Learn how to make pesto sauce that’s VEGAN, super creamy, and loaded with flavor! Plus, variations to make it oil-free + a recipe for our favorite 15-minute pistachio pesto pasta!
The first time I tried pesto pasta was at Maggiano’s when I was 17 (I know, how did I go so long without trying it?!). At first, I was a little hesitant to taste it because it was so…green. However, I did try it and I fell in love with pesto after that first bite! I loved the bright flavor of the basil mixed with the tangy parmesan and the buttery pine nuts combined with hot noodles…ohhh be still my beating heart!
After that, I taught myself how to make pesto sauce at home and I started trying all kinds of substitutes for the pine nuts because they are very expensive. Cashews, almonds, walnuts, and pistachios are all great substitutes for pine nuts in pesto. I’ve also used pumpkin seeds in a pinch and that was yummy too. The only version I didn’t love was pesto made with hemp seeds, it just had a weird flavor that I couldn’t mask with other ingredients.
When Travis and I transitioned to a vegan lifestyle, I thought that I would have to give up pesto because we couldn’t eat dairy anymore. I wondered if pesto would still be as delicious without the parmesan cheese?
Great news, it’s still delicious!
After trying a bunch of vegan pesto ingredient variations, I’ve found that learning how to make pesto that’s vegan is SO simple– and it’s really not that much different than the regular version.
How To Make Pesto Sauce From Scratch
I want the quickest and easiest way to make pesto, so I definitely won’t be pulling out a mortar and pestle to crush the basil and nuts into a pesto paste.
I use a small food processor or my Nutribullet (depending on what I already have out on the counter) to quickly blend all the ingredients into a sauce that I can slather on sandwiches, mix into pasta, or add to cooked quinoa.
Step 1 – Add all the ingredients to the blender cup.
Step 2 – Blend until smooth and creamy. Taste for salt.
Step 3 – Use the pesto sauce to make this delicious 15-minute pistachio pesto pasta recipe below!
Tips On How To Make Pesto Sauce Taste Amazing!
- Always use fresh ingredients! Dried basil, garlic powder, or artificial lemon juice just won’t cut it for this recipe.
- Use a blender for a smoother pesto sauce or use a food processor for a chunkier pesto sauce.
- ***Before juicing the lemon*** Place the whole lemon on the counter, put your hand on top of the lemon, press down and roll it back and forth a few times. This helps to release the juices so you get more juice out of the lemon!
- If you use pistachios (my personal favorite for a buttery creamy texture) don’t ruin your nails trying to remove the shells. Open one nut and then use one of the shells as a tool to pry open the other shells.
- Don’t skip the avocado! It’s the secret ingredient that makes the sauce so rich and creamy.
Why This Pesto Recipe Works
- The avocado adds healthy fat to the pesto which makes it taste super creamy.
- Using pistachios (instead of pine nuts) make the pesto sauce taste rich and buttery + you get the added bonus of all the nutrients from the pistachios!
- Traditional pesto doesn’t always call for lemon juice but I think adding it gives the pesto a brightness and an extra layer of flavor.
- Reducing the amount of oil normally used in most pesto recipes makes this a healthier option (in the recipe notes there are instructions for omitting it completely.
- By making this delicious avocado pistachio pesto homemade you can control the amount of salt that it’s made with.
Related Vegan Pesto Recipes
Learn how to make pesto sauce that's VEGAN but still SUPER creamy and loaded with flavor + options to make it oil-free + a recipe for 15-minute pistachio pesto pasta!
- All of the avocado pistachio pesto sauce that you just made.
- 1/2 cup hot pasta water (reserve 1 cup just in case)
- 1 cup green peas
- 5 oz package baby arugula
- 16 oz orecchiette pasta
(Boil the water and cook the pasta while you make the pesto sauce.) Add the basil, pistachios, garlic, avocado, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper to a food processor or blender and blend until smooth and creamy. If you have any trouble blending the ingredients, add 1 additional tbsp of olive oil (or water or non-dairy-milk).
Pour the (drained) hot noodles into a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add all of the pesto sauce and stir to coat the noodles. If the pesto sauce is too thick, add 1/2 cup at a time of the reserved hot pasta water, it will help loosen the pesto sauce.
Add the cooked peas and arugula to the pan and stir to mix everything together. Leave the pan on the heat for 2-3 minutes to make sure everything is hot but not long enough that the arugula will wilt.
- You can substitute cashews, almonds, or walnuts for the pistachios.
- If you want to add a "cheesy" flavor to the pesto sauce, add 2 tsps of nutritional yeast.
- If you want to omit the oil from the pesto recipe, you can use water or unsweetened non-dairy milk instead (coconut, almond, or cashew).
- You can use fresh, canned, or frozen green peas for the pasta recipe. Just make sure if you use frozen peas that you let them fully cook in the pan first before you add the pasta.
- You can substitute baby spinach or sliced kale for arugula.
- You do not have to use orecchiette pasta, you can use whatever you have on hand. I just like how the sauce fills up the little pockets.
- Before you drain the noodles, reserve 1 cup of the hot pasta water. I only used 1/2 cup but you might prefer the pesto sauce to be "saucier."
If you found this how to make pesto sauce tutorial helpful, please remember to rate the recipe and let me know what you thought of it in the comments below, I love hearing from you! You can also FOLLOW ME on FACEBOOK, TWITTER, INSTAGRAM and PINTEREST to see more delicious vegan recipes + our monthly trips to Disney World!
I hope this tutorial helped you learn how to make pesto sauce! How will you serve the pesto sauce? Let me know in the comments!