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Alex Caspero is a Registered Dietitian, New York Times Bestselling Plant-Based 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.
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!
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.
This recipe is simple by design. All you need is:
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.
Place the basil, pine nuts, garlic, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, and salt into the base of a food processor.
Turn the food processor on low and blend until finely chopped. The consistency should be finely mashed but not a paste.
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.
Serve immediately or store in the fridge for 2-3 days, or freeze. Freezer directions below.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.Print
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!
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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