I’m obsessed with this cheese-free vegan pesto, even more than the original! It’s fantastic as a dip for veggies, spread on a toasted baguette or crackers, or tossed with hot pasta (save the pasta cooking water and use up to a cup with this recipe to make a pasta sauce). If you love this recipe, leave a star rating in the comments below to help with readers in our community.
- 1 large garlic clove, peeled
- 1/2 cup raw cashews
- 1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds
- about 2 cups fresh basil leaves
- about 1/3 cup fresh mint leaves (omit or use more basil if desired)
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 lemon, juiced (about 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, more or less to taste)
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, or more to taste
- about 1/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (a few tablespoons more depending on the texture you want)
Food Processor Method (my preferred method):
- Place the garlic in a food processor and run until it is well minced. This just saves the step of finely chopping it before you add it. Zest the lemon before you juice it. Wash it before you zest it.
- Add the cashews, pumpkin seeds, basil, lemon zest, lemon juice, and sea salt. Run the food processor continuously and slowly stream in the extra virgin olive oil through the top spout. Stop and scrape down the sides.
- Continue to process until the mixture is smooth, adding a touch more olive oil as needed until the desired texture is achieved.
If using this for pasta, salt the water and cook 14-16 ounces (usually one package) of pasta. Reserve a few cups of the pasta cooking water. Toss the pesto with hot pasta and add up to 1/4 cup of the hot cooking water at a time to turn the pesto into a sauce (usually 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup total). Add a few big pinches of sea salt to taste and garnish with fresh basil leaves if you have any left. We like it with good-quality spaghetti or penne.
Same as above but finely chop or press the garlic first then add it with the rest of the ingredients. Be careful to not over blend and make basil soup, use your blender like a food processor and pulse it while scraping down the sides every few pulses. I prefer to not use a blender as it’s hard to get the right texture and it can get stuck in the blades, but work with what you’ve got.
Mortar & Pestle Method:
Grind the garlic with a big pinch of sea salt first, then add each ingredient, one at a time in the order they are listed, and grind away until you have the texture you want.
If you don’t care either way if this is vegan or not, it still makes an incredible variation of traditional pesto by adding real Parmesan Reggiano:
I sometimes use real Parmesan Reggiano because it’s actually one of the healthier cheeses. Real Parmigiano Reggiano from Italy is 100% lactose-free and made to uber strict standards. Don’t confuse it with American parmesan cheese, which is full of preservatives and definitely not healthy at all. Real parmesan will be labeled Parmigiano Reggiano, stamped on the rind, and it will indicate that it’s from Italy. All that to say, if you’re cool with a little real Parmigiano Reggiano and want to fold in 1/4 to 1/2 cup (finely grated) after you’ve processed it with the olive oil, go for it. Stir it in at the end after processing so it doesn’t turn to mush.