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Vegan Pesto: Yes, You Can

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Every other Thursday, Gena Hamshaw of the blog Choosing Raw shares satisfying, flavorful recipes that also happen to be vegan.

Today: Yes, you can make vegan pesto. Just grab yourself some nutritional yeast, and you'll be a believer.

vegan pesto

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!

vegan pesto

Simple Vegan Pesto

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

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom

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Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Vegetable, Pesto, Vegan