This arugula pesto recipe (aka rocket pesto) is already delicious enough- bright and peppery with a creamy consistency and rich and ‘fresh’ flavor. However, combine that with the grain of your choice and some veggies, and you have a simple, 20-minute (based on the grain), nutritious lunch/dinner or side!
Making pesto is actually surprisingly simple. For example, this arugula walnut pesto requires 5 ingredients, 5 minutes, and a food processor/blender. Not only does this simple vegan pesto taste great, but it’s packed with several vitamins and minerals, too – including vitamin A, C, and K, plus calcium, iron, and folate. Plus, it’s gluten-free, dairy-free, low-carb, Whole30, etc.!
However, this arugula walnut pesto recipe is also super versatile; swap out the greens, the nuts, add extra ingredients, etc. Plus, if you grow your own leafy greens, this recipe is super low-budget. You can even prepare large batches and store it for 4 months in the freezer. Now that’s being plant-based on a budget!
With the pesto out of the way, it’s time to turn it into a meal. Along with the long list of suggestions below, one of our favorite ways to enjoy the vegan arugula walnut pesto is as part of a simple couscous salad recipe. BUT (and it’s a big one), this pesto pairs well with most grains – so feel free to swap out the Israeli couscous for the likes of bulgur, farro, rice, or even pasta!
Finally, it’s time for the veggies; we’ve used ripe tomatoes for this simple summer couscous salad. However, this is a great ‘clean out the fridge’ recipe. So use what you have in your pantry, fridge, or even freezer! Once prepared, enjoy the pesto couscous as part of a regular mid-week meal or serve at potlucks, picnics, BBQs, and other gatherings!
Greens: For this vegan arugula pesto recipe, we’ve used a combination of arugula and fresh parsley. Feel free to substitute some or all of the parsley for spinach, baby kale, or basil instead. You could also adjust the ratio of arugula (rocket) to the other green.
Oliveoil: While you can technically make an oil-free arugula pesto recipe with just water, olive oil helps to create a smooth and silky mouthfeel, too. Feel free to slightly reduce the amount, though – if preferred.
Walnuts: Raw walnuts add a buttery, smooth texture to the vegan arugula pesto. It’s also possible to prepare arugula pesto with pistachios or almonds if you have some in your pantry. Pine nuts are another possibility, but pricey.
Garlic: Adjust the amount to personal taste. Use garlic powder for a more subtle flavor OR soak the garlic for 10 minutes in cold water before blending.
Salt: Feel free to adjust the amount.
Grain: We used Israeli couscous/pearl couscous (giant couscous would work well, too). Though, technically any grain will work; farro, barley, bulgur, rice, quinoa, etc. You could even use it to make arugula pesto pasta!
Vegetables: To keep things simple, we used ripe tomatoes. However, this pesto grain bowl recipe is versatile, so feel free to mix and match veggies. For a Mediterranean couscous salad, you could use zucchini, olives, peppers, and tomatoes. Other options include spinach/kale, peas, corn, beans, asparagus, green beans, avocado, etc. You can also use salad veggies like cucumbers, red onion, leafy greens.
The Arugula Pesto Recipe Variations:
Nutritional yeast: Traditional pesto often contains parmesan/pecorino cheese. As this is a vegan arugula pesto, it’s dairy-free. However, if you like the added depth of cheesy flavor, you could add nutritional yeast.
Lemon: You can use lemon juice and/or zest to add brightness and balance to the arugula walnut pesto.
Nut-free arugula pesto: Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and pine nuts would all work.
You can also add extra protein in the form of legumes, tofu, tempeh, or your favorite budget-friendly protein-rich meat alternative! If you have some, a little vegan cheese like mozzarella or feta would also work wonders!
How to Make Vegan Arugula Pesto Couscous Salad?
Keep scrolling to the recipe card for the complete list of ingredients and recipe instructions.
First, prepare your grain of choice according to their package instructions. For extra flavor, you can lightly toast the couscous/grain in your pot first for several minutes (until fragrant) before adding the water/stock and cooking.
Meanwhile, chop your vegetables of choice and prepare the vegan arugula pesto recipe. For the arugula pesto, first, wash and dry the greens. Then process the garlic in a food processor or blender. Then add the walnuts and process until broken down into crumbs.
Next, add the parsley, arugula, half the salt, and a drizzle of the oil. It’s best to slowly pour in the oil, scraping down the sides as needed. However, if you’re using a blender/processor without a ‘chute,’ you can just add a little oil at a time, blend, scrape, add more, etc. If the pesto isn’t blending as smooth as you’d like, you could add a couple of tablespoons of water to help it blend.
Once blended, taste the arugula pesto and adjust any of the ingredients/seasonings.
Combine the pesto with the grains and stir. Then gently stir in your vegetables of choice and enjoy!
How to Make-Ahead and Store?
It’s possible to prepare the vegan arugula pesto up to four months in advance when storing it in the freezer, or 2-3 days in the fridge. The best way to do this is to transfer the prepared arugula walnut pesto to an ice cube tray (for portioned amounts). To reduce the risk of the pesto browning, pour a thin layer of olive oil over each ice cube. Once frozen, transfer to a Ziplock bag.
When needed, take as many cubes as needed and allow them to thaw at room temperature for 30 minutes or add directly to the pan if adding to a stovetop recipe.
Once prepared, you can store the vegan arugula pesto couscous salad in the fridge for 4-5 days and enjoy the leftovers chilled or warm. Make sure to keep any leftovers in an airtight container to reduce the risk of browning.
How To Use Leftover Arugula Pesto?
Once you’ve made a large batch of pesto couscous, that doesn’t mean the use for this simple arugula walnut pesto is over. Just like any pesto recipe, there are tons of ways to use this fresh and flavorful condiment, including:
Using an immersion blender: It’s also possible to prepare with an immersion blender by placing the ingredients in a tall container with a splash of water.
Adjust the texture: Feel free to adjust how much you process/blend the vegan pesto ingredients, from chunky to smooth/creamy.
If the vegan pesto is too thick: You can thin it slightly with water.
Combining the greens: Not only does using two greens (in this case, arugula and parsley) help to add more flavor, but it can also cut costs. Swap out the greens used based on what you have available and what’s on sale/ most budget-friendly.
Waste-free greens: Another way to make a super budget-friendly vegan pesto is to use leftover greens as part of the recipe. Carrot tops, beet greens, radish greens, etc. Make sure they’re washed well, then use as part of a simple vegan pesto recipe to reduce waste and save money!