Today: Yes, you can make vegan pesto. Just grab yourself some nutritional yeast, and you'll be a believer.
In my home, the advent of summer is always marked by an abundance of fresh pesto. It crowds my fridge, and soon after that, it starts to crowd my freezer. Pesto is such a staple in my kitchen that I sometimes forget that not all pesto is created vegan: the classic recipe, of course, contains Parmesan cheese. If you’re experimenting with vegan recipes but you love pesto as dearly as I do, fear not. Vegan pesto is within your reach.
The trick to a perfect vegan pesto is nutritional yeast. This magical ingredient is a staple of vegan diets (vegans lovingly refer to it as “nooch”), but it’s often ignored by everyone else. This is a shame, because nutritional yeast is versatile and nutritious. It also has a cheesy, nutty flavor that makes a great substitute for Parmesan cheese.
I love nutritional yeast so much that I’ve been known to eat it by the spoonful, but it has more sophisticated uses: it’s great sprinkled on pasta or warm grains, mixed into cashew cream for a “cheesy” vegan pasta sauce, or as a topping for popcorn.
If none of those ideas strike your fancy, trust me when I say that nutritional yeast in vegan pesto is a game changer. I use the following vegan pesto in potato salads, pasta dishes, and spread on sandwiches or in wraps. It’s always a tremendous hit. And if the idea of any food nicknamed “nooch” freaks you out, don’t worry -- lots of pesto recipes, including this delicious Mint-Pistachio Pesto, are naturally vegan. Just make sure they’re dairy-free!
Makes 1 generous cup
2 cups tightly packed fresh basil
1/2 cup walnuts or pine nuts
1 to 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped (to taste)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
Photos by James Ransom