You don’t need pricey pine nuts or even basil to make everyone’s favorite delicious green sauce. All you need is a few handfuls of greens, some nuts or seeds, a generous amount of garlic, an acidic ingredient like lemon juice, a healthy pinch of salt, and a food processor. Let me teach you how to make delicious pesto without basil and pine nuts.
Essential Pesto Ingredients
Pesto is very versatile and only has a few essential elements. Experiment with different greens, herbs, nuts, and oils to invent your own original sauce.
Greens for Pesto
- The greens you choose will be the pesto’s most distinctive flavor. Tender herbs and greens like parsley, cilantro, and arugula can be used raw, no problem. But tougher stuff (kale or collards) will need a quick blanch in boiling salted water to soften them up, and should be drained thoroughly to make sure you’re not adding a bunch of extra liquid to your sauce. And nothing says you can only use one green at a time—feel free to mix and match to your heart’s content.
- TRY: Basil, parsley, mint, cilantro, chervil, arugula, dandelion greens, broccoli, broccoli rabe, scallions, garlic scapes, kale, collards, mustard greens, radish tops, beet greens, spinach, watercress, carrot tops, pea shoots
Nuts for Pesto
- You have my permission to never buy pine nuts again, they are stupidly expensive. There’s a whole world of tasty nuts and seeds out there that’ll add the rich earthiness that you’re after in your dream pesto.
- TRY: Walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, peanuts
Oil for Pesto
- Olive oil is traditional (and delicious), but a neutral oil like canola or grapeseed could be swapped in if you didn’t want olive oil’s particular grassiness distracting from other flavors. For an oil-free pesto, you could use an avocado like in this recipe.
Acidic Ingredients for Pesto
- Lemon juice and zest are normally my go-to’s for brightening up a pesto sauce, but you could really use any citrus like lime or vinegar to balance things up.
- Don’t mess with the garlic. There are some parts of tradition that we just don’t want to mess with. Garlic is essential.
- Don’t forget the salt. A pinch of good quality sea salt will do.
Additional Flavorings for Pesto
Of course, there are other fun things you can add to pesto like jalepeños, sundried tomatoes, etc. Have fun!
- My pesto is always vegan (I sometimes forget that most pesto isn’t vegan) but if you like, feel free to swap some of the nuts for a bit of any hard, salty, aged cheese.
- To make your pesto nut-free, use seeds such as sunflower or pumpkin seeds.
- To make your pesto oil-free, swap the oil for avocado. You might need to add a bit of water to thin it out.
Best Ratios for Pesto
Here’s my favorite ratios, I usually use this as a starting place and then adjust ingredients to taste.
- 2-3 cups greens
- 1/2 cup chopped nuts
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice (or other acidic ingredient)
- 1/4 cup grated cheese (or replace with more nuts)
- 1/4 cup oil (or more to desired consistency)
- 2-3 raw garlic cloves
- 1/2 tsp salt (or more to taste)
Method for Making Pesto
I read this article recently that made me feel like I’ve been doing it wrong my whole life because I haven’t been using a mortar and pestle. Authentic shmentic, I say use whatever method you want, and there is something to be said for convenience! I always use a food processor and it works great.
Start by adding everything except the olive oil into a food processor. Pulse until everything is finely-chopped. With the food processor running, drizzle in the olive oil slowly until the mixture is combined. Puree until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. If the pesto is too thick, thin it out with a tablespoon or two of olive oil or water. Taste and season with sea salt and black pepper until the flavors shine. You can also reserve a few tablespoons of nuts to add in at the end for a chunkier pesto.
If you make this plant-powered pesto, leave a star rating or comment below! Your feedback is so helpful to me and other readers. You can also tag me in your meal pics on Instagram @katiesconsciouskitchen, or join my free private facebook group to share your creations and inspire others! I love to see what you all are making.
Here’s a more printer friendly version of this template:
2-3 Cups of Greens
- Dandelion greens
- Broccoli rabe
- Garlic scapes
- Mustard greens
- Radish tops
- Beet greens
- Carrot tops
- Pea shoots
3/4 Cup Nuts
- Macadamia nuts
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sesame seeds
1/4 Cup Oil or Fat
- Olive oil
- Canola oil
- Avocado oil
- Grapeseed oil
1 Tbsp Acidic Ingredient
- Lemon juice and zest
- A few cloves, to taste
- A pinch of good quality sea salt
- Sundried tomatoes
- Artichoke Hearts
- Add everything except the olive oil into a food processor. Pulse until everything is finely-chopped.
- With the food processor running, drizzle in the olive oil slowly until the mixture is combined. Puree until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. If the pesto is too thick, thin it out with a tablespoon or two of olive oil or water.
- Taste and season with sea salt and black pepper until the flavors shine. You can also reserve a few tablespoons of nuts to add in at the end for a chunkier pesto.
More Pesto Inspiration
- 2-Ingredient Polenta Pizza Crust (Flourless, Vegan)
- Polenta & Pesto Mini Pizzas
- Pesto Ricotta Veggie Roll-Ups
- Eggplant & Zucchini Lasagna w/ Pesto Ricotta
- Vegan Tempeh & Quinoa Stuffed Peppers
- Breakfast Salad w/ Asparagus, Sprouts & Potatoes
- Potato Crust Quiche
- Vegan Arugula Pesto
Pesto Inspiration Gallery
Here are some of my favorite ways to use pesto.