Simple Vegan Pesto

May 29, 2013
8 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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Brigitte Bilodeau
    Brigitte Bilodeau
  • carol barber
    carol barber
  • Jennifer Dickinson
    Jennifer Dickinson
  • Jennifer Feldman
    Jennifer Feldman
  • Ellie Anne
    Ellie Anne
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.

103 Reviews

Brigitte B. September 13, 2020
There isn’t many recipes I don’t like on this wonderful website , but this recipe has way to much oil . After I was done it basically tasted to oily ..way to oily I added more basil 1 garlic a few more nuts and more lemon juice . It’s an easy fix for a season cook. But if you need to follow a recipe decrease the oil amount with 1/3 of a cup if you like lemony which I do because it gives more flavor you can add 1 more table spoon ...taste has you go !
Kim S. May 20, 2019
This pesto came out very well. I ended up adding about another 1/4 cup of walnuts since I may have added a little too much basil. It's a wonderful pesto and glad to have found it. The nutritional yeast is a great substitute for the parmesan cheese. Thank you!
Lori W. March 3, 2019
This was so good. My whole family enjoyed it even the non vegans. I did however add more olive oil because I wanted it to duplicate our restaurant version. Thank you!
Jessica August 24, 2018
What a great recipe. I'm raw vegan and really wanted to explore how to make pesto without Parmesan. The only thing was I had to drizzle a little water while blending to get it all puréed. Still it has great consistency and I poured it over my salad. Yum!
carol B. July 22, 2018
Great flavor and color, but the pesto separated. I had to add oil (slow drizzle) before all was mixed up due to lack of no fluid. How do people manage that? Smaller batches I guess. . I did this in my Vitamix. Maybe will try doing it next time in CuisineArt. Comments/suggetions?
Jennifer D. July 4, 2018
This is delicious! I am cutting back on superfluous dairy; I don’t miss the cheese at all in this. I made mine in the blender (my only food processor type thing is a mini chopper), which was fiddly, but manageable. I did my nuts/garlic in two batches, scraped it out, followed by the basil in batches. I layered everything back into the pitcher then proceeded with the recipe as written (adding a bit more XVOO, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste, then blending a final time). The secret to not wasting ANY pesto is to use a narrow bladed silicone spatula to scrape every last bit out. If you don’t mind all that fiddliness, then don’t bother buying a food processor (I never used my old one and it didn’t make the cut when we moved).
Lmp March 7, 2018
I wanted to love this but sadly, after following the recipe mostly to a tee, this pesto came out SO bitter. Could it have been the walnuts? Even after adding parsley and more olive oil, I had to throw it out. 😢
SD July 17, 2018
Probably. Try it with pine nuts. Always taste nuts before adding.
plantasia August 9, 2018
you probably added "brewers yeast" instead of "nutritional yest" brewers yeast is naturally very bitter while nutritional yeast is cheesy. :)
Mari O. May 30, 2019
If walnuts in particular, but all nuts in general aren't kept from air, light & heat the oils in them oxidize resulting in bitterness. Easiest way to store nuts is in the freezer. Next best is dry canning them and keeping dark & cool.
Rachel September 4, 2017
This is really really really good. Rivals any non-vegan pesto I've ever had. I can't believe how much "cheesy" flavor the nutritional yeast adds. Thanks for the recipe!
Jen August 25, 2017
This is spectacular holy cow! Was just looking for a quick lunch, I didn't know I'd find my new favourite thing! I used cashews instead of pine nuts or walnuts because it's all I had on hand, and it really turned out fantastic! I even skipped the nutritional yeast because I JUST ran out, and it was still super good! Im so impressed! Thank you for this recipe!
Briar R. August 21, 2017
This has been my go-to for years because a bag of nutritional yeast costs way less than good parm and lasts longer, too. Now that I have to be dairy-free, I'm doubly glad to have this recipe up my sleeve.
Jennifer F. July 17, 2017
Delicious, followed recipe exactly and I'm in love with this pesto 😊 I put in on bow tie pasta, so yummy!
Ellie A. July 9, 2017
I didn't have *quite* enough basil, so I supplemented with some parsley and chives. Super yummy! With the nooch, I didn't add any extra salt.
Denise June 17, 2017
Delicious w/ gnocchi! So delicious... I used toasted almonds as my nut, pineapple vinegar as my acid (I didn't have a lemon on hand), and added some red pepper flakes. I don't have a food processor, so I used my Vitamix and lost way too much pesto to the Vitamix, was so good I must just deal with the wonkiness of the Vitamix again, or perhaps this pesto will finally get me to buy a food processor. : )
Melissa M. May 31, 2017
I tried this last week and it was delicious. I just tried it again and it tastes so strange, almost inedible and doesn't have that bright green colour like last time. The basil is fresh from the garden, could it be the walnuts? Any thoughts?
Marie September 13, 2017
Once it starts to oxidize, it loses its bright flavors. Try freezing batches of leftovers, or making sure the top layer is covered with a bit of olive oil so so o air touches the surface.
RuthAnn May 25, 2017
Oh! Forgot to mention, I always make this pesto when my basil is starting to turn brown. I toss in the stems, too.... lots of flavor hiding in those.
RuthAnn May 25, 2017
This is YUMMY! I substituted toasted walnuts, as pine nuts were too pricey. I used just a few tablespoons of oil. This freezes beautifully. Once you thaw and slather on hot pasta, you could never tell it's been frozen.
Bex W. May 4, 2017
I love it! I used 1/4 cup oil and no nutritional yeast but it's still delicious :)
CJnOC February 6, 2017
Couple of things to consider. Try roasting the pine nuts in a skillet. After that I throw the pine nuts in the food processor first and get it to a nice crunchy, tight mince. Then I remove it. Then add everything the remaining ingredients and get to that nice consistency. I then mix the pine nuts back in, add salt to taste, and incorporate.
Arwen September 7, 2016
I love the flavor combinations, but for my taste the nutritional yeast was really overpowering. I'll probably cut by ⅓ to ½ next time. I do like nutritional yeast, but it was a bit strong!
Kristin B. July 28, 2016
This pesto is not just enjoyed by my carnivorous friends, it is actually preferred!! Is it possible to can? My basil plants are out of control! As far as freezing, I have had mixed results.