This delicious vegan pesto recipe is filled with flavorful ingredients like cashews, nutritional yeast, and miso paste for a cheesy fermented taste. This plant-based pesto is perfect for a vegan pesto pasta, a pesto pizza, and served as a dip or spread on a dairy-free snack board. It can be made with spinach, basil, or a combination of the two, which makes this the perfect recipe for any time of year. You’ll be shocked how easy it is to make your own homemade pesto!
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In this house, we’re pesto people. Cheesy vegan pesto people, to be exact. There is little better than fresh pesto made from basil leaves grown in your own garden (or kitchen!).
Of course, classic pesto has parmesan cheese in the original recipe, so we just had to make a vegan version with that great traditional pesto flavor people expect.
This dairy-free pesto recipe really does make the best pesto! We spread it on toast with roasted tomatoes, use it to jazz up our sandwiches and biscuits, add it to pizza and pasta dishes, and – let’s face it – our favorite way may be to just eat it straight out of the food processor.
We both think this is just a really great recipe you are sure to enjoy! There are so many reasons we love this awesome spread; I thought I’d make a list of…
Top 5 Reasons Why This Cheesy Vegan Pesto Is the Besto:
- It’s so easy to throw together – a major plus for lazy after-work snacks and dinners
- It’s a great way to get your greens without actually feeling like you’re eating greens – a major plus for picky eaters everywhere.
- It’s jam-PACKED with flavor – a plus for…. umm… anyone with taste buds?!
- It’s totally customizable – Have some greens, fresh herbs, and spices? You’re good to go! We included substitution options for special diets like oil-free too!
- It just makes everything fancier without a ton of effort – a plus for perfectionists everywhere.
Is traditional pesto vegan?
Simply put, no. Almost if not every recipe for traditional pesto calls for grated parmesan or a similar type cheese. That’s why you’ll love our dairy-free recipe!
Dairy-Free Pesto Ingredients
All you need is 8 simple ingredients (some slightly surprising perhaps) to make this simple vegan pesto.
Fresh basil leaves and/or spinach – The key ingredient. You can use all of one or a combination of the two. That’s a trick I love to use in the winter months when fresh herbs are scarce and expensive. In the summer months I love to grow my own. I’m a firm believer you can’t have too much basil. Shredding your basil/spinach before blending it will help it break down evenly for a smoother pesto.
Nutritional yeast – This is a pantry staple in vegan kitchens that adds a nutty/cheesy flavor. It’s not the same as the yeast you use for bread.
Fresh garlic – Mince it up yourself or buy it pre-minced. Mincing the garlic before blending will keep the pieces even.
White miso paste – This may be a surprising ingredient, but it adds an AMAZING cheesy flavor to your vegan pesto thanks to its fermented taste. If you don’t have it, you could also use the liquid from a jar or can of sauerkraut or kimchi.
Sea salt – Use less or more depending on your tastes and what kind of herbs/greens you’re using.
Extra virgin olive oil – Use the GOOD quality stuff here. It may cost a little more, but you deserve it, and it tastes so much better.
If you don’t have or can’t tolerate one of the above ingredients, here are our best substitution tips. Remember: substituting any of the ingredients may lead to a difference in the final product that is not necessarily always a positive one. Let us know in the comments if you try any subs and how they work out for you!
For the cashews – Pine nuts are the traditional go-to in pesto, but you can also use walnuts. If you have a nut allergy, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, even toasted pumpkin seeds also work very well. Be creative, but not TOO creative: I don’t think peanuts would work.
For the fresh spinach – Replace as much of this as you want with basil. You can use almost any leafy green like kale, parsley, cilantro, even carrot greens! Yes, you can have carrot green and kale pesto if that’s your thing.
For the shredded basil – I love at least some basil in any pesto. It’s obviously the main ingredient in traditional basil pesto, but see above for substitution options.
For the white miso paste – The miso gives a cheesy flavor as well as a little acidity. You can sub lemon juice with more nooch or some vegan parmesan if you can’t find the miso paste in your local grocery store.
For the fresh garlic – If you are using granulated garlic or garlic powder, 1/8-14 teaspoon of garlic powder is said to equal one clove of garlic. For jarred minced garlic, I’d use about 1 teaspoon per garlic clove.
Olive Oil Options
Oil is “necessary” to help break down and emulsify the other ingredients, but you can use less oil or a lighter oil like avocado oil or sunflower oil if you like.
If you’re oil-free, you can sub the same amount of silken tofu or 1/2 large ripe avocado + enough cold water to get the food processor moving. Always taste and adjust the seasonings — especially if you’re making these changes!
How to Make Homemade Vegan Pesto
When we say this delicious pesto is easy to make, we mean it! It’s almost as easy as opening a jar of store-bought pesto but every bit as delicious, if not more.
Step 2 – Blend the rest From there, you’ll add the rest of the ingredients and blend it up in the food processor until everything is evenly minced and combined to a nice creamy texture for the best vegan pesto.
And voila! Cheesy vegan pesto perfection ready to be spread allllll over your life.
How to Serve Plant-Based Pesto
This homemade pesto recipe is actually quite a versatile sauce, and you’ll find no shortage of recipes on this site to use it. Here are some of our favorites:
- No-Proof Pesto Pizza
- Avocado Pesto Risotto
- As a topping or spread for our Lemon Pepper Tofu Cutlets
- White Lasagna Rollups
- Pesto Potato Biscuits
- A marinade for Baked Pesto Tofu
- As a simple spread for a flatbread or wrap
- As a sauce on your favorite pasta
- As a pasta salad dressing
How to Store Leftover Pesto
In the fridge: Store pesto in an airtight container or jar in the refrigerator. Jars of pesto should be good for 5-7 days when stored properly. Slight oxidation may occur and brown the top a little. (Think guacamole.) You can spread a thin layer of olive oil on the top layer as a barrier to the air. Don’t use too much oil.
In the freezer: You can also freeze pesto for up to six months when stored properly. We like to use our Souper Cubes for portioning sizes then transfer the individual portions to a freezer safe container. You can also freeze smaller portions in ice cube trays covered with plastic wrap and then move to a freezer safe bag.
More Vegan Sauce Recipes
If and when you give this cheesy vegan pesto recipe a try, let us know what you thought and how you used it!
Leave a comment and star rating for the recipe below or tag us in your vibrant and DELICIOUS photos on Instagram. In case you’re not already hanging out with us over there, we are @theplantpowercouple with the “the”.
Until next time, friends!
- 1/4 cup cashews (unroasted and unsalted)
- 2 1/2 cups shredded fresh spinach (or replace as much of this as you want with basil)
- 3/4 cup shredded fresh basil
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1 Tbsp white miso paste
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp sea salt
- Place the cashews in a small food processor and pulse until a light fluffy dust remains.
- Then, add the rest of the ingredients to the food processor and blend on a low setting, stopping to scrape the sides as needed, until all ingredients are minced and well-incorporated.
- Use this pesto on bread, pasta, pizza, or straight out of the food processor. Store leftovers in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 5 days or the freezer for up to 2 months. Enjoy!
Serving Size:1 Tbsp
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 103Total Fat: 9gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 406mgCarbohydrates: 3gFiber: 1gSugar: 0gProtein: 2g
Nutrition information is automatically calculated and may not always be accurate.
Watch our Easy Spinach Pesto web story!