Before you say "What?! A pesto recipe vegan and that too without nutritional yeast? No way!" let me assure you that you will fall in love with this simple vegan pesto. Yes, this recipe is quite different from your typical pesto. It does not have lemon juice, nor does it have toasted pine nuts and it does not have parmesan cheese (it is dairy free, after all!)
Just like this hearty marinara sauce, this pesto without pine nuts and parmesan has loads of flavor and is so simple to make and versatile. This delicious and versatile condiment tastes as good on a piece of toast as it does with pasta!
The best part? It stays fresh in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks!
This recipe was born quite by an accident. It was a weeknight during the month of Veganuary, 2021. We were all craving some cheese-free pesto pasta. I did not have the usual ingredients in my pantry and so I put in whatever I had in my store cupboard! I could not have imagined by the farthest stretch of my imagination that we would all fall in love with this recipe as much as we did! I remember being so excited and quickly noting down the ingredients that I has thrown together so that I could make it again.
Ever since this recipe has been made on repeat and perfected along the way. I am so excited to be sharing this recipe with you! As per my daughters, this recipe is for keeps!
Have you made pesto before? How do you make it? Do let me know in the comments below. I would love to hear from you - Padma
Ingredients for the vegan pesto recipe
What is vegan pesto made of? this is a question that might pop into your head if you have never made a cheeseless pesto recipe before. Fret not! This recipe is so full of flavors that you will not miss the cheese even for a bit!
Please check the recipe card for quantities.
Basil: Use fresh basil - stems and leaves. The stems have SO much flavor - you don't want to bin all that flavor!
Oil: Extra virgin olive oil only please! For the flavor and silky smooth texture, this is non-negotiable.
Green olives or Black olives?: I say green. As you may have noted, I have not used lemon juice in this recipe. The sourness of this pesto comes mainly from the olives. Black olives are not sour.
Nuts: I use both almonds and brazil nuts in this recipe. Brazil nuts are powerhouse of nutrition, and they are the creamiest of all the nuts out there!
Spice: I use red chili flakes for their mellow warmth. Black peppercorns add a delicious "kick" and the jalapeno for the tangy spice. If you are not a fan of too much spice, then feel free to skip the red chili flakes and jalapenos or just reduce the quantities to suit your palate.
Jalapenos: I use the ones that are sliced and in brine. Here in the UK fresh jalapenos are a rarity. If you have them where you are, please use those.
Note: There are 3 sources of spice here - black peppercorns, jalapenos, and red chili flakes. You may wonder if this is too much spice. I assure you it is not! Each of the ingredients here brings a different kind of heat to this dish which balances beautifully in the end with the nuts and olive oil. If, however, you are not a fan of spice, feel free to skip either one or both - jalapenos and red chili flakes (though I recommend that you do not).
How to make vegan pesto
Let's make this homemade pesto. It is easy! All you need is a food processor/blender for grinding and a glass jar to store it.
Step 1: Measure all ingredients.
Step 2: Peel and chop the garlic. Chop the nuts - this will make grinding them easy.
Step 3: Place the chopped nuts, garlic, and black peppercorns in the food processor jar. Grind them till they are finely powdered.
Step 4: Now add the olives, jalapenos, and salt. Grind them to a smooth paste.
The moisture from the olives and the jalapenos, combined with the salt will help.
Step 5: The mixture in the jar should be a smooth paste by now. At this stage, add in the basil - leaves and stems, chili flakes, and olive oil. Now grind these in short bursts. The idea here is to not grind the basil and chili flakes smooth - you should see specks of green and red. This gives the pesto a lovely texture.
Voila! The pesto is ready. Store it in a clean glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Store it in the fridge and this will keep it fresh for up to 2 weeks.
Pro-tip for the most amazing homemade pesto without cheese
I have made this recipe several times and these measurements work perfectly for me. You may find that tweaking the quantities of certain ingredients will work best for your palate. For example, if you are an ardent fan of garlic and want this pesto to be more garlicky, add in 1 or 2 more cloves of garlic.
You may find that the three types of spices that I have used in this recipe are a bit much for your taste. If that is the case, use any one or two sources of heat here. Maybe only black peppercorns. Or a combination of black pepper and red chili flakes and skip the jalapeno entirely.
The good thing about pesto is that it is a forgiving dish. You can add a bit of this and tweak the quantity of that and it will still taste good.
Notes and substitutions
- If you do not have basil, be a bit adventurous and try making this pesto with spinach, coriander, or parsley - or a combination of all/ some.
- Although the traditionalists among us will scorn us, pesto with other nuts tastes so good! I have used brazil nuts and almonds in this recipe. These are some other nuts that do very well in pesto - cashew, walnuts, and macadamia nuts or make a nut-free pesto if nuts are not your favorite things.
- You can add your favorite vegan cheese and amp up the umami flavor of this pesto. You can also add nutritional yeast which will give a cheese-like flavor but without the cheese. If you are ok with dairy, then add in some hard cheese (parmesan, preferably).
With pasta (of course!). I love adding broccoli or broccolini (tender stem broccoli) and a little bit of cheese to my pesto pasta.
Mixed in with grain-free pasta and served with beetroot raita and creamy broccoli as part of a grain-free meal.
Some other ways to enjoy this delicious condiment (although, the sky is the limit!)
- On a piece of toast - I love it, especially, on sourdough.
- Add a dollop of it to your favorite soup for that extra savouriness. I love adding it to my vegan potato soup.
- Use it as a sauce on your homemade pizza.
This pesto is perfect as a make-ahead sauce. Stored in a clean, glass jar and in the fridge, this pesto will stay fresh for up to 2 weeks.
A few weeks ago I was so excited to have got a LOT of fresh basil in a deal. I made a big batch of this easy vegan pesto and used it in so many ways! Delicious!
My observation: I find that vegan pesto stays fresh longer than pesto that has cheese in it. I think that the cheese causes it to spoil faster. Have you also observed this? Do let me know.
Frequently Asked Questions
Traditionally pesto is not vegan-friendly as it has parmesan cheese.
It lasts for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Store it in a clean dry glass jar with a tight lid.
You can use vegan cheese instead of regular cheese. You can also use nutritional yeast for that 'umami' flavor. In this recipe, I have not used either.
Frankly, any! You can be as creative and adventurous as you can! Traditionally, pesto is incomplete without pine nuts. In more modern versions, cashew nuts are commonly used. You can use walnuts as well. Seeds such as sunflower and melon taste good too. In this recipe, I have used a combination of almonds and brazil nuts. You can use almonds only and make this into almond basil pesto.
Some brands of olive oil may have a bitter aftertaste. Buy good quality olive oil. Bear in mind not to add the oil too early in the grinding process. The process of grinding generates heat and that heat will cause the oil to become bitter. Add the oil at the end and grind in pulse motion - just enough to mix the oil with the other ingredients (as I have done in this recipe).
Extra virgin olive oil - without a doubt! Use good quality one for good health and good taste.
Yes, traditionally pesto has dairy, in the form of hard cheese, in it.
Absolutely! Although the traditionalists among us will scorn us, pesto with other nuts tastes so good! These are some other nuts that do very well in pesto - cashew, almond, walnuts, brazil nuts, and macadamia nuts.
If you have made this pesto recipe vegan without nutritional yeast, please take a moment to leave a comment and /or a rating below. This will make me super happy and motivate me to create more good content for you! xx Padma
Pesto Recipe Vegan (without Nutritional Yeast)
- 1 clove garlic (4 grams, approximately)
- ½ teaspoon black peppercorns (25, approximately)
- 6-7 almonds (6 grams, approximately)
- 2 brazil nuts (6-7 grams)
- 1 fresh jalapeno (or 7-8 slices from the jar)
- 5-6 large green olives (whole, pitted)
- ½ teaspoon salt (adjust as per taste)
- 1 small bunch fresh basil (30 grams, approximately)
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon red chili flakes
Prep the ingredients
- Wash basil and keep aside to let the water drain.
- Peel the garlic and chop them into pieces.
- Chop the almonds and brazil nuts.
- If using fresh jalapeno, slice it into 6-7 pieces.
Now let us make the pesto
- To the food processor/ blender jar add the chopped nuts, garlic and black pepper corns. Grind them till they are finely powdered.1 clove garlic, 6-7 almonds, 2 brazil nuts, ½ teaspoon black peppercorns
- Now add the olives, jalapenos and salt. Grind them to a smooth paste.1 fresh jalapeno, 5-6 large green olives, ½ teaspoon salt
- Add in the basil - leaves and stems, chilli flakes and the olive oil. Grind in short bursts. The idea here is to not grind the basil and chilli flakes smooth - you should see specks of green and red. This gives the pesto a lovely texture.1 small bunch fresh basil, ½ teaspoon red chili flakes, 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- AND that's it! Delicious vegan pesto is ready!Store in a clean glass jar with a tight fitting lid.Keep it in the fridge and this will stay fresh for up to 2 weeks.
- Yield: These measurements will make enough pesto for about 150 grams of pasta + 100 grams of vegetable of your choice such as tender stem broccoli.
- Basil: Use fresh basil - stems and leaves. The stems have SO much flavour - you don't want to waste all that flavor!
- Oil: Extra virgin olive oil only please! For the flavor and creaminess this is a non negotiable.
- Chopping the garlic and nuts will help in grinding them better.
- Green olives or Black olives?: I say green. As you may have noted, I have not used lemon juice in this recipe. The sourness to this pesto comes mainly from the olives. Black olives are not sour.
- Nuts: If you do not have brazil nuts, feel free to use almonds entirely. Traditionally, pine nuts are used in pesto. Cashew nuts work very well too. Their creaminess brings a lovely texture to the pesto. Sunflower seeds are a good addition too! You can use a combination of any or all of the above as per your liking.
- Jalapenos: I use the ones that are sliced and in brine and here in the UK I hardly ever find fresh jalapenos. If you have them where you are, please use those.
- Spices: As you may have noted, there are 3 sources of spice here - black peppercorns, jalapenos and red chilli flakes. You may wonder if this is too much spice. I assure you it is not. Each of the ingredient here brings a different kind of heat to this dish which balances beautifully in the end. If, however, you are not a fan of spice, feel free to skip either one or both - jalapenos and red chilli flakes.