When you’re chasing the dream of Italy for dinner, who comes knocking? It’s called pesto… Vegan oil-free pesto, made with walnuts and avocado. This pesto recipe gets 5 shiny gold stars from us as it’s easy to make and really brightens up anything you add it to!
Leave that bottle of oil in the cupboard and grab the nearest ripe avocado!
Let’s Make Oil-Free Pesto
Time to whip up this homemade oil-free vegan pesto! At home, you can use a blender, food processor, or a bullet blender to make pesto very quickly. Of all the kitchen appliances we have tried, we favor our food processor to make pesto.
Here’s the thing, many high powered blenders have a minimum capacity in order to reach a smooth, blending consistency. In our Vitamix, we need to make about 2 cups of pesto (double this recipe) for the blender to work well– and if we don’t have that much basil lying around…. it doesn’t work and we end up switching to the fp…. and washing more dishes.
You can make this recipe without a food processor– simply use a bullet blender or double the recipe for a full-size blender. Or go full-blown authentic with it and use a mortar and pestle.
The ingredients you need to make oil-free vegan pesto are usual suspects in most vegan kitchens:
- Fresh basil
- Lemon juice
- A couple cloves of garlic
- Nutritional yeast
- Salt & pepper
On Cooking & Eating
How to use pesto? We use pesto in a lot of different ways around our kitchen… some traditional and some full-on, out there unconventional. Fresh pesto has huge flavor, we usually use this for run-of-the-mill meals that need a little pizzaz!
Here are some ideas on how to use leftover pesto:
- Pizza sauce
- Pasta sauce–oil-free pesto pasta, or even in a lasagna
- As a dressing for a grain bowl– rice & veggies topped with pesto
- On toast. Yes, we do this.
- Use it to flavor hummus or other dips
- Add it to a tofu or chickpea scramble in the morning
- As a spread in quesadillas or sandwiches
- Use as a dressing for cold pasta salads- pesto pasta salads are delicious in the summertime
Also, it’s really up to you on whether on not to toast the nuts/seeds you use. The pesto will definitely have a more pronounced, nutty flavor if you toast them.
If you want to take a swing at toasting the nuts for your pesto, toast in a skillet over medium heat for 7-9 minutes stirring frequently until nuts are golden and fragrant. Alternatively, place on a cookie sheet in a 350* oven for 9-11 minutes, removing every 3 minutes to stir.
Be careful! It’s incredibly easy to burn nuts when you intended to toast them!
Is Pesto Vegan?
Pesto is traditionally a fresh basil and olive oil sauce, right? What makes pesto not vegan? Parmesan cheese is traditionally and commonly used in pesto today, which is why most pesto recipes are not vegan.
In this oil-free pesto recipe, we will replace the parmesan cheese with nutritional yeast to achieve the same cheesy, nutty, acidic quality that parmesan cheese lends to traditional pesto.
We’re also going to use avocado to replace the olive oil. Avocados have a smooth, creamy texture and their high-fat content will replace olive oil beautifully.
Troubleshooting Oil-Free Pesto
This sauce seems easy enough- what could possibly go wrong? Most sauces made in a blender or food processor are forgiving as you can blend the ingredients, taste test, and adjust as needed. This recipe allows you to do exactly that! I’ll often taste and add a pinch of salt and another dash of lemon juice.
Why is my pesto bitter? This can happen for several reasons, the culprit is usually basil! (Surprise!) Some varieties of basil leaves are more bitter than others and off-season basil can have more bitter notes. If your pesto has a very bitter taste try adding more lemon juice (acid), nutritional yeast (flavor), or nuts (fat + flavor). If this doesn’t curb the bitterness, try adding a few springs of another herb like parsley or cilantro to help counteract the bitterness.
Why is my pesto turning brown? Pesto will oxidize and turn from a bright, cheery green color to dark, muddy green- just like guacamole does. This is completely normal and the pesto is still ok to eat and will taste delicious! Especially as we are using avocado as the main fat component of this sauce, the pesto will turn brown!
Is there a substitute for nutritional yeast? Use miso as a nutritional yeast substitute! Miso gives a satisfying, umami flavor but it doesn’t provide the same level of ‘cheesiness’ that nutritional yeast does.
OIL-FREE PESTO FAQS
- How to make vegan pesto without oil? You can use 1/2 an avocado and 2-6 tablespoons of water in place of oil.
- Can I make this pesto without nutritional yeast? Yes, you may need to add more salt if you omit the nutritional yeast.
- How long does pesto last? This keeps in the fridge for up to 3 days. Pesto freezes well- up to 3 months!
- Do you eat pesto cold? Yes! One of the best qualities of pesto is aroma! If you heat the pesto, the basil flavor will remain but the aroma will fade.
- Is pesto vegetarian? Yes, most pesto recipes are vegetarian.
- Can you freeze vegan pesto? Pesto freezes well for up to 3 months in an airtight container.
- Can you make pesto without a food processor? You can use a mortar and pestle or make this in a blender. To properly blend all ingredients you may need to double the recipe.
- Can you make pesto without garlic? Yes, you can omit the garlic. You can also substitute garlic powder if you are out of fresh garlic.
- Can you make pesto with dried basil? No, we do not recommend this. The texture, flavor, aroma, and consistency of pesto are all based on using fresh, leafy basil.
- What makes pesto not vegan? Parmesan cheese is commonly added to pesto sauces.
Prepare for a great moment with pesto, specifically oil-free vegan pesto. This recipe uses avocado in place of olive oil while keeping the satisfying taste and feel we all love about traditional pesto. This recipe comes together in less than 10 minutes to help you get dinner on the table!
- 2 cups basil, tightly packed
- 1/3 cup walnuts (or other nut)
- 1 clove garlic
- 1.5 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper (or more to taste)
- 2 tablespoon nutritional yeast or parmesan cheese if not vegan
- 2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice- about 1/2 a medium lemon
- 1/2 ripe medium avocado
- about 1/3 cup water (4–6 tablespoons)
- Measure and add all ingredients to a food processor and puree until combined.
- You can toast the nuts if you’d like to, this will increase their flavor.
- Before removing from the food processor, taste and adjust flavors as you see fit.
- Taste a little bland? Try adding more salt, pinch at a time.
- Taste okay, but a little dull? Try adding more lemon juice, 1 teaspoon at a time.
- Doesn’t taste cheesy enough? Add more nutritional yeast
4. Remove from food processor or blender and store in the fridge for up to 1 week.
** This oil-free pesto freezes well! Freeze for up to 3 months, defrost in the fridge prior to using! Note the pesto will be brown after freezing due to the avocado.
** Substitute any nuts you have if you don’t have walnuts on hand.
Keywords: Oil-Free Vegan Pesto