Easy Vegan Pesto

This easy vegan pesto is just as good as a classic basil pesto…without the cheese! It adds big flavor to sandwiches, pizza, pasta, and more.

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. Are you looking for a plant-based version of this popular sauce? Vegan pesto can be just as good as the traditional version with Parmesan cheese. This recipe tastes very similar to typical basil pesto! Spread on toast with some end of summer tomatoes, it’s delightful. Here’s how to make it!

Vegan Pesto | A Couple Cooks

Vegan pesto ingredients

How do you make pesto with no Parmesan cheese? Here are all our secrets. 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! Here are all the ingredients you’ll need:

  • Fresh basil
  • Nuts: pinenuts, cashews, or walnuts
  • Garlic
  • Miso paste
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

You’ll see light miso (white miso) is used to achieve a complexity of flavor in this vegan pesto that mimics the Parmesan quite nicely! Here’s a little more about our secret ingredient..

Vegan pesto

The secret ingredient: miso!

Miso is a Japanese ingredient, not Italian! It’s a fermented soybean paste that’s full of nutrients and savory flavor. Ever had a miso soup? It’s tangy, savory, salty, and super complex. If you eat a vegan diet, you’ve probably cooked with it before because it easily mimics a meaty or cheesy flavor. It’s full of umami, the so-called fifth flavor that is the definition of savory.

Where to find miso? You can find miso at most major grocery stores near the other Japanese ingredients. There are many different types of miso, all with different flavors: red, yellow, and brown. This vegan pesto recipe uses light miso, so make sure to look for that when shopping.

Vegan pesto

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. Here’s how to make this vegan pesto:

  • In a dry skillet, toast the nuts for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until fragrant.
  • Add cashews, miso, garlic, fresh basil, and lemon juice to a food processor. Turn it on and add the olive oil in a steady stream. OR, you could also do the same process in a mortar and pestle or molcajete! (See this post for more about molcajetes!)

Nuts to use in a basil pesto

This 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.

Nuts to use in pesto

How to freeze pesto

You can extend the life of this vegan pesto by freezing it! Here’s what to do:

  • Pour the vegan pesto into separate cubes of an ice cube tray.
  • Freeze for a few hours until solid. Then remove the cubes and place them in a freezer safe sealed container.
  • To defrost the pesto, place a frozen cube in a container and allow to come to room temperature on the counter or in the refrigerator.
Vegan Pesto | A Couple Cooks

Favorite recipes with pesto

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! Here are some of our favorite ideas for recipes that use pesto:

vegan pesto pasta

This vegan pesto recipe is…

Vegetarian, vegan, plant-based, dairy-free, and gluten-free.

Print
Vegan cashew pesto

Classic Vegan Pesto


1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (8 votes, average: 4.75 out of 5)

  • Author: a Couple Cooks
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 3/4 cup 1x

Description

This easy vegan pesto is just as good as a classic basil pesto…without the cheese! It adds big flavor to sandwiches, pizza, pasta, and more.


Scale

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsalted pine nuts, cashews, or walnuts*
  • 1 tablespoon light miso paste
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 cups loosely packed fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Instructions

  1. In a small dry skillet, toast the nuts over medium high heat, stirring constantly, for about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the nuts to a bowl and allow them to cool slightly. (This step is optional, but brings out a more robust flavor in the nuts.)
  2. In food processor**, combine all ingredients except the olive oil. Turn on the food processor and gradually pour in the olive oil. Stores for about 1 week in the refrigerator and several months frozen.

Notes

*Pine nuts are traditional, but can be expensive. We’ve tested both cashews and walnuts and they have great flavor. Since we often have these stocked in our pantry, we use these variations more often than pine nuts. 

**You also can do the same method using a mortar and pestle, adding the basil leaves gradually and crushing them against the sides of the mortar.

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

Keywords: vegan pesto

Last updated: February 2020

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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.

8 Comments

  • Reply
    Allyson
    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
    Kristi
    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
      Alex
      September 9, 2015 at 9:45 pm

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

  • Reply
    Collen
    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
      Sonja
      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
    danilla
    July 30, 2016 at 12:35 am

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

  • Reply
    Trish
    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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