2.5 ounces weight)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 1/2 pounds large tail-on shrimp, deveined

  • salt and black pepper
  • Hot cooked rice or pasta to serve


  1. Combine pecans, habanero and garlic in a food chopper or small processor and chop finely. Add basil leaves, salt, oil and lemon juice and puree until smooth, scraping sides down frequently. You’ll have about a cup of pesto. This pesto can be refrigerated (covered) for a few days at this point.
  2. Pat shrimp dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. (Start your pasta water to boil, or start cooking your rice now before you cook the shrimp!)
  3. Heat a skillet over high heat and add a small drizzle of oil. Once oil is shimmering, add shrimp and cook on one side for about 1 minute or until browned. Flip and cook another minute until shrimp are pink and opaque. Turn off heat. Add half the pesto sauce and toss a few seconds to warm through.
  4. Toss remaining pesto with pasta, use as much or as little as you like. Or serve shrimp with rice and extra pesto on the side.

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