Say hello to this tantalizing vegan walnut pesto recipe—your new weeknight superhero. It’s ready in 5 minutes, getting you out of the kitchen and dinner on the table fast. Made with toasted walnuts, fragrant basil, and zesty garlic, this plant-powered sauce is a fresh twist on the classic Italian pesto, perfect for drizzling over pasta or spreading on crusty bread.

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Vegan walnut pesto in a glass jar.

If you love traditional pesto but find pine nuts hard-to-find, or incredibly expensive, you’ll be surprised to learn you can make amazing pesto with walnuts! I love homemade pesto, but sometimes it’s just more affordable to buy the pre-made pesto when you factor in the price of all the ingredients. That is—until I discovered that walnuts make an excellent substitution!

What truly sets this pesto apart is its versatility. While it shines as a pasta sauce, I’ve found myself spreading it on sandwiches, dolloping it onto roasted vegetables, and even using it as a pizza base (it’s so good on these 10 minute pita pizzas!). It’s become my weeknight superhero, rescuing me from kitchen fatigue with its speedy preparation. You’re going to love it!

Ingredients and Substitutions

This easy walnut pesto only requires a handful of ingredients!

Gathered ingredients for the vegan walnut pesto in individual bowls with labels.
  • Raw Walnuts: Opt for raw walnuts to achieve the best flavor and texture in this vegan walnut pesto recipe. Toasting the walnuts lightly before blending can enhance their nuttiness, but it’s optional. Plus, who doesn’t love walnuts? They’re full of healthy fats! If you need a nut-free option, sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds are an excellent alternatives.
  • Fresh Basil Leaves: Use fresh basil leaves packed tightly into the measuring cup. This recipe is really flexible, so if you have extra basil, you can add it, or if you don’t have enough, you can add spinach or your favorite leafy greens to supplement.
  • Lemon Juice: Freshly squeezed lemon juice adds a bright and tangy note to the pesto. Lemon juice also helps preserve the vibrant green color of the basil.
  • Garlic: If you’re a garlic lover like me, feel free to increase the garlic flavor by adding more cloves. Or try adding some air-fried roasted garlic for a caramelized, robust taste! I told you this recipe is flexible!
  • Nutritional Yeast: Nutritional yeast serves as a vegan alternative to Parmesan cheese, providing a cheesy, umami flavor to the pesto.
  • Water: I like adding water to achieve the desired consistency of the pesto. Start with a smaller amount and gradually add more until you reach the desired texture. For a richer sauce, you can also use extra virgin olive oil or even vegetable broth.

For exact measurements and details, check out the recipe card at the bottom of this post.

How to Make Vegan Walnut Pesto

You won’t believe how quick this easy basil walnut pesto recipe comes together! Here’s the simple process:

Ingredients except the water added to a food processor.
Walnut pesto ingredients blended in a food processor before adding water.

Step 1: In the bowl of a food processor, combine all the ingredients for the pesto sauce except for the water. Pulse until a smooth paste forms.

Vegan walnut pesto in a food processor with the added water, reaching the desired pesto consistency.

Step 2: Gradually add water in small increments until the desired consistency is achieved. The pesto should be thick yet pourable. Test taste and adjust the flavor by adding extra salt, lemon juice, nutritional yeast or garlic as desired.

Step 3: Transfer the finished pesto to an airtight container. It’s now ready to be used as a spread for sandwiches, mixed into pasta dishes, drizzled over roasted vegetables, or served as a dip for bread or crackers.

Vegan walnut pesto in a glass jar with a wooden spoon.

Alternative Preparation Methods

While a food processor is convenient for making vegan walnut pesto, you can also use a mortar and pestle or a blender for a more traditional approach.

Mortar and Pestle: If you prefer a rustic texture and enjoy the process of hand-preparing ingredients, opt for a mortar and pestle. Start by crushing the garlic and salt together until they form a paste. Then, gradually add the basil leaves and walnuts, working in batches, until everything is finely ground. Finally, stir in the lemon juice, nutritional yeast, and olive oil until well combined. 

Blender Method: If you don’t have a food processor or mortar and pestle, a high-powered blender can also be used to make vegan walnut pesto. Add all the ingredients to the blender, starting with the liquids at the bottom for easier blending. Pulse until a smooth paste forms, scraping down the sides as needed to ensure even blending. 

Tips

  • Adjust Consistency: When adding water to adjust the consistency of the pesto, do so gradually. You can always add more water if needed, but it’s difficult to thicken the pesto once it becomes too thin. Aim for a thick but pourable consistency that coats the back of a spoon. 
  • Customize to Taste: Feel free to adjust the ingredients according to your taste preferences. Add more garlic for extra bite, increase the basil for a stronger herb flavor, or adjust the lemon juice and nutritional yeast to suit your liking. Making pesto is all about finding the perfect balance of flavors for your palate!

How to Serve

  • Pesto pasta: Toss cooked pasta with a generous dollop of vegan walnut pesto for a quick and flavorful meal. Garnish with additional fresh basil leaves and a sprinkle of nutritional yeast or vegan Parmesan cheese for an extra burst of flavor. It’s also really good with some air fried gnocchi!
  • Sandwich Sensation: Spread vegan walnut pesto onto slices of crusty bread or use it as a condiment in sandwiches and wraps. Pair with fresh vegetables, grilled tofu, or plant-based deli slices for a satisfying lunch or snack.
  • Veggie Delight: Drizzle vegan walnut pesto over roasted or steamed vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, or zucchini. The pesto transforms simple veggies into a gourmet side dish or main course.
  • Dip and Spread: Serve vegan walnut pesto as a dip for breadsticks, crackers, or crudité platters. Its creamy texture and bold flavor make it a crowd-pleasing appetizer or party snack.
  • Creative Cooking: Get creative with how you use vegan walnut pesto in your cooking. Use it as a pizza sauce, mix it into risottos (this kale tomato risotto would pair perfectly) or grain bowls, or swirl it into soups (it would be amazing with this roasted cherry tomato soup) for added depth of flavor. The possibilities are endless!
Vegan walnut pesto mixed with penne pasta and tomatoes.

Storage

Transfer leftover pesto to an airtight container to maintain its freshness and prevent oxidation. Tip: To further protect the pesto from air exposure, place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pesto before sealing the container. This helps create a barrier that prevents oxidation and maintains the vibrant green color of the pesto. 

Refrigerator: Store the sealed container of vegan walnut pesto in the refrigerator. Pesto can typically last for up to 1 week in the refrigerator. However, if you’d like to extend its shelf life, consider freezing it. 

Freezing: If you don’t plan to use the pesto within a week, freezing is a great option to preserve it for longer periods. Transfer the pesto to ice cube trays or small freezer-safe containers, leaving a bit of space at the top for expansion. Once frozen, transfer the pesto cubes or containers to a freezer bag for easier storage. Frozen pesto can last for several months.

Thawing: When ready to use frozen pesto, simply thaw it in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for a few hours. Avoid microwaving or heating frozen pesto directly, as it can affect the texture and flavor.

FAQ’s

Can you add basil stems to pesto?

Yes, you can add basil stems to pesto! The leaves are the primary source of flavor in pesto, but the stems also contain some of the basil’s flavor compounds. Plus, adding the stems is a great way to minimize waste and maximize the basil flavor in your pesto. However, I recommend only using the tender portions of the stems, including the smaller, more flexible parts near the leaves. 

Are walnuts better than pine nuts for pesto?

Both make excellent pesto, it all comes down to personal preference. Walnuts have a rich, nutty flavor and a slightly bitter undertone. Pine nuts have a milder, buttery flavor. However, pine nuts tend to be more expensive than walnuts and can be harder to find. That’s why I lean towards walnuts for this easy vegan basil pesto.

Vegan walnut basil pesto tossed with penne pasta, tomatoes, and basil leaves.

If you tried this vegan walnut pesto​, please leave a 🌟 star rating and let me know how it went in the 📝 comments below!

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Vegan walnut pesto in a glass jar.

Easy Vegan Walnut Pesto (5 Minutes)

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Author: Rachel
Say hello to this tantalizing vegan walnut pesto recipe—your new weeknight superhero. It's ready in 5 minutes, getting you out of the kitchen and dinner on the table fast. Made with toasted walnuts, fragrant basil, and zesty garlic, this plant-powered sauce is a fresh twist on the classic Italian pesto, perfect for drizzling over pasta or spreading on crusty bread.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes
Servings 6

Ingredients 
 

  • 1 cup raw walnuts or toasted if desired (see notes)
  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves packed
  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ – ½ cup water

Instructions 

  • In a food processor, add the pesto sauce ingredients except the water. Blend until a paste forms.
    1 cup raw walnuts, 2 cups fresh basil leaves, 4 tablespoons lemon juice, 3 cloves garlic, 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast, ½ teaspoon salt
  • Add water a little bit at a time to reach desired consistency. It should be thick but pourable. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired by adding more salt, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, or garlic and blend again.
    ¼ – ½ cup water
  • Transfer the pesto to an airtight container. It’s ready to use as a spread on sandwiches, tossed with pasta, drizzled over roasted vegetables, or as a dip for bread or crackers.

Notes

Store any leftover pesto in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. You can also freeze it in ice cube trays for longer storage. Just thaw it in the refrigerator before using.
To toast walnuts: Preheat oven to 350F. Spread walnuts out in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Keep a close eye on them to prevent burning. They should be golden brown and fragrant. Allow them to cool completely before adding to the pesto.

Nutrition

Calories: 148kcal | Carbohydrates: 6g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 13g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 9g | Monounsaturated Fat: 2g | Sodium: 195mg | Potassium: 201mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 427IU | Vitamin C: 6mg | Calcium: 37mg | Iron: 1mg
Course: Condiment, Sauces & Dressings
Cuisine: Italian, Italian-Inspired
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