Easy Vegan Pesto

This easy vegan pesto uses walnuts and nutritional yeast as budget-friendly alternatives to the traditional pine nuts and Parmesan cheese.

Vegan Pesto | A Couple Cooks

Have you been growing basil this summer? It’s our #1 favorite herb to grow and use in the summer, and we use it in everything from caprese salads to pasta to popsicles. As the weather starts to grow cooler, not only do I mourn the loss of summer, but I also grieve for the loss of our basil plant. The one saving grace? Pesto.

Vegan pesto is a less expensive option because it uses nutritional yeast rather than the traditional Parmesan cheese. Nutritional yeast is yellow flakes of inactive yeast that provides an instant cheesy, savory flavor to vegetarian and vegan dishes. It’s a bit niche, but we buy it online and have it on hand mainly to sprinkle on popcorn (!). We tried it in this pesto and loved the result; it tastes very similar to typical pesto. Spread on toast with some end of summer tomatoes, it’s delightful.

Vegan pesto ingredients

For this easy pesto recipe, you’ll need garlic, fresh basil, walnuts, nutritional yeast, kosher salt and pepper, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. The beauty of homemade pesto is that it requires few ingredients to create an explosion of flavor. The fresh basil is key here — if possible, get your basil from a farmers market. It’ll taste even better than what you find at the store!

Vegan Pesto | A Couple Cooks

How to make vegan pesto

Pesto is one of the easiest sauces you can make. All you have to do is measure out the ingredients and blend it all together in a food processor or blender. Our vegan pesto recipe uses walnuts because they’re much cheaper than pine nuts. However, you can use any neutral nut you want in this recipe. Pecans would likely work, as would almonds. Steer clear of peanuts and cashews though, as they’re too strong in flavor.

Related: Basil Walnut Pesto | Italian Pizza with Pesto

How to freeze pesto

To freeze pesto, I recommend spooning it into ice cube trays. Once frozen, pop out the pesto cubes and store them in an air-tight baggie. When you’re ready to use the pesto, pop the pesto cubes straight into whatever dish you’re making. One cube of pesto should be around 1 tablespoon, so it’s pretty easy to measure the pesto even after it’s been frozen!

Our favorite pesto uses

Each year we make huge batches of pesto to use the last of our basil plants. It’s a perfect way to preserve the taste of summer for the cooler months ahead. Pesto uses are endless! You can use pesto on pizza, sandwiches, pasta, and dips. Since we have a great classic pesto recipe, this year we tried a vegan pesto for dairy free, vegan and plant based diet.

One of our favorite pesto uses is this Tomato & Grilled Eggplant Stacked Sandwich, which was inspired by our recent trip to Italy! The stacked sandwich is beautiful and pairs pesto and olive tapenade for a salty, savory mix (omit the cheese for a vegan sandwich). Another one of our top pesto uses is our Pesto Quinoa Recipe; swirling pesto into quinoa makes it immediately flavorful!

Vegan Pesto | A Couple Cooks

Looking for more easy pesto recipes?

For a few more uses for this easy vegan pesto recipe, here are some more of our favorite pesto uses:

  • Pesto Portabello Burgers: Here, portabello mushrooms are grilled and topped with pesto and tomato on a toasted ciabatta roll. For a vegan option, omit the melted provalone cheese and generously slather that vegan pesto!
  • Pesto Pizza: This is our favorite simple pizza: spread the dough with vegan pesto and top with tomatoes. For the vegan version, omit the cheese: it will still be just as tasty!
  • Pesto White Bean Dip: This recipe is for kale pesto white bean dip, but vegan pesto is a natural substitute! Adding pesto to this white bean dip makes it ultra flavorful.
  • Gnocchi or Pasta with Pesto: Boil up a pot of vegan gnocchi (like this brand) or pasta and cover them in vegan pesto. Dinner in a flash!

This recipe is…

Gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, and plant-based.


Classic Vegan Pesto

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (4 votes, average: 4.50 out of 5)

  • Author: a Couple Cooks
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 1 cup 1x


This easy vegan pesto uses walnuts and nutritional yeast as budget-friendly alternatives to the traditional pine nuts and Parmesan cheese.



  • 3 large cloves garlic
  • 2 cups basil leaves, loosely packed
  • ⅓ cup walnuts
  • 1/3 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon balsamic vinegar


  1. Peel 3 garlic cloves. In a food processor, pulse the garlic until minced. Add 2 cups basil leaves, ⅓ cup walnuts, ⅓ cup nutritional yeast, ¼ teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Pulse 5-6 times until the ingredients are chopped finely but not mushy.
  2. Turn on the food processor and add ½ cup olive oil in a steady stream, then 1/4 teaspoon balsamic vinegar. Taste, and add additional salt or pepper as desired.

  • Category: Sauce
  • Method: Mixed
  • Cuisine: Italian

Keywords: vegan pesto

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About the Authors

Sonja Overhiser

Cookbook Author and writer

Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.

Alex Overhiser

Cookbook Author and photographer

Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.


  • Reply
    September 9, 2015 at 11:43 am

    My basil did not survive in my garden this year, but I did make and freeze a bunch of pesto from the kale I’m growing. I never thought to add nutritional yeast. I’ll have to try it- I too keep it on hand to eat over popcorn.

  • Reply
    September 9, 2015 at 9:38 pm

    Yummy pesto!!!

    Just an FYI : it calls for 3 cloves of garlic in the “what you need” section, while stating 4 cloves in the “what to do” details. As a bonafide garlic lover, I’m sure either would be great, but perhaps you’d like to clarify for those folks that like to follow recipes to a “T.” Thanks, as always, for a beautiful and tasty recipe (I used 4 medium-sized cloves and it was lovely, btw!)!

    • Reply
      September 9, 2015 at 9:45 pm

      Proofreader fail :) Thanks for watching my back! Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Reply
    February 23, 2016 at 10:24 pm

    I did this with 2 big cloves of garlic. perfect. also I missed out the balsamic vinegar because I didn’t have any but will add next time to see the difference. Its very yummy.
    can you freeze pesto?
    I have so much fresh basil in the garden…. many thanks

  • Reply
    Shenier Marks
    June 23, 2016 at 6:52 pm

    I make this again and again…as it is my ‘go-to’ recipe when I crave classic ‘Genovese’ basil pesto…about as good as it gets. I love the hint of balsamic as it gives it that necessary ‘pop’

    • Reply
      June 27, 2016 at 10:32 pm

      So glad you enjoyed this and that it made it as a “go to” recipe! Thanks for letting us know :)

  • Reply
    July 30, 2016 at 12:35 am

    Very delicious.I used pine.nuts and lemon instead of vinegar and walnuts.

  • Reply
    September 9, 2016 at 12:20 am

    So easy, so delicious – I added a 1/4 tsp of Indian black salt (Kala Namak), which adds a cheesy (still vegan) pungency.

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