If you're looking for an Oil-Free Vegan Pesto that doesn't skimp on flavor and richness, then I have a solution for you. This healthy pesto recipe substitutes nutritional yeast for the parmesan and aquafaba for the oil. Bump up the nutrition with spinach and the brightness with lemon juice, and you have an absolutely decadent vegan pesto.
I've got big love for pesto--it's so bright and flavorful! And it tastes amazing on pasta, pizza, bread, veggies--just about anything, really. But while it's a no-brainer for most vegans to swap out nutritional yeast for the parmesan, figuring out how to make a rich and delicious pesto without oil left me in a bit of a pickle.
Can you enjoy a pesto sauce made with olive oil? Of course, but if you want a lighter and healthier version, I've got great news for you! You can have an oil-free, healthy, wfpb pesto without skimping on flavor.
I've tried various oil-free pesto recipes, but none of them really hit the right notes until I had an epiphany. And after that revelation, it seemed pretty obvious because I've used this ingredient as an oil substitute in other recipes. You may know it as "the leftover liquid from the can of chickpeas," but those of us who are up on this trendy ingredient know it as aquafaba.
You'll love this Vegan Pesto because it's:
- Decadent & Delicious
- Vegan / Vegetarian
- Oil-Free & WFPB
- Lower in Calories and Fat than traditional Pesto
- Full of nutrition and flavor
- Perfect for topping pasta, sandwiches, and more!
What is aquafaba?
Oh yes, aquafaba. The great, strange component in many a vegan chocolate souffle. This shiny, viscous liquid shares many of the properties of oil (it's flavorsome and full of body) but without all that . . . you know . . . saturated fat. I promise, whether you're following a strict no-oil diet or just trying to cut back, you're going to love this oil-free vegan pesto!
Aquafaba is a fancy word for the liquid in a can of chickpeas. So the next time you open a can of chickpeas be sure to save the aquafaba! You can incorporate it into all sorts of recipes as an oil substitute. It also makes a great egg replacement and can even be whipped like egg whites.
This vegan pesto is incredibly versatile
I always hate that feeling of finding a delicious recipe but not having the right ingredients on hand. But there are so many swaps you can make with pesto. If you don't have pine nuts or want to save money you can use sunflower seeds, walnuts, almonds, or cashews. If you're short on basil, you can add more spinach or other herbs (cilantro pesto is delicious). You can even use a mix of frozen basil and spinach. If you don't have aquafaba on hand, you can try the liquid from any white beans or plain water. (Obviously, you could also use olive oil, but the recipe would no longer be oil-free).
Is pesto good for you?
Most of the ingredients in a classic pesto are healthy. Basil, pine nuts, garlic, and lemon are all full of good things. However, the amount of oil in normal pesto counteracts some of that goodness. And the Pecorino or Parmesan cheese doesn't help (did you know those types of cheese aren't even vegetarian because they contain rennet!). Plus leaving out oil and cheese makes this more low calorie and low fat, which is great if you are trying to lose weight.
Is store-bought pesto vegan?
Most store-bought pesto contains cheese, which, as I mentioned above, isn't even vegetarian. Although you can sometimes now find jars of pesto that are labeled as Vegan, they are usually full of cheap oils and who knows what else. Thankfully pesto is so easy to make from scratch!
What can I use instead of basil?
In addition to basil, pesto can be made with a variety of greens and herbs including spinach, arugula, and parsley. However, if you want to replace the basil, my choice would be cilantro, since it has such a fresh and distinctive flavor.
What is a good substitute for pine nuts?
Pine nuts are a bit pricey, so if you want to replace them you could try almost any kind of nut. My favorites are walnuts or almonds. If you want to keep this nut-free, you can make it with sunflower seeds or a bit of tahini.
How to Make Vegan Oil-Free Pesto
Pesto is such a simple thing to make. For this recipe, you'll need a Food Processor (or a good high-speed blender). A Mini Food Processor will work, but you might have to make the pesto in two batches.
To make this healthy pesto, start by lightly roasting the pine nuts for about 3 minutes or until golden. Then wash the basil and spinach leaves and add to the food processor with the pine nuts. Blend everything together, add the other ingredients (click here for more info on Nutritional Yeast), and blend again.
If you are using a full-sized food processor, you can add the aquafaba by pouring it slowly into the opening while the food processor is running, but you don't absolutely have to do it that way. Just blitz everything together until it reaches your desired consistency and you're done!
How to Serve
Pesto is traditionally served cold or cool. I love it tossed with linguine or penne pasta. It makes an ideal sauce for a cold Pasta Salad. It's also great on sandwiches or roasted veggies. Spread it across a slice of fresh baguette or use it as a filling for a wrap. Dollop it on a Mediterranean-themed buddha bowl or add to Vegan Pesto Pizza. However you like it!
How to store
This vegan pesto sauce will store up to five days in an airtight container in the refrigerator. An extra squeeze of lemon juice over the top will help keep it from discoloring. You can also freeze pesto for up to 6 months. I love making a big batch of pesto and then portioning it into little jars for freezing. For a quick weeknight meal just defrost in the refrigerator overnight, boil up a pot of pasta the next evening, and enjoy!
You might also love
- Vegan Bolognese Sauce
- Vegan Pesto Pasta Salad with Roasted Veggies
- Southwestern Salad with Chili-Lime Tofu Nuggets
- Vegan Chipotle Mayo
- Cilantro-Lime Avocado Dressing (Oil-Free!)
- Vegan Palak Paneer with Tofu (Oil-Free!)
- Homemade Orange Cranberry Sauce
Quick Oil-Free Vegan Pesto
- 4 cups tightly packed fresh basil (see notes for frozen)
- 2 cups fresh spinach
- ⅓ cup pine nuts
- 2 cloves fresh garlic
- ½ cup nutritional yeast
- ¼ to ⅓ cup aquafaba
- 2 tablespoon lemon juice
- fresh cracked pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Heat a skillet on medium. Lightly roast pine nuts until golden brown (or buy pre-roasted pine nuts and skip this step). Set aside to cool 1 to 2 minutes.
- Place the basil, spinach, and pine nuts in the food processor and blend to combine.
- Add the nutritional yeast, garlic, lemon juice, and black pepper to the food processor. Blend again.
- Open the top of the food processor and slowly add the aquafaba with the food processor running. (Or skip this step and add aquafaba in previous step.)
- Serve immediately over pasta or roasted vegetables. OR store in an air-tight container up to 5 days in the refrigerator or 6 months in the freezer.
- 4 cups of tightly packed fresh basil is just a tad less than 3 oz. If you buy a big 3oz container of basil just use that and you won't have to measure.
- If you don't have fresh basil, you can use a mixture of frozen basil and spinach, though the consistency might change slightly.
- The ratio of spinach to basil is not set in stone. Feel free to use just basil and no spinach, or an equal amount of spinach and basil. I don't recommend using more spinach than basil, as you will start to lose flavor.
- The pine nuts can be substituted for any kind of nuts or seeds you prefer, but walnuts, almonds, cashews, or sunflower seeds will work best.
- Save the chickpeas from your aquafaba and add them to your pasta or save for another dish.
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That’s genius to sub out the oil for aquafaba. I am not oil-free but have been cutting way back on oil. I used a little oil along with the aquafaba and water. It was so delicious next time I will try without the oil. I didn’t have enough basil so I used basil, parsley and cilantro (what I had in the garden).
Thank you! Look forward to trying more of your recipes. 👍
Thanks and I'm so glad you liked it. It's definitely a versatile recipe. I also love making pesto with cilantro!
Yum!! I thought I had to go without pesto if I want to avoid oil.... which made me kind of sad. So I am super happy to have found this recipe!
Yes! I felt the same way when I created this recipe. I'm so glad you liked it!!
Can I use my vitamix blender? I don't have a food processor...
I haven't used a Vitamix for this recipe, but I think you should be able to use it. Let me know if you try it!
Fantastic! My husband and I each had several helpings!
Wonderful! I'm so glad you liked it. And if you have leftovers or double the batch it also freezes really well.
This is my go to pesto recipe...thank you its delicious!!
Wonderful! I'm so glad you like it!!
We tried this recipe and it tastes nice... Missed toasting the pine nuts so maybe that's why the flavor was compromised a bit. I still love it just getting a kick from no calories from oil, so yay! We will try it with salmon this evening 🙂
Great! I'm glad you liked it.
Hello, just curious if you know what I could substitute for the nutritional yeast? I thought maybe a little white miso? Thanks and love your page!
You could definitely try white miso paste. I haven't tried that, but I think there's a similar flavor profile. Alternatively, you could just leave the nutritional yeast out and see what happens. Thanks for asking!
Wonderful pesto recipe. So happy to find it. It is going in regular rotation at my house.
Great! I'm so glad you liked it. Thanks for commenting!
Kimberly Ann Pierce
How loosely do you recommend "packing" the basil to measure it out?
I would pack it more tightly than loosely. Just pack it in, pressing it down, until the cup is full. If you want to weigh it, I think it comes out to about 3 oz of Fresh basil for 4 cups. (3 oz doesn't sound like a lot, but it is!) I will add a note to the recipe card. Thanks for asking!
This came out so good! I increased the garlic by 2 times so 6 cloves. Everything was homegrown (basil, kale, and garlic). Thank you for the aqufaba substitute.
Sounds delicious! The amount of garlic is always up to personal preference, so increase away. 🙂
This recipe is seriously AMAZING! I have made it so many times -- anytime a recipe calls for pesto, I sub theirs for this one. I've used it on pasta, buddha bowls, as a dip, etc. My favorite way to use it was on tempeh pesto sandwiches-seriously so good. I just love how healthy and flavorful this recipe is, so thank you!!!
Wow! Tempeh pesto sandwiches sound amazing. I'll have to try that!! Thanks for the lovely comment!
So good! Best oil free pesto recipe I’ve tried!
Wow! Thanks! Such a nice compliment. Thank you for taking the time to comment.