5-Minute Vegan Basil Pesto Recipe. This homemade pesto recipe is delicious and easy to make. Meal prep and freezer friendly, this vegan pesto is just what you need for sauces, pizza, pasta and more.
Yes! A healthy pesto recipe that is dairy-free and DELICIOUS! Sign me up….STAT! Whether you’re growing basil in your own garden or buying it at your local farmers market, nothing beats the taste and aroma of a batch of fresh vegan basil pesto.
Clearly I adore homemade pesto. There are no shortage of pesto recipes here on my blog. You’ll find kale pesto, arugula pesto, dijon pesto, and even carrot top pesto…and myriad recipes that use pesto here too. Oh, it was time for a traditional basil pesto recipe….but don’t you worry, like all my recipes this one is dairy-free…and tastes INCREDIBLE.
Pesto fans keep reading….I’ll give you the inside scoop on pesto….everything from what pesto is all the way to how to make the best vegan pesto. Buckle up for the tips and tricks that will help you become an expert pesto maker in no time.
Why you will love this vegan basil pesto recipe
- Delicious and dairy-free.
- Super easy to make….I bet you can do it in 5 minutes.
- Much less expensive than buying store bought pesto.
- Versatile: Use it as a sauce for pizza, pasta, or roasted veggies.
- Perfect for crudites or a dip on your charcuterie board.
- Slather it on your wraps or spring rolls.
- It’s meal prep and freezer friendly.
What is pesto?
Generally speaking, pesto refers to the original “pesto alla genovese” named for the city Genoa in Italy where the recipe originated. It traditionally consisted of garlic, pine nuts, basil leaves, coarse salt and hard cheese, blended with olive oil. The term Genoese also means to pound or crush. Before food processors were invented, pesto was made using a marble mortar and wooden pestle.
These days, pesto recipes can include all types of herbs or greens, a variety of nuts or seeds, garlic is optional and so is cheese and oil. What pesto recipes have in common is that the ingredients are pounded or ground into a paste. After that, you do you….the more flavor you can add with herbs or aromatics, the better!
Basil Pesto Ingredients and Substitutions
- Basil: Basil pesto has a unique flavor compared to other pestos….but, if you do not have enough for this recipe, don’t fret, you can use a combination of basil and another fresh herb to make up the difference. Fresh parsley, oregano or cilantro will all work well. Spinach is too flavorless and watery, but arugula has a nice peppery flavor and can also be used to get you to the magic 3 cups.
- Pine nuts: Pine nuts are softer than many nuts and therefore grind up beautifully for pesto. Cashews have a similar texture and will also produce a creamy pesto. I’ve substituted marcona almonds (even though that sounds counter-intuitive if you’re looking for something soft) and absolutely LOVED the flavorful result. If you’re looking for a nut-free pesto, swap out the nuts in favor of seeds….my favorite is a combo of hemp seeds and pumpkin seeds, but sunflower seeds will also work well.
- Garlic: Low FODMAP? Try some garlic infused olive oil to impart some flavor without irritating your tummy.
- Lemon: I adore the tang that fresh lemon imparts. Zest the peel before juicing to drive that citrus flavor home. No lemons? No problem. You can use ¼ cup bottled lemon juice. OR, use 1-2 Tablespoon white vinegar to balance the other flavors and give this a little zing.
- Extra Virgin Olive oil: This recipe is already lightened up with just ¼ cup, but if you’re avoiding added oils, I have some suggestions for you. I don’t think the taste will be the same if you simply substitute the olive oil with water. Veggie broth is a better sub, and I’d also add some hemp seeds to mimic the creaminess you’d get by using oil. I’ve made it this way many times, and honestly, nobody knows the difference.
- Nutritional Yeast: I don’t know why I resisted this dairy-free swap in recipes for so long. It’s an awesome vegan way to get a “cheesy” flavor without the dairy. I use it in everything from stuffed mushrooms to roasted broccoli. You can find it at most grocery stores or order it from Thrive Market. I use it so often I get a large container so I don’t run out so quickly.
- Sea Salt: Another ingredient that’s all about YOUR palette and taste buds. If you’re cutting back on sodium, try making it without. Taste. See what you think. Adding a bit more garlic or lemon juice will help add some flavor without any sodium. Also consider using a salt free seasoning like Mrs. Dash.
- Pepper: I love the subtle heat that white pepper imparts, but black pepper will also fill the need. For a more robust spice, sprinkle in some crushed red pepper, to taste.
How to make it
Oh, you’re going to love how simple it is to make pesto from scratch. Honestly, it’s so quick and easy you’ll wonder why you didn’t start making homemade pesto sooner.
First you’ll place the basil, pine nuts, lemon zest and juice, garlic, salt and pepper into the bowl of a food processor. If you don’t have a processor, you can use a blender. It’s possible to make pesto with a mortar and pestle, but you’ll need to have patience and a strong arm.
Chopping the ingredients into uniform pieces is easy with a food processor. You’ll want to do this before adding more liquid into the mixture. Stop and scrape down the sides until everything is incorporated.
You’ll add the liquid while the processor is running for the best results. You can use all olive oil, a combo of olive oil and veggie broth or all broth. A creamy, dairy-free pesto will emerge. You can make it thicker or thinner, depending on what you’ll use it for.
Debra’s Pro Tips
- If you have enough basil, make a double batch. Freeze in ice cube trays and then pop into zip top bag. You can throw a cube into ANY sauce you’re making for a quick flavor boost.
- Make sure you pulse the ingredients into a uniform size before adding the liquid.
- Use parsley or another aromatic herb if you don’t have enough basil.
- Place a small piece of plastic wrap DIRECTLY onto the pesto before covering to avoid the top turning brown. It’s the oxidation that occurs from the air getting into the basil that will turn it brown.
- Plant extra basil in your garden….or grow some in a pot in a sunny window so you can make this whenever the mood strikes.
- If you still have more basil, whip up a batch of my Basil Balsamic Vinaigrette..
Which is the best pesto recipe?
Well, that depends on YOUR agenda, and your taste buds.
- What ingredients do you have? The beauty of pesto is that you can find a way to make it work with what you have. See my list of substitutions below.
- What are you going to do with it? If you’re making pasta salad, you’ll want something more creamy. Slathering it onto your smashed potatoes, you may want more flavor. If you’re doing roasted veggies with pesto, the consistency will be different than if you’re making a charcuterie board with a bowl of it for dipping.
- Who is going to eat it and do they have any dietary restrictions? One of the many things I love about making pesto from scratch is its versatility. It’s so easy to make dairy-free pesto, oil-free pesto or nut-free pesto…and still have a tasty and satisfying experience. I’ve got tons of swaps below so you can tailor your recipe to fit your needs and make an epic batch of healthy pesto.
Homemade vegan pesto will last in the fridge for up to a week, or the freezer for up to 3 months.
Store pesto in the fridge in an airtight container. For best results, and to avoid the top turning brown, use plastic wrap that has been pat down to totally cover the surface of the pesto and then place the container lid on. Making sure the pesto isn’t exposed to air is the best way to prevent oxidation and browning. However, if the top layer turns brown, use a knife to scrape off the thin layer of brown, and you’ll see bright green pesto underneath.
Scoop pesto into ice cube trays to freeze. Pop out the frozen cubes and store in a zip top bag to have on hand to season sauces, dressings, soups and marinades.
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Vegan Basil Pesto
- 3 cups 7.5 oz packed fresh basil leaves* (remove large stems before measuring)
- ¼ cup pine nuts*
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast
- 2 large cloves garlic
- 1 lemon zested and juiced
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon white pepper*
- ¼ cup olive oil*
- 2-4 Tablespoons water*
- Scrape down sides of bowl and process again.
- Slowly drizzle in the olive oil (or first ¼ cup of veggie broth) while machine is running. Scrape down sides. Process again. Add water (or more broth) 1 Tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is reached. Will you be using this as a dip? Make it thicker. A sauce? Thin it out. Totally up to you!
- Taste for seasoning. Add more salt, nutritional yeast, lemon juice or pepper as desired. Process once more.
- Pesto will stay good in the fridge for up to a week. To avoid having the top turn brown, place a piece of plastic wrap tightly against the surface of the pesto, and THEN cover.
- Freeze pesto in ice cube trays, then pop out and store in zip top bags for easy addition into sauces, spreads and other recipes for an instant flavor boost.