Okay guys, here's another super quick & easy, healthy, go-to recipe. Easy Vegan Oil-free Pesto is: fast (just 5 minutes), easy (your blender/food processor does the work for you), oil-free, nut-free, dairy-free, gluten-free friendly—and it won't crush your budget. (Don't you hate leaving the grocery store with that 'what the heck did I just buy' feeling?!)
Why isn't pesto vegan?
I LOVE pesto and it really sucks that when you go out to eat or buy pre-made pesto, it's pretty much always made with parmesan cheese. So for us vegans, this rules out a lot of dishes we could otherwise enjoy. So to get my rich and creamy pesto fix, I make my own at home. I have a few different ways of making pesto, but I wanted to share this easy vegan oil-free pesto recipe with you because it's the fastest, healthiest and cheapest one in my arsenal!
I love that this delicious pesto is:
- nut-free (for those who are allergic)
- nutritional yeast-free (for those who can't eat it)
- SO much lower in fat than traditional pesto!
How to make oil free vegan pesto
Not only is most pesto made with cheese, it's also full of oil, which most of us on a whole food plant-based diet avoid due to oil's damaging impact on artery function (video).
But, when you skip the oil, you need to replace its moisture. If you try just adding water, it ends up tasting watered down. (Duh right? Well I tried it and it doesn't really work.) Yet, I didn't want to add more fat, because while some fat in our diets is fine, too much is decidedly not.
My solution? I added a couple tablespoons of lemon juice and threw in a whole tomato. I figured, quite a few recipes that call for pesto also tend to call for tomatoes (pasta, pizza, sandwiches, etc), so why not?! I think it works great, but of course I'd really love to know what YOU think!
How to make budget friendly pesto
In summer in Wisconsin, it's easy to find loads of inexpensive basil at the farmer's markets. But the rest of the year, this common herb can get pretty pricey. Ditto for pine nuts, all the time.
To keep the healthfulness and flavor high—but the cost low—I use a blend of basil plus another light leafy green like baby spinach, arugula or baby kale. And as a sub for those delicious but spendy pine nuts, I use cheaper and healthy pepita seeds—a definite plus if you're dealing with nut allergies.
You should be able to buy organic raw pepita seeds for less than the cost of most nuts. I've even made this with roasted tamari pepitas from my local co-op, which is extra delish.
What to eat with Easy Oil Free Vegan Pesto
Pasta is probably the first thing that comes to mind when most people think of pesto. I love it tossed with spaghetti, maybe with some fresh cherry tomatoes and basil thrown in. Or with some roasted vegetables like in my Pepita Pasta with Roasted Veggies recipe.
And it's great slathered on a sandwich, too. But perhaps my all-time favorite way to eat pesto--and the one I pined for when I first became a vegan--is on a piping hot, thin-crust pesto pizza. With this chunky, tasty pesto recipe at hand, I'm not missing a thing.
If you like this oil & nut free recipe, you might also like my Oil Free Vegan Mayonnaise, Oil Free Hummus, Oil Free Spicy Hummus, Oil Free Baba Ganoush, Chickpea Cheese Sauce, or Chickpea Alfredo Sauce.
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Thanks and happy, whole-food cooking!
Easy Vegan Oil-Free Pesto
- 2 cups basil leaves
- 2 cups baby spinach (or other 'light' leafy green like arugula or baby kale)
- 1 medium tomato quartered (see notes)
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 lemon juiced (about 2 tablespoons)
- 1 cup organic raw pepita pumpkin seeds see notes
- Sea salt and freshly ground back pepper to taste
- In a food processor (or blender on low speed), add the basil leaves, baby spinach (or other greens), tomato, garlic and lemon juice. Process until just blended and reduced in volume.
- Add the pepitas and and process until blended but still chunky, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed. (See notes.)
- Season with sea salt freshly ground black pepper to taste.
- If your tomato has a lot of liquid, you may want to drain away some of it or add a little tomato at a time so the sauce isn't too watery. Also, you can add more pepitas or a tablespoon or two of nutritional yeast if needed, to thicken.
- Pepitas don't have shells and are only found in certain types of pumpkins. Don't substitute pumpkins seeds in their shells for this recipe! Raw seeds work well here, but I've also used tamari roasted seeds, which are delicious!
- I've made this recipe in both the food processor and the blender. I like this sauce chunky, and the food processor is a better option for that. It takes a little longer, up to a minute or so. If you use the blender, process on low to keep the sauce chunky, if desired.
- You can store this pesto in the refrigerator for up to a week, or in the freezer for about 3 months.
- Check out my Oil Free Vegan Green Pesto, too!
Great flavor but way too much liquid from the tomato, even though I used a rather small one. Next time I'll add one 1/4 at a time to control the amount of juice.
Thanks for the feedback. I've made a note in the recipe regarding watery tomatoes and how to thicken if needed. 🙂
Omgoodness, this is delicious, thank you so much for sharing. I too am in Sydney and growing my own basil. I used baby spinach and tried the cherry tomato tip. Worked like a champion. Kind regards Kate
Yay, Kate! So glad you like.
I see in the nutritional information there is trans fat which is not a good fat to eat. Where does this come from?
Thanks for your question! I checked the nutrition calculator, and .04 grams of trans fat come from the pepitas, and the tool rounded that up to 1. I've adjusted the recipe. Thanks!
This recipe sounds great, and we'll be having it tomorrow. Will this be enough pesto for a pound of spaghetti or should I go with 8 ounces?
Hi Shellie, this recipe will make about a cup and a half of pesto. This will lightly coat a pound of pasta, but if you prefer your pasta saucier, I'd double the recipe (or halve the pasta). Enjoy!
Delicious. This pesto is a definite keeper. I went with a half a pound of spaghetti and have some of the pesto leftover. Tomato sandwiches coming up. Thanks.
Yay, Shellie, thanks for sharing! A pesto-tomato sandwich sounds divine 🙂
I added about a half cup of nutritional yeast and can eat this with a spoon. So good and so healthy
Omg, this recipe is fantastic. Love, love, love it. Oil free pesto is the best. Had it with courgettie. Your recipes are amazing. Thank you
Much, much thanks for your kind words, Jayne. Happy cooking!
I needed to find a basil pesto recipe just like this. I made it. So easy! Thank you!
You're most welcome, Shonda!
YUM! And, yay! I am working hard to get back to WFPB no oil and I was trying to think of something that would make me feel less cheated about not being able to eat tomato sandwiches with mayo this summer. I do so love me a good ole southern tomato sandwich slathered with mayo. But now, I think some toasted Ezekiel bread with this pesto on it topped with tomatoes is going to do the trick. I was skeptical but made your pesto today and it is really very good. Thank you so much for being so kind as to share your talents with all of us our here on the internet. I look forward to looking over some more of your recipes.
Hi Martha, Well, hopefully this recipe and others like it will make your WFPB-no oil journey a little less hard. 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing your comments; your sandwich sounds divine.
Hi there, I was just googling a recipe for pesto as i really want to avoid using oil. I am a bit skeptical as im not a fan of tomatoes unless they are cooked. do the tomatoes have a strong taste to them? can they be cooked and cooled perhaps? Thanks!
Hi Ian, I personally don't taste the tomato in here at all, so I'd encourage you to give it a try. However, you can always just add a bit of water for moisture, and maybe a tablespoon of nutritional yeast for thickness/flavor if you like. Good luck!
This was simple and delicious. I halved the greens (basil and spinach) and pepitas (toasted) but kept the garlic and lemon juice amounts. I used about 10 cherry tomatoes, because that is what I had. I tossed the pesto with penne and broccoli. I'll make this again! Love that it doesn't have oil or nutritional yeast (which has never fooled me into thinking I'm eating cheese.) Thanks for the recipe!
Hi Kay, so glad you like this pesto! I'll admit--I do often add nutritional yeast because I love the flavor, but it's certainly not needed here. You're welcome, and thanks for your kind words 🙂
wow super impressive, was skeptical about the tomato but that really makes the sauce. I used all spinach, soaked sunflower seeds & garlic powder, zapped it with my hand held immersion blender, and I spread it over a lentil pizza crust made from soaked brown lentils, flaxmeal, water and salt (also blitzed up with immersion blender) for the healthiest and yet still delicious pizza eva. Thanks - I'm gonna cruise your site and see what other lovely surprises you have up your sleeve 😉
Welcome Anicca! Your pizza creation sounds simply divine. I know--the tomato seems strange, but I figured pesto is often eaten with tomatoes, and they add flavor that water simply doesn't. Happy cruising--hope you find some other recipes you enjoy. 🙂
I really want to try this since I'm eating No SOS (Salt, oil, sugar), but curious about the tomatoes? My Italian side is having seizures over using them 😉 Can they be omitted and just use the lemon juice for the added moisture. Like the idea of the nutritional yeast. Would Light white miso paste work as well? And for nuts, is there any reason pine nuts can't be used (traditional)?
Hi James, Not sure I understand your objection to the tomato? :)))) But you could certainly use a bit more lemon or some water. I've use water, but to me, it feels a bit too diluted in flavor. You don't actually taste the tomato in the final product--it just keeps things nicely flavorful and moist. I often throw pine nuts in here when I have them. The pepitas are simply less expensive and lower in fat (and nut free for people looking for that!) But by all means, go for the pine nuts if desired. Light miso works, just avoid the stronger tasting red. Best of luck, hope you enjoy it.
This pesto. Oh my gosh! So freaking good (and easy to make), everyone needs to make this with out a doubt. And all the ingredients are so good. Definitely a go to recipe now, thank you for sharing! 😀
Natasha, A great big THANK YOU!!! to you for your kind words. Happy to hear how much you like this one 🙂
We enjoyed this — so fresh-tasting! Looking forward to making more, trying other greens/nuts and using it for potato salad.
Hi Nicole, super happy to hear you like this recipe. It's absolutely one of our favorites too. I've added nutritional yeast for a bit of a 'cheesy' flavor, used pine nuts (like traditional pesto), and walnuts--all have been really good. I've never tried it on potato salad--but that sounds like a winner! Thanks for your comments 🙂
I’ve already made it again, this time with baby kale — a double batch as I scored a huge bunch of basil at the farmers market. Delicious!
IMO, that's the very best way to cook--take what's fresh and abundant, and work it into your favorite recipes! Well done, Nicole. 🙂
Will the spinach not detract from the basil flavor??? Why not use all basil?
Hi Katharina, As I mention in the post, using spinach is a budget friendly solution to the all basil version. You can certainly use all basil if you like--and I sometimes to this myself when basil is cheap and plentiful--but I find the flavor in the recipe as written to be delicious.
Used cashews nuts as only thing i had. Made a good 250g jarfull. Ive made pesto with all sorts of alternative ingredients before, this is a good one to add to my portfolio. Thanks
2 Cups of shredded basil leaves or whole leaves please?
Whole leaves here--no need to shred.
Can i still use pine nuts in this recipe instead of the pepita seeds
Hi Gina, yes you certainly can use pine nuts rather than pepitas. They're higher in fat/lower in fiber, so that will affect the nutritional info, but it will taste delicious!
Turned out amazing. I used the pine nuts
Fabulous! So happy to hear you liked it. 🙂
Did you use 1 cup pine nuts?
One cup of pepitas; no pine nuts. You can certainly substitute pine nuts if you prefer.
This is easily the best pesto I've ever had! I suspect it will become a new staple in my kitchen. I did half pepitas and half sunflower seed kernels because it was what I had on hand--plus I added a hearty dose of nutritional yeast because I'm a nooch fiend. Currently eating it with pasta, topped with cherry tomatoes and an affordable helping of pine nuts for garnish. It tastes so fresh and light, yet hearty. So much better than oil based pestos! Definitely going to make this for everyone I know; I can't wait to put this on pizza as you suggest.
I'm so happy you enjoy this pesto as much as we do. Love your adaptations, too! Thanks for your kind words. 🙂
Can’t wait to try this, have everything in the pantry and really do miss pesto... Excited about all the positive feedback...
Will let you know results...
Hope you like it Judy! I'd love to get your feedback. If you like nutritional yeast, I sometimes toss a bit in there as well. But I think it's yummy without too.
Is there a recipe for the pizza? If not, what us the crust?
Hi Debbie, I don't have a recipe for the pizza. (Hope to some day soon, when I develop a homemade crust I like.) For the one in the picture, I used a store-bought sprouted grain crust, and layered sliced tomatoes, pesto and almond ricotta on top. I baked according to the crust package directions. I don't have a brand to recommend--it was a local one from my co-op.
This recipe was fantastic!! I made it just as posted with spinach and thought it was perfect! I loved the addition of pepitas; great idea! Even my non-vegan husband liked it. I appreciate that it is oil-free. Thank you!
Hi Kathy, Thanks a bunch for your glowing review! Love that your non-veg hubby like it too--that's always one of my goals, so I'm really happy to hear this. Take care, Elizabeth
This pesto is amazing and exactly what I was looking for. It is better than oil based pestos, in my opinion. Used this on a roasted red pepper & eggplant sandwich with treenut cheese and ciabatta bread. The results were delicious! Thanks!
Hi Audrey, Thanks so much for your kind words, and you're so welcome! I couldn't agree more--after making this recipe I couldn't believe I'd eaten all of those oily pestos in the past--who needs that, when you've got fresh, bold flavors like garlic and basil? Your sandwich sounds divine--and now I'm hungry just thinking about it. 🙂 Have a great day!
Hi, I love this recipe - it tastes amazing! How long does the pesto last if I keep it in a air tight jar in the fridge?
Hi Morgan, I'm so happy you love this pesto! It will keep for about a week in the fridge, and you can freeze it to. Enjoy! And thanks so much for your comment. 🙂
Great, thank you!
You're very welcome, Morganne!
Thank you for this.
Q: Why two kinds of leaves? Can I use 4 cups of basil instead?
Hi Sydney, you can absolutely use all basil. Spinach makes the recipe a bit less expensive and sometimes I can only find those really small packages of basil, so this was a solution to that problem. Enjoy!
Thank you for the quick reply. My garden is full right now so I looking for all sorts of basil uses. 😊