Vegan Pesto

By Alexandra Caspero on September 7, 2023

Easy vegan pesto! Made in just minutes, this cheesy vegan pesto is so incredibly flavorful with just a handful of ingredients. A must for pasta, pizza, sandwiches, and more!

If you’ve got basil, then you need to make this fresh basil pesto! Perfect for pizza, pasta, sandwiches, and more– fresh pesto is loaded with flavor and a must in so many recipes.

Traditional pesto alla Genovese, from the Ligurian city of Genoa, is made with only fresh basil, salt, pine nuts, cheese, and olive oil and done using a mortar and pestle. Pesto literally means ‘to crush,’ and that’s exactly how you make it– crushing nuts, basil, garlic, and the other ingredients to form a creamy sauce.

And while I’ve occasionally pulled out my mortar and pestle to make pesto– that’s not the norm. And it doesn’t have to be! You can make an incredible pesto sauce using a food processor. The blades blend the basil, cheese, and other ingredients well to create a silky sauce that you’ll want to enjoy on everything.

Here’s how to make vegan pesto.

Vegan Pesto In A Jar

Ingredients

This recipe is simple by design. All you need is:

  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • Garlic
  • Lemon juice
  • Pine Nuts
  • Nutritional Yeast

The lemon juice is optional, but I find that it helps to brighten up the pungent vegan pesto sauce and cuts through some of the richness of the olive oil and pine nuts.

Nutritional yeast is the vegan part of this recipe, substituting for parmesan cheese, which gives the pesto a nice funky, cheezy taste. I don’t recommend skipping it if you want the pesto flavor. If you do remove it, then you’ll get more of a basil sauce, delicious in its own right, but not necessarily pesto.

How to Make Vegan Pesto

Put the Items in the Food Processor

Place the basil, pine nuts, garlic, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, and salt into the base of a food processor.Pesto Ingredients

Blend until finely chopped

Turn the food processor on low and blend until finely chopped. The consistency should be finely mashed but not a paste. Chopped Vegan Pesto

Add in the olive oil

With the motor running, slowly add in the olive oil to emulsify the pesto, creating a creamy vegan pesto. Taste, adding more salt as desired. Pesto Creamy

Store and serve!

Jar Of Vegan Pesto

Serve immediately or store in the fridge for 2-3 days, or freeze. Freezer directions below.

Substitution and Ingredients Notes

While traditional pesto only has a few ingredients– basil, pine nuts, olive oil, salt, and cheese, there are endless versions depending on what you have on hand.

Almost any fresh green works– spinach, kale, and arugula are some of my favorites in pesto. You can also use half fresh basil leaves and half another herb. Try parsley or cilantro, or a mix of fresh oregano, dill, and basil is lovely. You cannot use dried herbs. They will not work the same to try and substitute.

For this vegan pesto, I’m using nutritional yeast for the parmesan cheese, which gives it a nice nutty flavor similar to parmesan. You can find nutritional yeast online or in most well-stocked grocery stores (look in either the spice or baking aisles.)

I’ve tried dairy-free parmesan cheeses in this recipe, and I don’t think they work the same. You can always substitute 1/3 cup of parmesan cheese in this recipe, but I recommend tasting it first to ensure that you like it before adding it to the recipe.

Lastly, the pine nuts are a classic, but they are also one of the more expensive nuts in the store. Walnuts are a great substitution, as are blanched almonds and cashews. For nut-free allergies, you can omit, or you can use sunflower seeds instead.

Creamy Pesto In A Jar

How to Use Pesto

Once your pesto is made, you can enjoy it fresh or freeze it for later. Freezer directions are below!

I almost always make a simple pesto pasta with a batch of pesto as it’s my kids favorite. You can do this with just pesto and pasta or make a more rounded meal by adding in roasted vegetables like I do in my vegan pesto pasta recipe.

Pesto is also great on sandwiches, like this Italian Panini and avocado toast, or on pizza, like my vegan pesto pizza with roasted tomatoes.

Thinned pesto can be used on salads or as the base for salad dressings– thin with more olive oil or water, then drizzle on fresh tomatoes, lettuce, or even grilled corn.

Vegan Pesto Pasta

How to Freeze Pesto

Once you are finished making your pesto, you can freeze any leftovers. For ease, I like to add the pesto to a ice cube tray, a silicone one is easy to remove once frozen, then freeze until solid.

Remove the cubes and place in a freezer-safe container or bag until ready to use. For pasta, toss as many cubes as you’d like with the hot pasta, it will melt as you toss it.

You can also thaw a cube in the microwave or in the fridge to use on sandwiches or as a spread.

More Basil Recipes

More Dips and Spreads

If you try this vegan pesto recipe, make sure to come back to leave a rating and a comment! Your feedback helps other readers and seeing you make my recipes makes my day.

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Jar Of Vegan Pesto

Vegan Pesto

  • Author: Alex Caspero
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 1 cup 1x
  • Category: sauce, dip
  • Method: no cook
  • Cuisine: American, Italian
  • Diet: Vegan

Description

Easy vegan pesto! Made in just minutes, this cheesy vegan pesto is so incredibly flavorful with just a handful of ingredients. A must for pasta, sandwiches, and more!


  • Author: Alex Caspero
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 1 cup 1x
  • Category: sauce, dip
  • Method: no cook
  • Cuisine: American, Italian
  • Diet: Vegan
  • Author: Alex Caspero
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 1 cup 1x
  • Category: sauce, dip
  • Method: no cook
  • Cuisine: American, Italian
  • Diet: Vegan
Scale

Ingredients

  • 2 cups packed fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4-1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions

  1. Place the basil, pine nuts, garlic, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, and salt into the base of a food processor.
  2. Pulse until mostly chopped, then with the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil until a chunky pesto forms—season to taste, adding more salt as desired.

Notes

You can use a dairy-free parm for this recipe, but I prefer nutritional yeast over any of the current non-dairy parmesan cheeses on the market for this one.

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Meet Alex Caspero

Alex Caspero is a Registered Dietitian, New York Times Bestselling Chef, and mom of two. She aims to cut through the nutrition noise by providing real-life, nourishing tips for body and mind. Learn more about Alex.

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