Garlicky, glorious, herby pesto. It’s such a wonderful, versatile sauce that elevates everything from pizza to pasta to sandwiches. And at a glance, pesto looks like it must be vegan. I mean, it’s so green, am I right? But nope! Traditional pesto is not vegan.
Traditional pesto contains the following ingredients:
- Pine nuts
- Parmesan and
- Olive oil
So you see your vegan “gotcha” ingredient right there – PARMESAN! No bueno for vegans – and something a no bueno for vegetarians, too, if rennet source matters to you.
I’m sure there are quite a few people out there who think pesto needs parmesan cheese, and I suppose I used to be one of them. But you know what? It just ain’t so! Yes, back before my dairy-free days, even my own pesto recipes had a heavy hand with the cheese. And I’ll admit, it took me awhile to land on a cheese-free pesto recipe that I liked just as well. So you might be wondering …
What Can I Use Instead of Parmesan in Pesto?
Instead of Parmesan, we’ve got a combo of that glorious vegan wonderfood, nutritional yeast, and lemon juice. TRUST ME – this combo works swimmingly and officially elevates this vegan basil pesto to my very favorite in the world.
So what else is in this one?
We’ve got some nice, traditional ingredients going on – basil, pine nuts, good olive oil, garlic. And then, as we’ve discussed, we’ve got lemon juice for zip, nutritional yeast for that nutty umami effect that parmesan used to bring to the table, and some fresh thyme just because it’s oh-so good. The thyme is optional, but I gotta enthusiastically recommend it. (The addition is inspired by the one and only Isa and it’s so good in there.)
Some people use a mortar and pestle for their pesto – that’s the old-fashioned (and some might argue superior) way to do it. If you’d like to do the same, go for it! But me, I use my Vitamix. Call me lazy or call me efficient – either way, call my very favorite vegan pesto recipe delicious. 😉
Because it’s still plenty tasty straight out of the blender, and it’s super easy to make that way too.
Seriously, just seeing that picture of freshly blended bright green basil pesto just makes my heart go all a-flutter.
Make some for now, make some for later (just freeze it in ice cube trays and pop out a cube whenever you need a hit of flavor). Either way, just make it!
You’ll be glad you did.
Oh, and some ideas for enjoying your vegan basil pesto? I, Ms. Pesto Obsessed, have a few of those! How about as a base on some pizza along with a thin layer of heirloom tomatoes and some cashew parmesan sprinkled on top before baking? Vegan pizza nirvana. Or tossed with just-out-of-the-oven roasted baby potatoes? Drizzled on top of your favorite minestrone? Slathered on a grilled vegetable sandwich? Stirred into some pasta and topped with cherry tomatoes?
Pesto, baby. Is there anything it can’t do?
My Very Favorite Vegan Basil Pesto Recipe
- 6 cups loosely packed fresh basil
- 2/3 cup pine nuts
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
- 4 medium cloves garlic (roughly minced)
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt + more to taste
- 1/2 - 3/4 cup olive oil
- Place basil, pine nuts, nutritional yeast, garlic, lemon juice, thyme (if using), salt, and 1/2 cup olive oil in your high-speed blender (I use and recommend a Vitamix). Blend until a bit of a paste forms, drizzling in more olive oil as necessary until your pesto reaches the consistency you like. Taste and add additional salt if desired.
- Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or freeze for up to several months.