This homemade vegan basil pesto is packed with fresh herbs to make a rich and flavourful sauce. Ready in under 10 minutes and ideal for topping pasta, pizza or bread and more.
Our garden is full of basil at the moment, so we thought it the perfect time to share this easy vegan pesto recipe with you!
We propagated our basil by taking cuttings and rooting them in water, and we ended up with loads of plants! So we’ll be making a big batch of this vegan pesto sauce to freeze and enjoy later in the year as well.
We love how versatile this vegan pesto is! It is guaranteed to bring a fresh green zing to liven up any meal. Of course, it's perfect for making vegan pesto pasta. But you can use it for so much more - with gnocchi, on flatbreads, as a dip, in sandwiches…
Our recipe will show you step by step how to make vegan pesto and how to easily vary the ingredients to your taste. Let’s get started!
Here's what you'll need to make this easy vegan pesto:
- Fresh basil leaves - You’ll want an Italian type of basil, such as Genovese. We love using homegrown or organic. Whatever type of basil you use, be sure to wash and dry it well before use.
- Cashew nuts - Because they are so expensive, we usually make our vegan pesto without pinenuts. Cashews are a more affordable alternative and work great. You can use raw, or toast them. It's up to you!
- Nutritional yeast flakes, otherwise known as 'nooch'. This adds to the cheesy flavour and replaces the parmesan in traditional pesto. We love it so much we buy it in bulk.
- Garlic cloves
- And olive oil - Choose a tasty extra virgin olive oil.
Step by step
Here's a quick visual guide on how to make vegan pesto (full recipe is in the printable card at the end of the post). You can skip toasting the nuts if you are in a hurry!
Step 1 - Wash your basil (or other greens) and remove any very thick, tough stalks - small ones are ok!
Step 2 - If desired, lightly toast your nuts (or seeds) in a pan to bring out extra nutty flavour.
Step 3 - Place the basil leaves, nuts, nutritional yeast, garlic and salt in a food processor or blender bowl and blend to a paste.
Step 4 - Scrape down the sides, then slowly pour in the olive oil whilst blending.
Basil and other greens
Instead of basil, or if you don’t have the full amount, you can also use other leafy greens. Pesto is a great way to use up spinach or excess salad leaves.
Other herbs such as parsley or lemon balm can also be used to make pesto. One of our favourites is cilantro or coriander leaves. Experiment with different combinations of greens and nuts or seeds and have fun discovering new flavours!
Nuts or seeds
Instead of cashew nuts, you can use pine nuts as is traditional for Italian pesto.
You can also use walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, hazels, pecans… Each will bring a subtly different and unique flavour to the finished pesto.
Sunflower seeds are an excellent nut free and budget friendly alternative.
And hemp seeds or pumpkin seeds / pepitas can add a wonderful flavour too.
Nutritional yeast substitute
If you are looking for a vegan pesto without nutritional yeast, then here’s a few alternatives:
- Leave it out completely. You can still make a delicious basil sauce without it.
- Use white miso instead. Use about half the quantity of nutritional yeast. So, for example, in the base recipe you would use 2 tbsp miso paste instead of ¼ cup nutritional yeast. Miso can be salty, so leave the salt out and add more to taste if necessary.
- Use a store bought vegan parmesan, such as Violife. Again, adjust salt to taste.
If you are a big fan of garlic, add a clove (or two more!) or make our vegan wild garlic pesto instead!
And if you like more tang, add a generous squeeze of lemon juice. This can also help the pesto stay greener.
If you don't have a blender or food processor, then you can roughly chop the ingredients first and pound them with a mortar and pestle. And if you’ve got no mortar and pestle, simply take a bit of time and finely chop everything before combining. This is what we do when we make pesto in our campervan!
Oil free version
If you want to make an oil-free basil pesto sauce, you can simply leave the olive oil out and add some water or broth until you reach the desired consistency.
Or alternatively you can use a vegan yoghurt instead.
You can also use half water and olive oil if you want to reduce the oil content, but still have some of its flavour.
Storage and FAQs
Transfer your pesto into a clean jar for storage. (We love our silicone spatula for getting all the good stuff out of the food processor!) Store in the fridge for up to one week.
Homemade pesto naturally turns brown when exposed to air. It's still fine to eat.
To reduce browning during storage, pour a little extra olive oil on the surface of the pesto. This layer of oil will stop the pesto from turning brown and oxidising as it doesn't come into contact with air.
Yes! Pesto freezes well for longer storage.
Our top tip is to freeze it in small portions so it's easy to use and quick to defrost. An ice cube tray is ideal. Simply transfer the frozen cubes into an airtight container and freeze for up to 6 months.
You can also freeze it directly in a jar if you leave enough headroom for expansion. To defrost, leave it in the fridge overnight.
Here are some of our favourite ways to use our freshly made vegan basil pesto:
- To make vegan pesto pasta. Add peas or fresh tomatoes for a quick and tasty dinner. Sprinkle with our yummy vegan sunflower seed parmesan.
- Spread it on bread.
- Use it to liven up soup.
- Swirl it into hummus.
- Use it to make our yummy pesto bread.
- Or use instead of tomato sauce for a green pizza.
Vegan Basil Pesto
- 2 cups packed (100 g) basil
- ¼ cup (35 g) cashews or other nuts or seeds
- ¼ cup (15 g) nutritional yeast
- 2 cloves garlic
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ cup (120 ml) extra virgin olive oil
- First wash your basil (or other greens) and remove any tough stalks.
- If desired, lightly toast your nuts (or seeds) in a pan to bring out extra nutty flavour.
- Place the basil leaves, nuts, nutritional yeast, garlic and salt in a food processor or blender bowl and blend to a paste.
- Scrape down the sides and then slowly pour in the olive oil whilst blending.
- Transfer to a clean jar for storage, and drizzle a little more oil on top to stop it from browning.
Store in the fridge for up to 1 week. Freeze for longer storage.