Simple Vegan Pesto

recipe image

Simple Vegan Pesto

Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time
    20 minutes
  • makes
    1 heaping cup
Author Notes

This pesto is so creamy and flavorful, you’d never guess that it’s dairy-free. The secret ingredient is nutritional yeast, which adds a Parmesan-like cheesiness. Toss this with hot pasta, spread it on sandwiches, or dollop it on grilled vegetables or thickly sliced summer tomatoes. —Gena Hamshaw

Test Kitchen Notes

One of the main ingredients in a classic pesto alla genovese is grated cheese (like Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano), which adds creaminess, saltiness, and lots of umami. Knowing this, it’d be easy to assume that vegan (aka, cheese-free) pesto isn’t possible or would taste bad—but it’s very possible and very good. This recipe here proves it. Just leave it to food blogger Gena Hamshaw (she wrote our « Vegan » cookbook!) to develop a recipe that’s dairy-free and just as flavorful as the original. A generous amount of extra-virgin olive oil and walnuts (or pine nuts) bring lots of fatty richness, while nutritional yeast acts as an A+ cheese substitute.

If you’re wondering what the heck nutritional yeast is—it’s a nutrient-dense food seasoning that you’ll find in all sorts of vegan (and non-vegan) recipes for its uncanny cheesiness. Here, it’s a total game-changer, and we have a feeling once you buy a jar, you won’t be able to stop yourself from sprinkling it on popcorn and baked potatoes, stirring it into veggie dips and soups, and more. You’ll definitely find yourself reaching for it for snacks, pasta, the possibilities are endless. The other ingredients are simple and humble, featuring of course fresh basil, garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, and lemon juice, and the pesto comes together super quickly thanks to using a food processor. Feel free to experiment with the ratios (adding more or less garlic, more or less oil, etc.) until your favorite consistency is reached. Trust us—you won’t miss the cheese! —The Editors

  • Test Kitchen-Approved

Watch This Recipe

Simple Vegan Pesto


  • 2 cups

    tightly packed basil

  • 1/2 cup

    walnuts or pine nuts

  • 2

    garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

  • 1/2 cup

    extra-virgin olive oil

  • 3 tablespoons

    nutritional yeast

  • 1 tablespoon

    fresh lemon juice

  • 1 pinch

    sea salt and freshly ground pepper, plus more

  1. In a food processor fitted with the S blade, pulse the basil, walnuts, and garlic until coarsely ground.
  2. With the motor running, drizzle in the oil in a thin stream. Add the nutritional yeast, lemon juice, salt and pepper and pulse a few more times to combine. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
  3. Do Ahead: The pesto can be made 5 days ahead. Tightly seal in an airtight container and chill. Top with a layer of olive oil to decrease browning.

Gena is a registered dietitian, recipe developer, and food blogger. She’s the author of three cookbooks, including Power Plates (2017) and Food52 Vegan (2015). She enjoys cooking vegetables, making bread, and challenging herself with vegan baking projects.

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