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This simple 6-ingredient vegan pesto recipe is herbaceous, savory, and easy to make in just 5 minutes! It’s an all-purpose sauce you can toss with al dente pasta noodles, drizzle on a pizza, spread on a sandwich, and so much more!

smooth vegan pesto in a white bowl.
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Easy Homemade Vegan Pesto Pasta

Why search high and low for an expensive jar of vegan-friendly pesto when you could make it from scratch in less than 5 minutes? While pesto is traditionally not vegan-friendly, this easy vegan pesto recipe is made with simple dairy-free substitutions but is just as incredibly delicious as the classic Italian version.

There are a few reasons why pesto sauce has a special place in my heart: (1) its simple ingredients, like basil, nuts or seeds, garlic, and olive oil, are flexible and full of flavor, and (2) the ways to use it are practically endless!

I kept it simple in this recipe by tossing the pesto with freshly cooked pasta noodles, but you can also spread it on a tofu pesto sandwich, drizzle it on a hummus pizza, use it as a delicious salad dressing, and so much more. Best of all, it stores well in the fridge and freezer, so you can treat yourself to this herb-y and savory sauce whenever a craving hits.

Looking for more simple vegan pesto recipes? Check out my vegan walnut pesto, red pepper and sun dried tomato pesto, and sunflower seed pesto.

The Ingredients and Substitutes

ingredients for vegan pesto in individual bowls with labels.
  • Fresh basil: I always prefer fresh basil, but you can also use any other greens you have on-hand, including parsley, spinach, radish greens, and more.
  • Nuts or seeds: Pesto is traditionally made with pine nuts, and you’re more than welcome to use them here! However, if you’d rather use something more budget-friendly but equally delicious, use raw and unsalted walnuts, shelled sunflower seeds, almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, or any other nuts or seeds you like.
  • Garlic: You’ll need 2 fresh garlic cloves — which I limited for those who don’t love a strong garlic flavor, although you can always add 1 or 2 more for an extra savory flavor.
  • Olive oil: It helps emulsify the pesto sauce. I’ve had pesto with water, but I always prefer it with olive oil. Even if you want to cut it in half with the other half subbed with water.
  • Pasta + pasta cooking water: Toss your favorite pasta noodles in the pesto for an Italian-inspired feast! A splash of reserved pasta cooking water in the pesto thickens the consistency and helps the sauce stick to the noodles.

What Could I Add to Vegan Pesto?

  • Nutritional yeast: Dairy-based parmesan cheese or Parmigiano-Reggiano is a staple in Italian pesto recipes, but 1 to 2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast will deliver that missing cheesy flavor. 
  • Vegan parmesan cheese: You can add your favorite vegan parmesan cheese instead of the nutritional yeast. I like this one a lot.
  • More leafy greens: Add arugula, kale, or spinach to the pesto for a boost of nutrition.
  • Fresh herbs: Use up the leftover fresh parsley in your fridge to make a parsley basil pesto instead (similar to our parsley arugula pesto). 
  • Lemon juice: Fresh lemon juice is best, but bottled juice will also work. For more zing, add a pinch of lemon zest, too.
  • Avocado: Blending 1 or 2 large avocados into the pesto will give it an extra creamy twist! Check out our avocado pesto recipe for more tips.
  • Dried chili flakes: Just a pinch for some heat.

How to Make Vegan Pesto

  • Cook the pasta until al dente. Save ¼ cup of pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta.
  • Place the basil, nuts or seeds, pasta water, garlic, olive oil, and salt in a blender or food processor.
ingredients for vegan pesto in a food processor.

For richer and deeper flavors, toast the nuts or seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until they’re very fragrant and golden.

  • Blend the pesto on high until it’s smooth and creamy.
blended vegan pesto in a food processor.
  • Immediately mix the pesto into the cooked pasta or store it for later.
vegan pesto in a glass storage container.

FAQs

Is pesto vegan?

Classic basil pesto is not vegan-friendly because it’s made with parmesan cheese or Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Can I make the pesto in a blender?

We find that a food processor crushes the nuts/seeds and herbs best, but you can use a small blender instead. Keep in mind that you may need to stop the blender several times to scrape down the sides.

What else can I add to vegan pesto pasta?

You can make this a well-rounded meal by tossing the pesto pasta with crispy tofu or vegan chicken for protein, as well as steamed, roasted, or sauteed vegetables, like broccoli, green peas, cauliflower, asparagus, cherry tomatoes, or green beans.

Pro Recipe Tips

  • Use raw and unsalted nuts or seeds: Salted or roasted nuts will alter the flavor of the pesto.
  • Always use fresh herbs: For the best vegan pesto, always use fresh basil leaves. They’re much fresher and more flavorful than dried basil.
  • Make extra pesto: Double, triple, or quadruple the pesto in this recipe and store it for later. It stays fresh in the fridge or freezer for weeks or months at a time (scroll down for the storage instructions).
  • If you don’t have pasta water: You can omit the pasta water if you’re only making the pesto or if you prefer a thicker consistency.
  • Adjust the flavor: After blending, taste the pesto and adjust the flavors with a pinch of salt, add more basil, garlic, or olive oil, or add lemon juice for tang.
vegan pesto pasta on a white plate.

Storage Information

Vegan pesto pasta doesn’t store very well, as the pesto tends to brown and lose its fresh flavor after a few days. However, if you have leftovers, you can store them in an airtight container in the fridge for 2 to 3 days.

vegan pesto pasta in a glass storage container.

On the other hand, the pesto stores very well on its own. Transfer it to an airtight jar (here’s the one I used in the photo below) and press a layer of plastic wrap directly on top, or cover the top with a thin layer of olive oil or water to prevent it from browning. It will stay fresh in the fridge for about 1 week.

To freeze vegan pesto, pour it into ice cube trays and freeze until solid. I love these pre-measured Souper Cube freezer trays and use them for everything. Transfer the pesto cubes to an airtight container or sealable plastic or silicone bag, then freeze for up to 3 months

Before serving, toss as many pesto cubes as you need in a saucepan over medium heat until thawed, then enjoy!

vegan pesto in a sealed storage container.

Serving Suggestions

The beauty of pesto sauce goes well beyond its addictive flavors. There are so many ways to enjoy this all-purpose sauce! Here are just a few ideas to get you started:

More Homemade Vegan Sauces

Vegan Pesto

5 from 1 vote
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Total: 35 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6
This simple 6-ingredient vegan pesto recipe is herbaceous, savory, and easy to make in just 5 minutes! It’s an all-purpose sauce you can toss with al dente pasta noodles, drizzle on a pizza, spread on a sandwich, and so much more!

Ingredients 

  • 1 (1-pound) package of your favorite pasta
  • 1 cup of tightly packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup of your choice of raw nuts or seeds (walnuts, shelled sunflower or pumpkin seeds, etc.)

  • ¼ cup of reserved pasta water
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon of salt

Instructions 

  • Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Save ¼ cup of pasta water before draining.
  • Place the basil, nuts or seeds, pasta water, garlic, olive oil, and salt in a blender or food processor, and blend on high until smooth and creamy.
  • Mix the pesto with the pasta and serve warm or at room temperature.

Notes

You can triple or quadruple the pesto in this recipe, pour it in an ice cube tray, freeze it, and store it in a freezer-safe container for up to 3 months. 
You can also add in 1 ½ of your favorite steamed veggies to make it a heartier and nutrient-rich meal.
    • Use raw and unsalted nuts or seeds: Salted or roasted nuts will alter the flavor of the pesto.
    • Always use fresh herbs: For the best vegan pesto, always use fresh basil leaves. They’re much fresher and more flavorful than dried basil.
    • Make extra pesto: Double, triple, or quadruple the pesto in this recipe and store it for later. It stays fresh in the fridge or freezer for weeks or months at a time (scroll down for the storage instructions).
    • If you don’t have pasta water: You can omit the pasta water if you’re only making the pesto or if you prefer a thicker consistency.

Nutrition

Calories: 877kcalCarbohydrates: 94gProtein: 21gFat: 47gSaturated Fat: 7gPolyunsaturated Fat: 7gMonounsaturated Fat: 31gSodium: 304mgPotassium: 492mgFiber: 7gSugar: 3gVitamin A: 322IUVitamin C: 2mgCalcium: 63mgIron: 3mg

Disclaimer: Although plantbasedonabudget.com attempts to provide accurate nutritional information, kindly note that these are only estimates. Nutritional information may be affected based on the product type, the brand that was purchased, and in other unforeseeable ways. Plantbasedonabudget.com will not be held liable for any loss or damage resulting for your reliance on nutritional information. If you need to follow a specific caloric regimen, please consult your doctor first.

Additional Info

Author: Toni Okamoto
Course: Dips and Sauces
Cuisine: American
Method: Stovetop
Diet: Vegan
Tried this recipe?Please tag us at @PlantBasedOnABudget! 🙂
About

Toni Okamoto

“They say you are what you eat, so I strive to be healthy.
My goal in life is not to be rich or wealthy,
‘Cause true wealth comes from good health and wise ways…
we got to start taking better care of ourselves ” – Dead Prez

More about Toni Okamoto

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