Vegan Cashew Pesto

Want pesto but you eat plant based? This vegan cashew pesto has all the goodness of a classic basil pesto…without the cheese.

Vegan cashew pesto

Want to eat basil pesto, but you eat a plant based diet? Unfortunately that emerald green, classic sauce is traditionally made with Parmesan cheese. It’s not a lot, but it adds a savory flair that’s unmistakable. But can a vegan pesto be done? Just like there is vegan nacho cheese and vegan Parmesan, don’t worry! There is vegan pesto. And it’s darn good, too. Here we’ve used our favorite nuts to whip up a version of vegan cashew pesto: they bring in a Parmesan like quality. And we’ve got a secret ingredient to bring in that cheesy flavor.

Vegan cashew pesto

What is basil pesto? How to make it vegan?

Basil pesto is a sauce that originates from Italy. Pesto comes from a word that means pounded, so it can refer to any sauce that is pounded or crushed. There are lots of different types of pesto, but basil pesto remains the most popular pesto in Italy and around the world. Here are the ingredients in a classic basil pesto:

  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Pine nuts
  • Garlic
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Now, in order to make a vegan pesto, you’ll need to substitute something for the Parmesan cheese that both has a cheesy, savory flavor and adds texture as well. Here are the ingredients in this vegan cashew pesto:

  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Cashews
  • Garlic
  • Miso!
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Here, light miso (white miso) is used to achieve a complexity of flavor in this pesto that mimics the Parmesan quite nicely. Interestingly, miso is a Japanese ingredient, not an Italian one…

Miso

Wait, what is miso?

Miso is a Japanese ingredient: it’s a fermented soybean paste that’s full of nutrients and savory flavor. If you’ve never had miso that might sound odd, but before you write it off: the flavor is incredible. 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 mimics a meaty flavor so well. It’s full of umami, the so-called fifth flavor that is the definition of savory. You’ll find umami in meats, mushrooms, cheese…and of course, miso!

Alex and I love cooking plant based and vegan meals, and you’ll see us use miso quite a bit as a stand-in for cheesy flavors.

Vegan cashew pesto

How to make vegan cashew pesto

Basil pesto is traditionally made in a mortar and pestle, to grind the ingredients together. You can also make pesto in a blender or food processor. You’ll simply blend up all ingredients, then add the olive oil until the sauce becomes creamy.

This vegan cashew pesto is, quite obviously, made with cashews. Pine nuts are traditional in basil pesto, but they can be pretty expensive here in the US. Now, in this pesto you could also use pine nuts, or even walnuts: and it should taste pretty similar. Honestly, you can use any type of nut you prefer. Another feature we added to our vegan cashew pesto is a squeeze of lemon juice. Using an acid helps to brighten the flavors (it’s often helpful when trying to mimic cheese, too!).

Here’s how to make vegan cashew 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 olive oil in a steady stream.

That’s it! Store your vegan pesto refrigerated, or you can freeze it for a few months.

How to freeze pesto

One of the best ways we’ve found to store homemade vegan cashew pesto is to freeze it. Of course, that assumes you’re not going to eat it all at once (how can you resist??)! Here’s how to freeze pesto:

  • 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.
Basil

How to store fresh basil

Not only growing your own basil way cheaper than store-bought, it’s just more fun! Basil is our top herb to grow, because it adds an aromatic flavor to such a wide variety of recipes. If you’re looking to grow your own basil plant, we have a step by step guide: How to Grow Basil.

Here’s a tip for storing fresh basil for this vegan cashew pesto! When you harvest branches of your basil plant and bring them inside, they’ll wilt very quickly if you place them on the countertop. Instead, find a large ball jar and place a little water in the bottom. Then place the basil stems inside, cut side down. Add the top and it will stay fresh for 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator! More information is here: How to Store Basil.

Vegan pesto on pasta

How to use vegan cashew pesto?

Of course, we could think of a list 1 mile long of ways to use pesto! Here are some of our favorite ways to use vegan pesto:

How would you use it?

Let us know in the comments below!

This vegan cashew pesto recipe is…

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

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Vegan cashew pesto

Vegan Cashew Pesto


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  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 3/4 cup 1x

Description

Want pesto but you eat plant based? This vegan cashew pesto has all the goodness of a classic basil pesto…without the cheese.


Scale

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup raw, unsalted cashews
  • 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

*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: Blended
  • Cuisine: Italian

Keywords: Vegan cashew pesto, vegan pesto, vegan pesto recipe, basil pesto recipe

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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.

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