You don’t need expensive basil, pine nuts, or even cheese to make delicious pesto! Try this vegan arugula pesto recipe for a cheaper and equally flavorful option.
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 green sauce.
- 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 or Seeds
- 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 or Fat
- 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.
- 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 to bring everything together. A pinch of good quality sea salt will do.
- Of course, there are other fun things you can add to pesto like jalepeños, sundried tomatoes, etc. Have fun!
- This pesto is vegan, but it doesn’t have to be. I don’t even notice that the cheese is missing, the distinctive flavors in pesto come from the garlic, greens, and nuts. Feel free to add a handful of grated parmesan or romano into this recipe if you prefer.
- For nut allergies, use allergy-friendly seeds such as sunflower or pumpkin seeds for your pesto.
- For an oil-free pesto, try using avocado to get the creaminess and fat.
If you make this vegan arugula 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.
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 Vegan Arugula Pesto
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.
⏰ Healthy Pesto Pasta Time Saving Hack:
In the last 2 minutes of cooking your pasta, add chopped asparagus pieces and frozen peas, to defrost the peas and briefly cook the asparagus. Drain the pasta, peas, and asparagus and stir in pesto and greens.
Ideas for Using Your Pesto
- 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
- 3 cups arugula
- 3/4 cup chopped nuts, e.g. pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, pecans, macadamia nuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.
- 1 tbsp lemon juice, or lime juice
- 1/4 cup olive oil, or other neutral flavored vegetable oil such as canola, avocado, or grapeseed
- 2 garlic cloves, 3 for a punchier pesto
- 1/2 tsp sea salt, more to taste
- 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.
- Feel free to swap the arugula for basil, parsley, kale, mint, cilantro, chervil, arugula, dandelion greens, broccoli, broccoli rabe, collards, mustard greens, radish tops, carrot tops, garlic scapes, beet greens, spinach, watercress, pea shoots, or any greens you’ve got on hand!