Adapting a traditional pesto recipe to be vegan-friendly is pretty simple, we just need to find a substitute for parmesan cheese! Typically you make a vegan parmesan cheese with raw cashews but I’m loving the nutty, less sweet hemp hearts version I made here.
Start to finish you’re investing about 15 minutes of your time in exchange for yummy dinner prep, a tasty vegan sprinkle cheese alternative and bragging rights. “LOOK WHAT I MADE!”
I also argue that this pesto is just as delicious if not tastier than the traditional pesto. A bunch of fresh aromatic basil, garlicky rich olive oily goodness with notes of a nutty, cheesy guilt-free parmesan, served over ANYTHING — YES. Let’s do this. I LOVE PESTO.
I can’t count how many variations of this weekly dinner staple of ours I’ve made since my first vegan pesto rendition a few years ago. There are no rules! Sometimes I use different nuts (walnuts, sunflower seeds). Sometimes I add leafy greens or avocado, different spices (sage, oregano, smoked paprika), you name it, I’ve tried it. It’s still vegan pesto at it’s finest. I’ll get into variations later…
Our Amazon shop has a handful of our essential kitchen tools/ingredients I reference below. Thanks in advance for reading & for your support of our blog!
Basic Vegan Pesto Method
This section is so short. Get this -- I add all the pesto ingredients in my stainless steel smoothie cup and mix it up with my immersion blender for 30 seconds or so until combined. Done. If you have a blender, you can use that. If you have a Vitamix, I salute you. Can I have it? No? That's okay I guess... I really do love the simplicity and portability of an immersion blender for now.
Keep Things Simple & Versatile
I’m a big fan of recipes that involve throwing a bunch of stuff in a bowl or blender and mixing it up into tasty things really fast. I’ll try to keep sharing versatile recipes you can incorporate into your day to day to keep healthy plant-based meal prep a sustainable venture.
PRO SAUCE TIP — Mix the finished pesto with vegenaise in a 2:1 ratio (2 parts vegenaise, 1 part pesto) in a small glass jar. BOOM — VEGAN PESTO MAYO FOR SANDWICHES! You’re welcome.
Do I have to serve this with Pasta? What if I eat Gluten-Free?
NO worries. Endless possibilities! I’ve served this pesto over traditional pasta, gluten free pasta, roasted spaghetti squash, zoodles, a veggie and rice bowl (rice, beans, sautéed veggies), mixed with some vegenaise and slathered on a marinated tempeh sandwich — you name it. The world is your pesto oyster.
A Quick Round of Applause for Nuts
I recently read an article about plant based diets in Eating Well’s “What to Eat for Life” special edition. There were a lot of golden tidbits of research in there but one piece was that nuts are one of the key elements that makes a plant-based diet so beneficial. Nuts and legumes contain little saturated fat and are high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats which have been shown to lower bad LDL cholesterol.
Doesn’t Pesto have to have pine nuts?! Why are you so un-fancy, Meag?!
No. You don’t need to use pine nuts. They’re tasty, sure, but dang they’re pricy. More power to you if you want to spring for it but other nuts are so much more versatile and useful to have on hand. They can be used for a million other recipes and snacks. So stock your pantry, or tiny cabinet if you live in a bus like us with a variety of nuts!
I try to purchase in larger quantities online for a slightly cheaper per pound price. My favorites are raw cashews, raw walnuts, raw almonds and pecans for the sweet treats. I loooove pecans + dark chocolate + coconut together. Recipe for another day...
Tell me more about that Vegan Hemp Heart Parmesan Cheese Recipe?!
I included the recipe for that magical concoction below too. It features nutritional yeast (a deactivated yeast LOADED with vitamin B; it has a nutty, cheesy flavor), spices, dried onion and hemp hearts — YUM.
It couldn’t be easier to make, plus it involves ART sort of! All the ingredients are mixed up sand art style (where you at 90’s kids?!) in a 24 oz. ball jar. I prefer the tall 1 ½ pint size ball jars, love 'em. They’re a top 10 must-have item in our bus kitchen and life in general. We make our overnight oats, drink water and coffee, store fresh food, dried spice mixes, leftovers, sauces — basically everything happens in ball jars on this bus. I digress…
I typically make a big batch of my vegan hemp heart parmesan cheese and keep refilling a small shaker jar as needed, so… often. IT GOES ON EVERYTHING, people. EVERYTHING! 🙂
What are Hemp Hearts (Seeds) and why do you like them so much?
Hemp hearts (or seeds) are the seeds of the hemp plant, cannabis sativa. Yes, they are from the same species as cannabis (marijuana) but they’re a different variety. They contain only small trace amounts of THC (less than 1%).
Hemp hearts are a staple in our plant-based kitchen because they have a delicious nutty flavor and are considered a complete protein. They are a source of all nine of the essential amino acids which is REALLY great news for vegans since we don’t consume animal/dairy products.
Hemp hearts are also rich in essential fatty acids (3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3).
They can be sprinkled on or added to so many dishes. They’re not a main source of protein by any means but they’re a welcomed, healthy addition!
Feel free to adjust this Pesto Recipe!
I full on encourage you to add, subtract and adjust my vegan pesto recipe to your heart’s content as I do on a regular basis with zero shame. Don’t let the recipe bind you. It’s meant to be a base structure/ratio to play with; also proof that pesto is wicked easy to make at home.
Wild & Free Style of Cooking
If I’ve cooked a meal for you, you know my style is pretty wild and free. I’m always up to try different flavor combinations and have a habit of making the same dish but in a million different ways.
If I’m going to share my recipes I need to pepper in a bit of empowerment around cooking skills in general because that’s where the magic happens — outside the recipe!
Meag Tip: Focus on mastering 3-5 staple meals/flavors. Rather than attempting to learn 100 recipes (not sustainable), learn five foundational meals you can build off of and get creative with.
Start with pesto night!
Pesto is a favorite go-to meal for me because you can modify and amplify flavors and ingredients in so many ways. It works for so many diets and it never gets old. You want to look forward to what’s on the dinner menu, crave it and be thankful for it’s healthy benefits as well.
Vegan Pesto Recipe Possibilities:
CREAMY PESTO VARIATION: Add a half cup of unsweetened regular soy or almond milk (reduce olive oil to ½ cup). This one reminds me of those Pasta Roni sides I used to eat entire boxes of after school when I was 14. SO GOOD but SO BAD. Not this! 🙂
GREENEST GREEN VARIATION: Sneak in A BUNCH of healthy, dark leafy greens in this vegan pesto base, for ex: add a handful of organic baby spinach, kale or arugula. The kids won’t know the difference.
AVOCADO VARIATION: Add an avocado (reduce the olive oil here since avos have their own oily richness). Pack in those good fats! This one won’t last as long (1-2 days) in the fridge after blending it up though because of the avocado.
TUSCAN VARIATION: Add a 4-6 sun-dried tomatoes and eight kalamata olives. One of my personal favorites…
I hope you enjoy these simple plant-based eating ideas and recipes and please make them often! Feel free to reach out to me with any questions! Tag us on Instagram @wilddrivelife when you create some of these delicious things at home!
Sending love to all. Treat your body and mind well today and always.
My quick & easy non-dairy parmesan cheese mix is a delicious topping on so many dishes and perfect for vegan pesto. With just a few ingredients it doesn't take long to make either. I make a big batch in a ball jar and keep refilling a small spice jar with a shaker top as needed. Easy peasy.
- 1 cup nutritional yeast flakes (I call it nooch :))
- ¾ cup hemp hearts (seeds) (look for non-gmo)
- ¼ cup dried minced onion
- 1 tsp. sea salt
- ½ tsp. paprika
- ½ tsp. garlic powder
- Mix all ingredients in a ball jar sand art style.
- Screw cover on and shake!
- Store in the ball jar at room temperature or fill up a small spice jar with a shaker top to make serving easier.
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