Simple Vegan Pesto

May 29, 2013
7 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
Author Notes

This pesto is so creamy and flavorful, you'd never guess that it's dairy-free. The secret ingredient is nutritional yeast, which adds a Parmesan-like cheesiness. Toss this with hot pasta, spread it on sandwiches, or dollop it on grilled vegetables or thickly sliced summer tomatoes. —Gena Hamshaw

Test Kitchen Notes

One of the main ingredients in a classic pesto alla genovese is grated cheese (like Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano), which adds creaminess, saltiness, and lots of umami. Knowing this, it'd be easy to assume that vegan (aka, cheese-free) pesto isn't possible or would be bad—but it's very possible and very good. Just leave it to food blogger Gena Hamshaw (she wrote our "Vegan" cookbook!) to develop a recipe that's dairy-free and just as flavorful as the original. A generous amount of extra-virgin olive oil and walnuts (or pine nuts) bring lots of fatty richness, while nutritional yeast acts as an A+ cheese substitute. If you're wondering what the heck nutritional yeast is—it's a nutrient-dense food seasoning that you'll find in all sorts of vegan (and non-vegan) recipes for its uncanny cheesiness. Here, it's a total game changer, and we have a feeling once you buy a jar, you won't be able to stop yourself from sprinkling it on popcorn and baked potatoes, stirring it into veggie dips and soups, and more. —The Editors

Watch This Recipe
Simple Vegan Pesto
  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Makes 1 heaping cup
  • 2 cups tightly packed fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup walnuts or pine nuts
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pinch sea salt and freshly ground pepper, plus more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
In This Recipe
  1. Place the basil, walnuts or pine nuts, and garlic in a food processor fitted with the S blade. Pulse to combine, until the mixture is coarsely ground.
  2. With the motor on, drizzle in the olive oil in a thin stream. Add the sea salt, pepper, lemon, and nutritional yeast, and pulse a few more times to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning to taste. This will keep well in the fridge, in a tightly sealed container, for a few days; top the pesto with a layer of olive oil to decrease any browning.

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Gena is a registered dietitian, recipe developer, and food blogger. She's the author of three cookbooks, including Power Plates (2017) and Food52 Vegan (2015). She enjoys cooking vegetables, making bread, and challenging herself with vegan baking projects.