A perfectly simple, easy vegan basil pesto recipe that you need on repeat. Basil pesto brights up any dish but is perfect on pasta or pizza. This dairy-free pesto uses just a pinch of nutritional yeast to fill the dairy void while letting the star (obviously, the basil) shine!
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Basil pesto is a sauce that originated in Genoa, a coastal city in northern Italy, during the 16th century. The word "pesto" comes from the Italian word "pestare," which means to crush or pound, referring to the traditional method of making the sauce with a mortar and pestle.
Pesto is one of those easy sauces that doesn’t require hours standing over the stove but packs on bunches of flavor. Everyone has their own version of the perfect pesto, but this is my favorite homemade pesto recipe.
It is one of our favorite healthy sauces. We use it over gluten-free pasta, steamed spaghetti squash, and roasted eggplant but most often just on some fresh garden tomatoes.
📖Why This Recipe Works
Fresh pesto is ideal at the end of summer when you have a plethora of basil plants. You can freeze it in cubes for use all year round. This is a good thing because most grocery stores don't have a dairy-free option for pesto.
But this vegan pesto sauce still has a cheesy flavor thanks to nutritional yeast. Other than that, it is made with 100% simple ingredients and only takes 5 minutes!
Fresh Basil- Remove the stems and discard leaves with any brown spots.
Pine Nuts- Unsalted.
Nutritional Yeast- This is our "cheese". If you aren't a fan of the flavor you can omit or reduce the quantity.
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil- Use high-quality extra virgin olive oil.
Garlic, Fresh Lemon Juice and Kosher Salt round out the ingredients.
See recipe card for exact quantities.
- Add a half cup of sun-dried tomatoes.
- Use pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds for a nut-free version.
- Do 50/50 with another herb. My favorites are parsley, oregano (the most underutilized fresh herb), and mint.
- Add baby spinach for an extra healthy sauce.
- Replace the lemon juice with a few slices of preserved lemon peel. I would omit the nutritional yeast due to clashing flavors.
- Replace the pine nuts and EVOO with walnuts and walnut oil. This is what I use in my ramp pesto recipe.
- Replace the raw garlic with 3-4 cloves of roasted garlic for a sweeter flavor.
- Increase to 1 ½ cups of olive oil and add 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar to make a salad dressing.
⏲️How to Make Dairy-Free Pesto
Step 1- Toast
To toast the pine nuts place them in a dry saute pan over medium-low heat. They are done when they turn golden and start to smell nutty. Shaking the pan frequently will help prevent them from burning.
Step 2- Blend
The traditional way to make pesto is with a larger mortar and pestle. I prefer the easy way.
Place all the ingredients into your food processor or high speed EXCEPT the olive oil. Give it a few good pulses to break up the basil leaves, pine nuts, and garlic.
Only once everything is all minced up can you begin to slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Add additional salt if needed.
🥗How to Use Dairy-Free Basil Pesto
Tossing your favorite pasta in your homemade pesto is an obvious option. But here are a few more ways I like to use it, starting with on fried polenta and eggplant.
👩🏻🍳 Expert Tips
- Blanch the basil if not using right away. This will keep the bright green color.
- Don't use cheap olive oil, you should like the taste of it on its own.
- Adjust the amount of olive oil to get the consistency that works for your dish.
- Use a blender rather than a food processor for the best texture.
You need to keep pesto in an airtight container in the fridge. I prefer to store the pesto in a glass jar with a thin layer of extra olive oil on the top (to prevent any air from getting to it). It will keep in the fridge for 5 to 7 days.
To freeze the pesto I like to fill silicone ice cube trays with the pesto. Freeze and then transfer the pesto cubes to a freezer-safe plastic storage bag. Store for 3 to 6 months. Expect some browning unless you blanched the pesto.
More Dairy-Free Sauce Recipes
💭 Frequently Asked Questions
Bring a small pot of water to a low boil. Add the fresh basil and stir for 20 to 30 seconds. Move the basil to an ice bath. Cool for 1 minute and then move to a colander to drain. A traditional pesto recipe doesn't require you to blanch the pesto. I only recommend doing this for long-term storage.
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- Add pine nuts to a dry saute pan. Heat on medium-low heat until they begin to brown. Shake to prevent burning.¼ cup pine nuts
- Place basil, pine nuts, lemon juice nutritional yeast, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of fresh black pepper into a blender or food processor. Pulse for 30 seconds to break up the mixture.3 cups basil leaves, 1 clove garlic, 1 Tablespoon lemon juice, ½ teaspoon nutritional yeast, kosher salt and pepper
- Turn the blender on high and drizzle in ¼ cup of olive oil. Taste for salt and pepper.¼-1/2 cup olive oil
- Additional oil can be added to thin down the dressing. Perfect if making a pasta sauce.
- Keep leftover pesto in an airtight container in the fridge. Store the pesto in a glass jar with a thin layer of extra olive oil on the top (to prevent any air from getting to it). It will keep in the fridge for 5 to 7 days.
- To freeze the pesto fill silicone ice cube trays with the pesto. Freeze and then transfer the pesto cubes to a freezer-safe plastic storage bag. Store for 3 to 6 months. Expect some browning unless you blanched the fresh basil.