Classic basil pesto (or pesto alla genovese) is made in a mortar and pestle and typically contains: basil, pine nuts, olive oil, parmesan, garlic, and salt. My number 1 goal for this recipe was to “veganize” it. First things first, the parmesan had to go.
Unfortunately, pine nuts cost a small fortune and veganizing pesto proved to be more difficult than simply replacing the parmesan. The end result though? The flavour is THERE. This recipe checks all the boxes for delicious pesto: (1.) Lots of fresh peppery basil (of course), (2.) earthy nuttiness, (3.) salty “cheesy” umami, (4.) and a zesty kick of garlic. The bonus? (5.) This pesto is a creamy green dream of a sauce.
Let’s talk ingredients. The basil, olive oil, garlic, and salt stays the same. We’re gonna ditch the mortar and pestle and whip out the food processor, starting with the basil, salt, garlic, and raw cashews. For a slightly more economic pesto, cashews will replace the bulk of the pine nuts.
Pulse the basil, cashews, garlic, and salt until it looks like the above (left) photo.
Now we’re going to add 3 near magical ingredients: hemp seeds (to mimic the flavour of the pine nuts), nutritional yeast (for vegan cheesy-nuttiness), and mellow white miso (for salty umami). The nooch + miso are key for that proper parmesan flavour.
Now we’re going to add the olive oil. See that left photo, above? That’s got most of the olive oil a typical pesto recipe would call for but the nutritional yeast (unlike real parmesan) soaks up the oil and turns the mixture into a thick paste. To turn this paste into a thick sauce, we’ve got to add water. With the help of the food processor, blending water into the oil of the pesto creates a beautiful creamy emulsion.
So now what? Dig in! Use it on pasta or in sandwiches, soups, or salads.
You can store the pesto in the fridge, (topped with a thin layer of olive oil to stop it from oxidizing.) The pesto will feel really thick once it’s chilled (perfect for spreading on sandwiches) but thins out when added to hot dishes like pasta.
- ½ cup basil leaves, packed
- ¼ cup raw cashews
- 1 clove garlic
- ¼ tsp sea salt
- ½ tsp shiro (white) miso
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 2 tbsp hulled hemp seeds
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 3 tbsp water
- In a food processor, pulse basil, cashews, garlic, and salt, until cashews are finely chopped and evenly textured.
- Add the miso, nutritional yeast, and hemp seeds. Pulse until combined.
- While the processor is running, very slowly pour in the olive oil, followed by the water.
- To prevent oxidation, spoon pesto into a small jar and top with a thin layer of olive oil. As you use the pesto you can stir the oil in, or discard/reserve for later.