Deliciously Vegan: No-Cheese Pesto

I have been out of circulation lately because I’ve been swamped at work with two marathon conferences, running through two weekends. I’ve also been busy with blogging of another kind, for work. Let me confess: I enjoy blogging about food much, much more.
While busy like this or on the road, one of the things I really miss is cooking and eating. There is nothing like the food sold or served at conferences to make you long for a hearty, homecooked meal.

Last week, my wonderful neighbor, Heather, handed me an armful of fresh basil leaves that she had just harvested from her garden. I love basil and I try to grow some every year, but somehow my plants are never as healthy as Heather’s who has that enviable green thumb.

Thrilled beyond bits, I ran home and pulled out my food processor to mix up a batch of pesto with those fragrant leaves when, woe be, I realized I had no extra virgin olive oil on hand.

I had to wait a whole agonizing day before I could find the time to make a trip to the grocery store. The basil smelled like heaven, and so did the pesto. I added a half of a habanero pepper to it, which sounds unusual, but believe me, it really punched up the spice factor.

I also used mild miso as a cheese substitute. Miso, as I’ve written before, has wonderful health qualities and its texture, and salty taste, work beautifully as a proxy for parmesan which is usually a staple in pesto recipes. Trust me, you won’t be able to tell the difference.

So here it is: pesto minus the cheese. I try to keep a batch in the refrigerator most of the time and use it as a quick sauce for pasta or even as a spread for a slice of crunchy toast.


Vegan Pesto


About 3 cups of packed basil leaves

1/3 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

3 cloves garlic, peeled

1/2 a green habanero pepper

3 tbsp mild-tasting miso

About 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil or more if you like your pesto runny

In a food processor, combine all the ingredients except the olive oil.

With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil until the pesto is a granular paste with all the ingredients broken down.

And you’re done!

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

16 thoughts on “Deliciously Vegan: No-Cheese Pesto

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    July 9, 2008 at 12:38am

    Miso sounds like a brilliant substitute for cheese, so much healthier too! Pure Genius!

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    July 9, 2008 at 3:31am

    Vaishali, this is one of my fav pasta sauce.I just love the smell of fresh basil.I love the substitute and sounds interesting.I will try my hands on miso.Great idea.

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    July 9, 2008 at 4:05pm

    Beautiful green color, love the way it is vegan with substitute

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    July 10, 2008 at 2:52am

    This pesto is beautiful, Vaishali. I’ve made pesto w/out cheese myself, not even substituting miso, and it was just as good, if not more sharply flavored w/ basil. Didn’t miss the cheese at all.

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    July 10, 2008 at 9:07pm

    i use miso as a lot nowadays and just love it. plus, it keeps forever in the fridge.

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    July 11, 2008 at 8:31am

    Oh cool! I’ve only used nutritional yeast as a cheese sub. in pesto, but will try miso out next time.

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    July 13, 2008 at 4:38am

    Great tip for subbing parmesan, but I usually make pesto without the cheese, and I love it that way. I do shower the pasta with cheese though. :-)

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    July 15, 2008 at 9:55pm

    I just love the aroma of basil. No-cheese pesto sounds delicious!

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    July 16, 2008 at 8:31am

    WOW…..Great lovely color……Miso sounds like great substitute for cheese…..Will try sure……Thanks for sharing :)))

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    July 16, 2008 at 12:57pm

    Holy cow was the first thing when i read the word no-cheese….seriously! Thats a superb substitution. And thanks a lot for sharing this recipe :)


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    September 10, 2009 at 5:30pm

    I am cooking without dairy because otherwise it gives my infant, whom I am nursing, really bad colic. I searched for a no-cheese pesto recipe and cooked your recipe last night. It was DELICIOUS. My guests really liked it, and my husband (who hates pesto) took seconds. Thanks! I will definitely try more of your recipes.

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    September 11, 2009 at 3:39am

    Hi Lia, Welcome and thanks for the feedback- so glad you liked the pesto recipe.

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    April 20, 2012 at 7:14pm

    the miso was a *great* suggestion! i used a recipe calling for 3 parts basil, 1 part parsley, added a few macadamia nuts because i was low on pine nuts, and it was delicious! even my change-averse, cheeseaholic husband loved it. thanks so much for posting this!

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