This Dairy Free Pesto is made with healthy, simple ingredients. No parmesan cheese, no oil and there’s a nut-free option (no traditional pine nuts required!). All you need is 8 ingredients and 5 minutes to blitz this Italian inspired sauce together in a food processor or blender.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
I absolutely love making dairy free pesto at home for several reasons:
- Healthier and cheaper than store-bought pesto.
- Super fresh tasting homemade pesto that’s packed with 4 cups of greens! I recommend using a combination of dinosaur, lacinato kale, flat leaf parsley, and basil for variety of flavor and nutrition.
- This vegan pesto recipe uses creamy avocado in place of added oil to keep this pesto whole food plant based compliant and gives it delicious flavor.
- My secret to how to make vegan pesto creamy? Use nut butter! Nut butter is already blended into a super creamy texture whereas blending nuts at home takes several minutes to achieve that same creaminess. I recommend using roasted almond butter, but any seed butter will work as well to make this pesto nut free.
- Customizable and versatile! Substitute the lacinato kale for spinach to make a vegan spinach pesto or the almond butter for walnuts to make a vegan walnut pesto. The sky is the limit here for this vegan version.
- Great way to use up greens and fresh herbs in the fridge before they go bad. You can even make a large batch and freeze for later! Try it in my Vegan Pesto Pasta Bake.
Ingredients and Substitutions
- lacinato kale – This kind of kale is also called “dinosaur kale” due to it’s bumpy texture and appearance. It’s far less bitter than curly leaf kale but has a deep, earthy flavor. If necessary, substitute another type of kale or even spinach or collard greens would be great here.
- flat leaf parsley – I highly recommend using Italian or French flat leaf parsley as opposed to curly parsley because it’s much more flavorful and less tough in texture.
- avocado – You want to use ripe avocado in homemade pesto for optimal texture and taste. If you’ve got some avocado that have some browning, this is a great use for them!
- nutritional yeast – Gives it a cheesy flavor without cheese! Lately I have preferred using non fortified nutritional yeast. It’s still packed with B vitamins, amino acids, and minerals but contains no MSG and is completely natural! Find it near the spices in your local grocery store.
- almond butter – Be sure to use an unsweetened almond butter. The only ingredients should be almonds and maybe salt. I buy almond butter from Costco and the only ingredient is roasted almonds. You can also use raw cashews, cashew butter, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, or Sunbutter for a nut free option.
- lemon juice – The addition of a little acid brightens the flavor and color of this vegan pesto sauce by preventing it from turning brown. Fresh lemon juice is highly recommended over using store-bought lemon juice. The difference in freshness and flavor is unequivocal.
Step by Step Instructions
- Add all dairy free pesto ingredients except kosher salt to a food processor or blender and blend until completely smooth.
If you have both appliances, I recommend using a large cup food processor over a blender because I find it blends fresh pesto easier without additional water. If you do use a blender with a larger canister like a Vitamix, you will likely need to use the tamper to push the pesto into the blade to get it to blend smooth.
- Salt the pesto to taste. If you used a salted almond butter, you may find additional salt is not needed. I use an unsalted almond butter and typically add ¾ teaspoon kosher salt. If you are using regular sea salt, I recommend adding ¼ teaspoon to start and adding more to taste.
You can also add 1 teaspoon miso paste for a healthier sodium option.
Why isn’t pesto vegan?
Traditional basil pesto is not vegan because it typically contains a couple different types of dairy cheeses, like parmesan and pecorino. Most store-bought versions of pesto contain dairy cheese and often contain cow’s milk. If you are looking for a store-bought version of vegan and dairy free pesto, always read the label.
How long does homemade vegan pesto last?
Homemade pesto should last about 5 days in the refrigerator. Storing in an air-tight glass container could increase it’s life to 7 days. If you’re worried about your pesto going bad before you can finish it, freeze it for later!
Is pesto gluten free?
Yes, pesto is naturally gluten free! Nutritional yeast is always gluten free.
Is vegan pesto healthy?
Pesto is not always considered healthy because it typically contains lots of dairy and oil, but this homemade vegan pesto is very healthy! It’s made without any cheese, made with fat from whole food sources like avocado and almonds instead of olive oil, contains 2 cups of kale, and can be made salt free if desired.
What To Do With Vegan Pesto Sauce
Dairy free pesto is one of my favorite things because it is super versatile! Use it on everything you’d use classic pesto for.
- Use it as a sandwich spread.
- Make a creamy vegan pesto pasta or a simple pasta sauce.
- Use it as a pizza sauce on vegan flatbread pizza.
- Use it in salad dressings or to dress a pasta salad.
- Add it to a soup for cheesy, creamy flavor!
- Spread it on garlic bread.
- Pour it over roasted veggies!
- Eat it with smashed potatoes.
Freezing fresh pesto is very easy and highly recommended! I also recommend freezing excess basil too as it goes bad and browns very quickly.
- To freeze homemade dairy free pesto, follow the steps to prepare, then transfer the pesto to a freezer safe jar or freeze in individual pesto cubes with an ice cube tray or Souper cube trays! When stored in an airtight container in the freezer, pesto will last for up to 6 months.
- To freeze basil, blend the fresh basil leaves with a couple splashes of water in the food processor until smooth and transformed into a liquid. Then transfer the basil to a freezer safe jar or freeze in individual cube servings with an ice cube tray or Souper cube trays! When stored in an airtight container in the freezer, basil will also last for up to 6 months.
- Use nut butter or seed butter over whole nuts and seeds. It makes for a much creamier dairy-free pesto recipe and takes less effort on your blenders part to make the vegan pesto completely smooth.
- Use fresh lemon juice. Store-bought pre bottled lemon juice is not the same and is not recommended for the best flavor.
- Use a food processor over a blender when possible. This easy vegan pesto recipe blends easier and faster with less water, which means a more flavorful pesto sauce for you.
Additional Homemade Vegan Sauces To Try
Dairy Free Pesto Recipe
What You’ll Need
- 2 cups, tightly packed lacinato kale - *see notes for substitutions
- 1 cup, tightly packed basil
- 1 cup, tightly packed Italian flat leaf parsley
- ½ cup ripe avocado
- 2 cloves garlic
- ¼ cup almond butter - **see notes for substitutions
- ½ cup water
- ⅓ cup nutritional yeast
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice - fresh
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt - optional **see notes
- Add all ingredients to food processor or blender and process until smooth. Note that if using a blender, additional water may be required.
- Once smooth, salt to taste.
- Store in an air tight container in the refrigerator for 5-7 days.
- Prepare the pesto, then transfer to a freezer safe jar or freeze in individual cube servings with an ice cube tray or Souper cube trays! When stored in an airtight container in the freezer, pesto will last for up to 6 months.
- **Kale substitutions – use spinach, mixed greens, collard greens – really any kind of green will work here. If using kale or any green with a tough rib/stem, remove it before hand to prevent your pesto from tasting bitter.
- **Almond butter substitutions – You can use cashew butter, sunflower seed butter, or even whole nuts like walnuts or pine nuts. I highly recommend using a nut or seed butter over using whole nuts because it doesn’t need to be broken down and is the nut or seed in it’s creamiest form. Just be sure to use a nut or seed butter that does not contain additives. The only ingredients should be nuts and maybe salt.
- Salt notes – You can omit the salt completely, but it does of course make this pesto more flavorful. I used kosher salt but if using table salt or Himalayan salt, start with ¼ teaspoon. You can also use 1 teaspoon of miso paste. If you are using salted nut butter, it may not need any salt at all.
General note about salt
Please pay attention to the type of salt called for in the recipe (if applicable). Not all salts are made equal and cannot be substituted 1 for 1. If you are substituting table salt for kosher salt, you will need to cut the amount called for in the recipe by at least half.
Disclaimer: The Nutritional Information provided for this recipe is only an estimate. The accuracy of the facts listed is not and cannot be guaranteed.
Recipe is adapted from and inspired by Minimalist Baker.