Vegan Pesto Recipe

nut free dairy free vegan pesto recipe
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My children recently learned that people eat ‘green noodles’ and I realized that because of their allergies, I have never introduced either to pesto! So I set out to develop a nut free, vegan pesto recipe… and I was blown away by the outcome. No one will ever know that this pesto is made without pine nuts, walnuts or cheese. The secret ingredient is sunflower seeds!

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I love pesto- there, I said it. It’s delicious and flavorful and makes pasta, sandwiches, zucchini noodles and even soup so much better. As an added bonus, it’s actually really quick and easy to make- just grab a food processor, toss in your ingredients, and boom, delicious green goo!

Traditional pesto has a few key ingredients: cheese, garlic, basil, olive oil and pine nuts. Two of my kids are allergic to two of these key ingredients. So I sacrificed for a while and never made them pesto, doubtful that I could ever replicate a traditional pesto with a nut free, dairy free recipe. Oh how I was wrong. This vegan pesto recipe is so flavorful, and so beautifully mimics the traditional version that honestly, I’ll never make it with cheese and pine nuts again. I mean, why would I, since two of my kids are deathly allergic to it? But on top of that, it’s also significantly cheaper (have you looked at pine nut prices recently- wowza!). So how did I replace the key ingredients?

Modifications to traditional pesto ingredients

Let’s start with the pine nuts. Most pesto recipes made without pine nuts call for walnuts as a replacement. Most nuts, including walnuts, are not an option with my daughter’s allergies. After careful consideration, I thought that sunflower seeds would be the best alternative in a pesto. Man, I love it when I’m right! Sunflower seeds have a similar texture as pine nuts and therefore provided a similar consistency to the pesto, with no change in flavor. Now, it’s important that you use raw (not toasted) sunflower seeds. Ideally also unsalted, but you can always adjust the salt content of the recipe if all you can find is raw and salted. I have struggled to find raw sunflower seeds at the store (let’s blame covid!?) so I found these organic, raw and unsalted sunflower seeds on Amazon and have been super happy with their quality.

As for the Parmesan cheese, you can probably guess that everyone’s favorite nutritional yeast has a part to play in this recipe. If you’ve never heard of it before, you may be wondering what nutritional yeast is. Nutritional yeast is a deactivated form of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, AKA baker’s or brewer’s yeast. It is touted for having health benefits from it’s high density of B vitamins and proteins. It also has a tangy, nutty flavor that is often used to mimic cheese in vegan or allergy friendly recipes. It worked like a charm here, but I also added some lemon juice to give an extra tang to the pesto. Bragg Nutritional Yeast is the only brand that I’ve ever used- I’ve been so happy with it, why change!? Nutritional yeast has a good shelf life, so don’t worry if it’s not an every day pantry staple for you.

Preparing the Pesto

Pesto really is super easy and quick to make. All you need is a food processor. I like this Cuisinart version, particularly because it allows you to slowly drizzle in the olive oil until you reach the consistency that you like. If you have a simpler food processor, or even only a blender, that’s fine too. Simply add all of the ingredients into your food processor and blend until smooth. You will likely have to scrape the sides of the food processor once and then re-blend to reach the consistency that you desire. Taste the pesto and adjust salt, pepper and nutritional yeast to taste.

We all know that pesto is delicious on pasta or zucchini noodles, but don’t sell pesto short! Pesto is delicious as a mayo replacement on a sandwich or a panini. I also really love to add a dollop of pesto to soups (what the french will then call a soup a pistou). In particular, pesto is a game changer for vegetable soups and minestrone. You can even use it as a dip with a fresh baguette as an appetizer.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time; 0 minutes

Yield: ~1 cup vegan pesto

Nut Free, Vegan Pesto Recipe Ingredients

  • 2 cups loosely packed fresh basil
  • 1/3 cup raw, unsalted sunflower seeds
  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt + additional garnish to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh black pepper + additional garnish to taste
  • 2-1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoon high quality extra virgin olive oil (you may want up to a full 1/3 cup based on consistency preferences)

Nut Free, Vegan Pesto Recipe Instructions

  1. Grab a small to medium sized food processor. If you don’t have one, a strong blender will do.
  2. Add all ingredients to the food processor and combine. You will likely have to stop and scrape the sides once and then re-blend the ingredients.
  3. Taste the pesto and adjust seasoning to taste. I like a salty pesto and tend to add an extra pinch of sea salt when adding to pasta or zucchini noodles.
  4. Enjoy! I told you that it was quick and easy

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