This is a variation of our pesto base recipe. Traditional pesto contains parmesan cheese, but for those following a vegan diet or those who have a milk allergy, parmesan isn’t an option. Luckily, there is a lot more to pesto than the cheese! This simple vegan basil pesto recipe is great on pasta, vegetables, and fish, and is a perfect sauce to make and keep on hand!
Three Must-Know Cooking Skills
For recipe success, learn how to:
Culinary Tips for Making Vegan Pesto
When measuring the greens, gently pack them into the cup, but don’t pack so much that the leaves fall out of the cup.
Depending on the size of your food processor or blender, you might need to double the recipe. The jar/bowl needs to be full of enough ingredients to properly blend.
Be careful with the amount of fresh garlic you use – it has strong flavor! It’s better to start with less and add more once tasting.
Process until you reach your desired texture. For a smooth and creamy pesto sauce, process for longer. You don’t need the cheese to make it creamy!
- Basil: substitute or add any greens of your choice (spinach, arugula, kale). If you don’t have a full two cups of basil, substitute 1 cup spinach to make vegan spinach basil pesto.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil: substitute infused extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil. We don’t recommend using vegetable oil, as this is not a heart-healthy oil. If you want to enhance the pesto with a strongly flavored oil, such as walnut or truffle oil, use extra virgin olive oil as the base, then add the strong oil a little at a time, to taste.
- Nuts: make vegan pesto without pine nuts by substituting walnuts, cashews, pecans, or almonds. Increase quantity to 1/2 cup if using larger nuts such as these. We don’t recommend using peanuts in pesto, as they have a very distinct taste.
- Garlic: substitute ½ teaspoon garlic flakes, ¼ teaspoon granulated garlic, or ⅛ teaspoon garlic powder.
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To reduce the pungency of the garlic, use roasted garlic. Roast with the peel on, then remove after cooking.
For a more complex flavor, toast the nuts before adding them to the blender.
Add lemon zest and/or juice to brighten the flavor.
We made our vegan pesto recipe without nutritional yeast, but if you like the flavor that nutritional yeast adds, feel free to add a tablespoon!
Need some pesto recipe inspiration?
Are you nuts for pesto too? Use our base recipe to make it your own, or try out these other variations!
Use these kitchen tools for pesto recipe success!
Health Benefits of Homemade Vegan Pesto
Learning how to make pesto sauce from scratch is a great way to expand your culinary horizons! Pesto is a healthy sauce/dip/spread that can boost the nutritional quality and flavor of a dish. The featured ingredients in this recipe are greens, nuts, and extra virgin olive oil.
Leafy greens are an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. They are rich in essential vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that promote health and help fight diseases. Blending leafy greens into a healthy pesto recipe is an easy way to incorporate them in your diet!
Nuts of all varieties contain plant-based protein, fiber, and healthy fats. These nutrients help you feel satisfied until your next meal.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil is a key component of the Mediterranean Diet. It contains high amounts of heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids and polyphenols which may reduce inflammation. Additionally, certain nutrients require fat for absorption; using extra virgin olive oil in pesto can boost the nutritional quality of a dish. (1, 2)
Serve pesto tossed in a grain-based salad, as a spread on a sandwich, as a sauce on a caprese pizza, or mixed in with noodles to make vegan basil pesto pasta. These are some of our favorite recipes with pesto, but feel free to use it in whatever sound great to you!
Storage Tips for Homemade Pesto
Pesto oxidizes in the refrigerator which turns the bright green color to olive green. This doesn’t necessarily affect the flavor – it just doesn’t look as pretty! To help preserve some of the color, drizzle olive oil on top of the pesto before refrigerating. Alternatively, cover the pesto with plastic wrap and let it touch the surface so that it doesn’t have any contact with the air.
Pesto also freezes well. For easy use and thawing, freeze pesto in small servings (a silicone ice tray is great for this). When ready to eat, simply pop a cube or two out, thaw, and you’re ready to go!
Want more plant-forward sauce recipes?
Try out these tasty recipes!
Vegan Basil Pesto
- 2 cups lightly packed fresh basil
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup marcona almonds or walnuts
- 1 medium garlic clove
- 2 Tablespoons lemon juice (~1 medium lemon)
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Place basil, oil, nuts, garlic, and lemon juice in a blender or food processor and puree until fairly smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- To store, pour into an airtight container and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil to keep your pesto nice and green! Enjoy!