Learn how to make the most incredible vegan pesto with just 5 ingredients! Easily customize it to your liking, and stir into cooked pasta, use as a dip or make pesto pizza. It freezes beautifully, too!

bowl of pasta drenched in pesto sauce, white bowl and background.

If there’s one recipe to keep in your back pocket at all times, this simple vegan pesto is it! Especially in summer when fresh basil is abundant.

Not only is pesto the best sauce to amp up pasta, pizza, or roasted vegetables, its herbaceous and fresh flavors make it a delicious and savory dip to enjoy with party-perfect potato wedges and zucchini fritters. All you need are a handful of simple ingredients!

This vegan version is made without any dairy or even the traditional pine nuts. It can be made light with just water or with olive oil for a smoother, richer bite. Lastly, I’m giving it a cheesy boost by blending cashews and nutritional yeast into the mix!

This pesto freezes well for months so you can easily have a batch ready to use with easy weeknight dinners, to drizzle on Cauliflower Steaks or Kale Salad, and to use as a quick dip for get togethers. The possibilities are endless, and I just know this will be your new go-to pesto recipe!

spoonful being taken out of a bowl with pesto in it, white background.

Is pesto vegan friendly?

The classic pesto recipe is, unfortunately, not vegan because it’s made with fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, oil, and parmesan cheese. Thankfully, it doesn’t take much to make a delicious vegan pesto. Just remove the dairy and mix and match a few other ingredients. 

My favorite vegan pesto replaces parmesan cheese and pine nuts with nutritional yeast and cashews. This combination lends a buttery and cheesy flavor that pairs well with the zesty lemon juice and fresh herbs. It’s also much more friendly on your wallet when it’s made without pine nuts.

How do you make simple vegan pesto?

It really couldn’t be easier! Add all of your ingredients, plus ¼ cup of water and ¼ cup of olive oil (optional) to a food processor. Process until smooth and creamy, adding more water as needed.

ingredients for vegan pesto in food processor before being blended.

Tips & Substitutions

  • The pesto may thicken up in the refrigerator. You can thin it out by stirring in a little water or olive oil each time you use it.
  • Pesto goes bad once it begins to brown on top. To keep it fresh longer, make the recipe with olive oil to preserve the basil.
  • For a bright green pesto, blend the basil leaves last. According to Bon Appetit, this will help maintain the herbs green color and strong flavor.
  • Nut free pesto – Swap the cashews for sunflower seeds or pepitas instead.
  • Without nutritional yeast – I recommend using cashews if making this recipe without nutritional yeast so it still tastes a little cheesy.
  • Allergic to cashews? Use pine nuts or raw slivered almonds.
  • Olive oil – You can make this recipe with ¼ cup of olive oil in addition to the water if you’d like. This added fat will help the pesto taste smooth and satisfying.

blended pesto in food processor

What goes well with vegan pesto?

Vegan pesto pasta is an easy go-to meal you can make in a flash. Simply boil your pasta according to the package instructions and stir in some pesto after. When you’re done, top each bowl with vegan parmesan and fresh basil!

It’s also great in place of pizza sauce for pesto pizza, as a dip with vegetables or pita chips, as a salad dressing (thinned out with water), stuffed into jumbo shells, or spread on a sandwich. I recommend always having a batch ready in your fridge or freezer so you can amp up all of your meals!

Frequently asked questions

  • How long does vegan pesto last? Fresh pesto will store well in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Keep a layer of plastic wrap pressed directly onto the top of the pesto so it doesn’t brown.
  • Can you freeze vegan pesto? Pesto also freezes well for up to 6 months. I like to make pesto cubes by freezing a fresh batch in ice cube trays, then popping them out and transferring them in a ziplock freezer bag or container.

small bowl of vegan pesto, leaves of basil in background

Want more easy vegan sauces?

square image of pesto with noodles in a bowl

Simple Vegan Pesto

Learn how to make the most incredible vegan pesto with just 5 ingredients! Easily customize it to your liking, and stir into cooked pasta, use as a dip or make pesto pizza. It freezes beautifully, too!
4.96 from 22 votes

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup raw cashews, or pine nuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 cups fresh basil, packed
  • 4 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, omit for oil free
  • 1/4 cup water, plus more as needed

For pesto pasta

  • 8 ounces uncooked pasta of choice

Instructions

  • To a food processor, add the cashews, garlic, basil, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, salt, olive oil (if using) and 1/4 cup water. Process until smooth, adding more water as needed for a thinner consistency. If not using the oil, you will likely need an extra 1/4 cup water.
  • If serving with pasta, cook the noodles according to package instructions, then toss with the pesto, adding more water or olive oil as needed until it coats the noodles well.
  • Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Pesto also freezes well for up to 6 months. I freeze it in an ice cube tray, then pop the cubes out and stick them in a ziplock freezer bag or container.

Notes

  1. This vegan pesto goes great with any kind of pasta, on pizza, as a dip with vegetables or pita chips, as a salad dressing (thinned out with water), or spread on a sandwich. 
  2. The pesto will thicken up in the refrigerator. Simply thin it out with water or olive oil each time you use it, as needed.
  3. Allergic to cashews? Use pine nuts, pepitas, sunflower seeds or raw slivered almonds.
  4. Switch up the pesto by using kale or arugula instead of basil, and maybe walnuts for the cashews. It's a very versatile recipe!

Nutrition

Serving: 1of 6 servings, Calories: 193kcal, Carbohydrates: 8g, Protein: 6g, Fat: 16g, Saturated Fat: 3g, Sodium: 197mg, Potassium: 241mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 1g, Vitamin A: 422IU, Vitamin C: 4mg, Calcium: 23mg, Iron: 2mg

*This recipe was originally published April 2019 and has been updated with slightly altered ingredient amounts for a better outcome, after years of testing. As well as substitutions for cashew allergies. 

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