This bright, fresh, and flavorful Vegan Cashew Pesto is the perfect addition to pasta, toast, crackers, potatoes, or whatever else you can think of. It’s so easy to make and so delicious that you’ll want to put it on just about everything!
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Hey Internet, I am a big pesto fan. I’ve loved it ever since I was a kid. Our family was big on herbs -- my dad always grew them and put them in everything.
When I went vegan I was shocked that most pesto is not vegan--usually Parmesan cheese is added. Furthermore, it’s not only based on nuts, but tons of oil is often added, making this something that upset my stomach even though I loved it so.
Well, I’m here with an amazing solution today--my oil-free pesto is cheesy, basil-y and super flavorful and delicious. And it’s just as easy.
Traditional pesto also uses pine nuts which ARE delicious (and vegan), however, they’re really expensive. Cashews, comparatively, seem cheap. And the idea of a vegan cashew pesto was just kinda fun and I had to pursue it.
Though I’m also completely aware that cashews are a pretty expensive nut. And, I typically don’t even use nuts on the blog because I know a lot of people are allergic to tree nuts.
That’s why I’ve tested this recipe with sunflower seeds too and it works great! I’ve also tested it with tofu instead of nuts or seeds if you want to keep it lower fat, and that worked quite well too.
Okay, AND I tested it with peas in case someone couldn’t do nuts, seeds, or soy. And even the peas work great too! (Use defrosted frozen peas.)
I mean, I really just wanted an excuse to eat pesto pasta a lot.
That being said, this pesto is also fantastic on toast, crackers, etc. You can even use it as a sandwich spread!
It’s really great on anything. Not that I’m biased or anything--no, that would be wrong.
What You’ll Need
- Raw cashews - Roasted/Salted are OK but the texture is MUCH better with a raw cashew. If you use salted cashews, I’d leave out the salt in the recipe--only add some if needed. Substitute for cashews: raw sunflower seeds, pine nuts, tofu, white beans, or defrosted frozen peas. Avocado would work too, but there wouldn’t be much texture, if you care.
- Basil - Use another herb if you like but fresh basil is classic in pesto and quite delicious.
- Baby spinach - Doesn’t taste like anything and gives us more volume + nutrients. Non baby spinach is fine. Can also use another green like kale.
- Nutritional yeast - Add less if you don’t like the taste, but it really doesn’t dominate at all. Truly replaces the Parmesan cheese quite nicely. Don’t like nutritional yeast at all and don’t want it in your life? Try adding a bit of my vegan cotija cheese, or just use some onion and garlic powder and you’ll be fine.
- Garlic - I recommend fresh peeled garlic for a little zing and nice freshness, but you can use garlic powder if you prefer.
- Salt - I recommend using a lighter salt like sea salt or Himalayan pink salt, but use what you’ve got. If what you have is table salt, go a little lighter and add more if needed. Always easy to add more.
- Lemon juice - Fresh is best, but use bottled if you don’t have fresh. Brightens all the flavors and is totally necessary in my book.
- Water, totally optional - If you need to thin it out at all, use water or an unsweetened non-dairy milk if you’d prefer. If you’re putting it on pasta, I recommend saving some of the starchy pasta water and stirring that into the sauce to thin it out and mix it with your pasta.
How to Make Vegan Cashew Pesto
Add everything except the lemon juice to the food processor and process until it’s well combined. A blender works, but can totally puree it… It’s nice to retain some of the texture of the chopped nuts here.
Scrape down the sides with a spatula and add the lemon juice. Process once again and taste. Adjust if needed.
Serve how you like. It’s great on toast or crackers or as a sandwich spread as is.
If putting on pasta: save some of the starchy pasta cooking water and stir it into the pesto, a tablespoon at a time.
Refrigerate the leftover vegan cashew pesto in an airtight container like a jar for up to a week in the fridge.
More Vegan Spreads and Sauces
Sauces are fantastic (and necessary!) for a vegan diet. Learning to make my own sauces is one of the major things that helped me transition to veganism, since you can throw them on just about anything and it’s a meal (grains, pasta, potatoes, etc.).
But you’d be surprised how many sauces have animal products in them, or even just a lot of sugar, oil, and preservatives. Here’s some of my favorite homemade sauces.
- Vegan Ricotta
- Vegan Cauliflower Cheese Sauce
- Creamy Oil-Free Hummus
- Tofu Cream Cheese
- BBQ Sauce
- Vegan Honey Mustard
- Vegan Ranch Dressing
- Vegan Tzatziki Sauce
- Tofu Sour Cream
- Quick Vegan Gravy
- Mushroom Gravy
I really hope you enjoyed this oil-free pesto! Oil makes me sick to my stomach so I try not to cook with it at home. Folks reading my recipes are not all oil-free but many seem to be appreciative of me providing oil-free options. That being said, you may always add oil if you wish.
This vegan cashew pesto is:
- Nutrient dense
- And great on pasta, toast, crackers, sandwiches, potatoes or anything you can think of!
Let me know in the comments below if you make this recipe or tag me @Zardyplants on Instagram so I can see your beautiful recreations! If you tag me on IG, I will share your post in my stories :)
Also, one quick request: if you love how this recipe looks or tastes, please leave me a 5-star rating and a nice comment–ratings help more people find my recipes which helps me keep providing them! Thank you!