Summer's the time to enjoy all the basil you can eat, and can you think of a better way to eat it than in a simple but stunning vegan basil pesto?
I confess that as many delicious uses as there are for basil, when I have some on hand, the first thing I want to make is a pesto. That's why this vegan basil pesto recipe was one of the very first I shared with you on this blog more than 11 years ago. I've made it countless times since, especially in the summer months when I grow my own basil, and I never tire of it.
Pesto is a great sauce to make ahead. When I have an especially generous basil crop, I make several containers of it and freeze them for those days when the craving hits but there's no fresh basil around.
This is also my favorite of all Italian pasta sauces, partly because it tastes like summer, partly because it's so versatile and can be used for so much more than pasta, and largely because it's a no-cook sauce so it needs a minimum of work. All you need to do is put all of your ingredients in a food processor and press a button.
Is pesto vegan?
Almost. The only ingredient that keeps pesto sauces from being fully vegan is parmesan cheese, which is an important flavor component in this minimalist sauce.
You don't just want to leave out the parm in a vegan pesto and proceed with the rest of the ingredients because then your pesto would not quite taste right.
What can you substitute for parmesan cheese in vegan pesto?
Nutritional yeast or white miso or a homemade vegan parmesan are all great cheese substitutes in this vegan pesto.
Nutritional yeast is a common enough ingredient in most vegan kitchens, and it is packed with essential B vitamins. But another ingredient I love using as a cheese substitute in this basil pesto, or any vegan pesto I make, is white miso.
White miso has two advantages: it has the the umami that cheese would add, which makes it a great flavor substitute. And, because miso should preferably not be cooked to keep its healthy bacteria and enzymes intact, it is a great and nutritious addition to an uncooked sauce like pesto.
If you have homemade vegan cashew parmesan on hand, you can use tht instead. It's delicious and you can keep some for sprinkling on top of your pasta too.
Seven ingredients for homemade vegan basil pesto:
- Basil. Fresh, of course, and use the Italian basil.
- Nuts. Pine nuts are traditional and lovely no doubt, but they also cost an arm and a leg. Use them if you can, but I find that replacing them with walnuts gives a result just as tasty -- and certainly more affordable.
- Garlic. The garlic in a pesto does not get cooked, so you don't need more than a clove or two.
- Red pepper flakes (or use ground black pepper)
- Nutritional yeast or miso.
- Extra virgin olive oil. Don't try to add water or some other liquid, which will dilute the flavor as well as reduce its shelf life. Some things are not meant to be substituted.
- Lemon or lime juice. This keeps the basil from discoloring rapidly, and it adds more flavor.
Uses for your vegan basil pesto:
- Pasta is, of course, the most obvious food you'll want to put this into. And a pasta with basil pesto is truly a sublime experience. My favorite pasta to stir a jar of pesto into is orzo. I usually saute some veggies (like shredded brussels sprouts or sliced zucchini) lightly with garlic and olive oil, stir in the cooked pasta, and then the pesto with some of the pasta cooking water.
- Use your pasta as a spread for your crusty Italian bread, or as a dip.
- Use it in your sandwiches, instead of mayo or hummus. Pesto is great as a base for avocado toast.
- Sprinkle some pesto on your salads for a tasty dressing.
- Use it as a base for pizza. After pasta, this is my most favorite use for pesto -- I use it instead of marinara on a pizza and it's delicious.
- Use it to top bruschetta.
I hope you'll try making this vegan basil pesto in your kitchen this summer, and if you do, be sure to come back and let me know all about it. Or take a photo and share it on Instagram. Don't forget to tag me @holycowvegan.
More vegan pesto recipes
- Vegan White Pesto
- Carrot Top Pesto
- Fennel Fronds Pesto
- Linguini with Vegan Olive Pesto
- Pasta with Turnip Pesto
Vegan Basil Pesto
- 3 cups fresh basil leaves (packed). Use sweet basil, also called Italian basil.
- ½ cup walnuts (lightly toasted. You can use other nuts like pine nuts, which are more traditional, cashews, and pecans. If nut-free, substitute with pumpkin seeds)
- 2 cloves garlic (peeled and chopped)
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast (or white miso or vegan cashew parmesan--recipe in notes below)
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and ground black pepper to taste (miso is salty, so be sure to check if you need any additional salt in your pesto before adding)
- Juice of ½ lemon
- Place all ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor.
- With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil until you have a coarse but grainy and consistent paste. Check seasoning and add more ground black pepper and salt if needed.
- Freeze in an airtight jar for up to 3 days in the refrigerator. You can also freeze the pesto for several months and thaw before using.
Love this vegan basil pesto? Check out more vegan sauces on Holy Cow Vegan!