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Baked Salmon with Kale Lemon Pesto

One of our favourite weeknight or special occasion meals is fish. This salmon is incredibly juicy and flavourful with homemade kale walnut pesto.
Jan 14, 2020 | Joy McCarthy

We eat fish a few times per week because it's fast, it's healthy and it's super easy. My favourite way to cook salmon is in the oven because you just set the timer and then you can make your salad or whatever side dish you're having with it like Baked Broccoli & Cauliflower with Tahini (from The Joyous Cookbook) or Roasted Potatoes. In other words, you can just set it and forget [about] it while it bakes!

Baked salmon with kale pesto

This is a recipe I've been making for years because it's so delicious! The pesto really makes it. It's such a nice way to jazz up your salmon and make it memorable if you're having friends over for dinner. Sure, you can buy pesto from the grocery store, but making it fresh is best! You'll see once you make it :).

You might even have all the ingredients in your kitchen right now. Go take a peek! All you need is: kale, lemon juice, walnuts, garlic, olive oil, sea salt and pepper. 

pesto ingredients

I love the flavour of the pesto with a hint of lemon. I highly encourage you to double the recipe so you can enjoy it with other recipes.

pesto ingredients

Warning: You'll want to eat it right out of the bowl with a spoon.


When it comes to buying fish , I'm pretty picky. I do not buy any fish from big box grocery stores because I find it challenging to get a straight answer on where the fish is from; if it was frozen then thawed, if it came from a sustainable farm, or if it's farmed and not wild. I have a lot of questions (and yes, I'm totally one of those "annoying customers" but I'm proud of it!).

But because I don't love being an annoying customer, I'll buy fish from a local fish shop or farmer's market where I can talk to someone who is super knowledgeable about fish. I stick to certain kinds of fish too.

When buying fish, I consider three things:

raw salmon

1. How sustainable is it?

2. Is it contaminated with PCBs and other heavy metals?

3. What part of the world did it come from?

Based on that information, I typically stick with wild sardines, local lake trout, Arctic Char, BC or Alaskan Salmon, Black Cod (aka sablefish or butterfish), Sea bream, Ocean Wise Shrimp and lobster. I also love oysters but only have those as a special treat. 

In terms of wild vs farmed, it's not as clear cut as you might think, but you can read about that here. Essentially if everyone who ate fish only ate wild, we'd have no fish left in our ocean, but not all farmed fish are sustainable either. This is why you must ask questions.


The Ocean Wise certification ensures it is sustainable. Here is an A to Z list of Ocean Wise approved fish. This is a Canadian organization, so I'm not sure what certifications exist in other countries. 

Okay, now let's get to this recipe! One of my pet peeves is salmon that is overcooked and dry – gross! Please do not overcook your salmon. It should be juicy and flavourful!

baked salmon with kale pesto

This recipe is paleo-friendly, gluten-free, dairy-free and packed with tons of flavour.

I hope it becomes your new favourite recipe for easy weeknight dinners or when you're entertaining! 

baked salmon

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  • 1 bunch of dino kale or curly kale*
  • 3/4 cup walnuts
  • 1 garlic clove
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 1/3 cup olive oil or more to consistency you like
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 4 salmon filets (3 to 4 oz. each)
  • 4-6 lemon wedges
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a large food processor, add kale, walnuts, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and sea salt. Give a blitz.
  2. If needed, add more olive oil to ensure a smooth consistency.
  3. Give a taste test, add more lemon or sea salt if needed. Set aside while you make the salmon.
  4. Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Place parchment paper on to a baking sheet or pan.
  5. Place salmon filets skin side down on baking sheet. Sprinkle with sea salt, pepper and place lemon wedges on top.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes to desired doneness. I like cooking salmon to medium for maximum juiciness. Halfway through top with pesto.
  7. Once desired doneness is reached, top with more pesto and serve right away.
  8. I recommend serving this with baked broccoli and cauliflower with tahin lemon sauce from The Joyous Cookbook on page 112.
  9. Store leftover pesto in the fridge for up to 5 days. Store leftover salmon in the fridge for 1 day.


Serves 4.

If you use curly kale, you'll need to add more olive oil because is absorbs a lot of oil.

I highly recommend you enjoy this with my Baked Cauliflower & Broccoli with Tahini Lemon Sauce on page 112 from The Joyous Cookbook.


salmon pesto with roasted veggies

I can't wait to hear what you think of this recipe!

Joy xo

Karolina   •   January 16, 2020

Hi Joy, I bought your cookbook and it is great! I made the chickpea brownies and they were delicious and very filling. The only thing is that I found that they needed more time in the oven than what was called for to get the right consistency (40 min instead of 20 min). They were fudgy, cakey and delicious. I will make them again!

Joy McCarthy   •   January 18, 2020

Kendra   •   January 21, 2020

Do you ever used frozen fillets,and if so do you let them defrost prior to baking?

Joy McCarthy   •   January 21, 2020

Lanise James   •   January 21, 2020

This salmon recipe looks so tasty and yummy! :-)

Joy McCarthy   •   January 23, 2020

Melody   •   January 21, 2020

Hi Joy, I had all the ingredients for the kale pesto and threw it together before work this morning. It was perfect with eggs, tomatoes and sprouted grain toast for a light supper. So easy and delicious!

Joy McCarthy   •   January 23, 2020

Leanne   •   January 22, 2020

Hi joy Yum! Made this fish last night with the kale pesto, so fresh tasting. Approximately how many kale leaves should be used! In your photos it doesn’t look like a lot but recipe says a bunch?? Just wanted to ask as I used one bunch and it is tons more than the photo so after tasting I added more garlic. Then salt then lemon and finally more olive oil to get it to what I thought was correct. Loved it anyway on salmon and on roast chicken tonight. Ordered your new book and can’t wait to get it.

Joy McCarthy   •   January 23, 2020

Allison C.   •   February 26, 2020

Just made the salmon with kale lemon pesto tonite - delicious! So flavourful and moist. Will definitely make this again!

Joy McCarthy   •   February 27, 2020

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