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Find out how to make fresh basil pesto! The best dairy free vegan pesto recipe for pasta and more takes just a few minutes and requires a handful of ingredients. 

 

A small glass Weck jar filled with vegan fresh basil pesto sits on a white marble countertop with a spoon.

Some of my favorite recipes come about while cooking with my kids, and this recipe is the same.  About a year ago, my 8-year-old wanted to make fresh basil pesto and was using this classic recipe from Simply Recipes. We had big beautiful bunches of fresh basil and the result was the most delicious pesto. A few minutes after tasting it, my daughter realized we hadn’t added the Parmesan. We couldn’t believe how tasty it was without and decided not to add it at all. The result? Naturally vegan pesto! 

Sauces, spreads, and dips are such a great way to elevate dishes, that it’s worthwhile to know how to make some from scratch. Our fresh tomato salsa, green tomatillo salsa, Thai peanut sauce, tahini sauce, and perfect classic hummus are prime examples. If you’re looking for more information about traditional pesto, check our our first pesto post. For a higher protein pesto, check out our Pea Pesto

Vegan Pesto Ingredients

Jars of fresh basil, garlic, walnuts, and olive oil on an Italian pottery dish on a kitchen counter.

As there are so few, and such simple ingredients here, it’s important to use really good quality ingredients. All you’ll need is: 

  • 1 big bunch fresh basil (Trader Joe’s usually has beautiful organic basil) 
  • raw walnuts or pine nuts 
  • garlic cloves
  • extra virgin olive oil 
  • salt and pepper 
  • squeeze of lemon for freshness, optional 

How to Make Vegan Pesto

Fresh basil leaves, whole garlic cloves, and walnuts halves in a food processor to make vegan pesto sauce.

Do you have a food processor? It’s one of those appliances that I find essential. I’ve had this old Cuisinart since our wedding in 2005 and it’s still going strong. I use it for everything from hummus and falafel to vegan chocolate cheesecake and nice cream. Here’s the newer model (just so you know, this is an affiliate link) on Amazon. If you don’t have a food processor, you can do this in the blender or the old fashioned Italian way, with a mortar and pestle. 

The first step in making pesto is to give your basil a rinse and let them dry completely. You want the leaves, but not the stems. Toss the basil leaves, garlic, and walnuts or pine nuts into the bowl of the food processor. I find that the pesto browns much faster if the basil is damp, so if you can let it air dry that’s best. 

A white spatula scrapes down the sides of a food processor while making fresh basil pesto.

Blend until the basil and garlic are finely chopped. You may need to stop and scrape down the sides occasionally. 

 A hand pours a small jar of olive oil through the feed tube of a food processor while making vegan pesto.

Next, while the food processor is running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. You’ll need about 3 1/2 tablespoons. Many people go heavier on the oil, but this is the minimum amount I’ve found to work. 

A beautiful bright green homemade vegan basil pesto in a food processor.

Once the mixture is smooth and spreadable, it’s ready. Season to taste with salt and pepper. I find using a good quality pink salt makes a difference here. 

Homemade Vegan Pesto Tips 

  • Keep fresh basil with stems in a jar of water, and change the water daily. It will stay fresh much longer than in the fridge. 
  • We didn’t miss the Parmesan in traditional pesto, but know that it needs a bit more salt to make up the cheese’s saltiness. If you miss the Parm, blend in 1/4-1/2 cup vegan Parmesan (Follow Your Heart brand recommended).  
  • Store pesto in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3-5 days. A float of olive oil or lemon juice on top may help prevent oxidization.
  • Don’t add your pesto to food until the last minute. Homemade pesto without preservatives tends to turn brown quickly once mixed with pasta. 
  • According to the Kitchn, you can freeze pesto on a sheet pan, then break up into pieces and freeze in a freezer bag.  An ice cube tray works too. 

A bowl of vegan pesto pasta made with bowties, cherry tomatoes, spinach and fresh basil pesto.

Vegan Pesto Pasta

There are so many ways to use your vegan pesto! Add a dollop to Zucchini Noodles, Instant Pot Minestrone or Spring Vegetable Minestrone. Slather it on a piece of crusty bread for a Tuscan bruschetta

One of our favorite ways to use homemade pesto is the classic pesto pasta. We like to wilt in a bunch of baby spinach or arugula at the end and add halved cherry tomatoes for fresh juicy flavor and color. If you’d like to try this vegan pesto pasta, simply cook your pasta until al dente, reserve a cup of the pasta water, then drain. Add the pasta back into the pot and add a few big handfuls of spinach. Toss to wilt together. Add halved cherry tomatoes and as much pesto as you’d like and toss together to combine. Enjoy immediately! 

A bowl of vegan pesto pasta sits on a white marble countertop with a small jar of pesto sauce on the side.

More Naturally Vegan Italian Classics

 A food processor is filled with bright green fresh basil pesto and a white bowl is filled with pesto pasta with spinach and cherry tomatoes. How to make the best easy vegan pesto with fresh basil. This vegan pesto recipe is perfect for vegan pesto pasta, pizza, and more.
Yield: about 3/4 cup

Vegan Pesto

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 3 minutes
Total Time 8 minutes
How to make the best easy vegan pesto with fresh basil. This vegan pesto recipe is perfect for vegan pesto pasta, pizza, and more.
Vegan Pesto

Ingredients

  • 4 oz. fresh basil leaves (about 1 large bunch or 2 cups)
  • 3 large cloves garlic
  • 1/3 cup walnuts or pine nuts
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice (optional)

Instructions

  1. Place the basil, garlic, and walnuts into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until well chopped.
  2. Slowly drizzle the olive oil in through the feed tube until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon, if desired.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1/8
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 86 Total Fat: 9g Saturated Fat: 1g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 7g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 67mg Carbohydrates: 1g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 0g Protein: 1g
Nutrition information is automatically calculated by Nutritionix. I am not a nutritionist and cannot guarantee accuracy. If your health depends on nutrition information, please calculate again with your favorite calculator.