Traditionally used as a pasta topper, homemade pesto adds a pop of fresh herbal flavor to lots of different dishes. Try drizzling it over grilled pizza, hearty grain bowls, or creamy tomato soup. This no-oil recipe rivals any store bought pesto you can find and will transform your meal into an Italian-inspired feast with each spoonful. 

Tip: Add the amount of plant milk you like to get the desired consistency. Pesto should be spreadable but not too runny!

By Nancy Macklin, RDN,


  • ¼ cup raw cashews
  • 2 cups packed fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • ⅛ teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons unsweetened, unflavored plant milk, such as almond, soy, cashew, or rice


  • Place cashews in a bowl; cover with boiling water. Let soak for 30 minutes; drain. Place cashews in a food processor with the next five ingredients (through salt). Cover and process until nearly smooth, adding plant milk 1 tablespoon at a time to reach desired consistency, and stopping to scrape sides of the processor as needed.
  • To serve, toss 2 tablespoons of pesto with every 1 cup of hot cooked pasta. Or use as directed in recipes. Transfer extra pesto in an airtight container. Cover surface with plastic wrap; chill up to 2 days.

Comments (54)

(5 from 15 votes)

Recipe Rating

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Really good! I have an abundance of basil and this was a great way to use some of it! I took it to a party to top roasted tomatoes and it was a hit! I will use the leftovers on pasta.


Really excellent ~ rivals any traditional pesto recipes from my past. Cashews help me not miss the olive oil. I used macadamia nut milk.

Zany Z

I made this recipe adding two tablespoons more of almond milk giving a creamy pesto and only added one tablespoon of nutritional yeast. Added a 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper. Taste like pesto.

CC Edwards

Thank you for using cashews! I quite dislike pine nuts.

Benita Ganz

What are the nutritional values for the Vegan Pesto recipe

Courtney Davison

Hi Benita, We are currently working on adding nutritional information to all our recipes and anticipate for this feature to be live on the website later this year. Please stay tuned for updates! Thank you, Courtney Davison Editor, Forks Over Knives

Janet Dee

I’m allergic to cashews. Is there something else I could use? I’ve tried sunflower seeds in another recipe but it wasn’t too tasty. Any suggestions?


Try white beans as alternative to cashews. They will be smooth and creamy.


Many people suffer from nut allergies such as myself. can you please consider giving options to replace these? Thanks!

Madeleine Pacheco

I would substitute cannellini beans. But you would have to work the ratio.


I would suggest hemp hearts or sunflower seeds or tahini. White beans can work too.

Anne Smith

I like to add a little Bragg's Liquid Aminos instead of salt. Then I spoon dollops onto a baking tray and freeze them. Store frozen clumps in a baggie and add 1 or 2 to spaghetti sauce as needed.

CC Edwards

Great idea! Thank you.


Without olive oil, this is just meh.


Some of the comments talk about Spinach, yet I do not see Spinach listed in the ingredients. Was this an omission?


Spinach isn’t in the recipe but people are using it in place of basil. In my opinion pesto is no place for spinach!

Robyn M

Gosh I made this and it was fantastic. I didn’t have spinach but I used more basil and some beetroot leaves and chives. It was still great.


Do you ever provide nutritional information for your recipes. I am a Type 1 Diabetic and have other needs that require me to know that information.

Courtney Davison

Hi Angie, We are currently working on adding nutritional information to all our recipes and anticipate for this feature to be live on the website later this year. Please stay tuned for updates! Thank you, Courtney Davison Editor, Forks Over Knives

Courtney Davison

Hi Angie, We are currently working on adding nutritional information to all our recipes and anticipate for this feature to be live on the website later this year. Please stay tuned for updates! Thank you, Courtney Davison Editor, Forks Over Knives

Debbie Lindsey

Can you use dried basil instead of fresh to make pesto?


I have made a decent pesto using rehydrated basil and fresh spinach. Use enough basil for flavor, but the bulk of it should be the spinach or another fresh green.


Was really nice but next time I will use smaller pieces of garlic


Can you freeze this?

Megan Edwards

Hi Sandra! Yes you can freeze this recipe. It should stay good for up to three months in an air-tight container. Enjoy!


Try Vegan pesto sauce


Traditional pesto is made with pine nut, are cashews better? Can pine nuts still be used instead in this recipe


I’d like to know too!


I just made it with half cashews and half pine nuts - it was delicious! I haven't made it with only cashews, so I don't know how that compares.


Cashews make it a nice and creamy pesto. Occasionally I'll use almonds or walnuts in this recipe. Each results in a slightly different flavor. Cashew is probably my favorite because of the creaminess.


Yes! Yes! Yes! Creamy consistency. The cashews and nooch are the parmesan replacement that plant-based pestos need.

Rebekah Welch

Amazing! So delicious! I followed the recipe as-is except I used water instead of plant milk. This is the best pesto I have ever eaten. Before switching to a whole food plant based diet I made pesto with olive oil. This tastes so much better than pesto made with oil.


Delicious, just as written! My omnivore hubby added extra salt and pepper and the enjoyed it as well.


Not tried it yet, but will give it a go. Traditional pesto is basil, pine nuts, garlic and olive oil. My Italian friend never added the parmesan until serving so as not to loose the cheese sticking to a hot saucepan. To replace the parmesan there are a few homemade or shop bought vegan replacements or just add nutrional yeast stirred into or sprinkled over the hot pasta

Maureen Ward

Your recipes are great but you do not take into consideration People who have chronic kidney disease and have to limit their I would omit the nuts, but what to replace it with.....hmmm....


Maureen, have you read the success stories from people who had CKD? It might be worth reaching out to them and getting their tips.


Maureen, I have substituted silken tofu instead of cashews.


I have to limit my potassium and my sodium. I wish there would be a collection of very good recipes for people in my position. If you have heart failure you are possibly taking potassium sparing drugs as I am where you have to limit the amount of potassium you take in. Plus like almost all Heart patients I have to limit sodium.


I always replace with white beans when the recipe calls for beans.


Has anyone made this without soaking the cashews? I made traditional pesto (with olive oil) and use many different types of nuts without soaking them. Only almonds were challenging because they are harder than most other nuts & don't chop up as well. Just wondering why you would need to soak for this vegan version of the pesto?


If you have a high speed vita mix you won't have to but this small amount of nuts in a food processor may not process as smoothly without soaking.


A high speed blender should pulverize them but before I got a decent blender I would just dry blend the cashews into powder and proceed from there to break them down and avoid chunks.


what can I substitute for the cashews without sacrificing the taste?

Lisa Notter

Most vegan recipes for cheese sauces etc I've seen can substitute chopped boiled potatoes or white beans for the cashews for a fat free, nut free version.


Try hemp hearts, sunflower seeds, tahini, even white beans can work.

emily gordon

Easy and delicious


Just used water not plant milk, and a little miso paste instead of salt, was delicious! Am going to try making a tomato version with oven dried tomatoes


Looks good! What would be a good replacement for the nutritional yeast?


I would omit the nutritional yeast, have been making pesto for years without cheese, it doesn’t need it.


A little white miso makes a really good substitute for the nutritional yeast/cheese.


Can you freeze this?

Liz Turner

Yes, it should freeze well for about a month. You can dollop it into ice cube trays or onto wax paper or parchment paper, let it freeze for several hours, then transfer it to a freezer-safe storage bag or airtight container.


I make regular pesto and freeze it for a year or more. It's wonderful! Just seal well to keep it from getting freezer burned.


Please STOP the pop up to make a comment!!!! It's totally unnecessary and so annoying it makes one want to stop reading the comments, which I and many do before making a recipe

About the Author

Headshot of Nancy Macklin

About the Author

Nancy Macklin, RDN

Nancy Macklin has a bachelor of science in dietetics from Iowa State University and a Master of Science in health services administration from the University of Saint Francis. Macklin worked as a hospital-based clinical dietitian, providing counseling for diabetes, heart disease, and weight loss and as a food service director in health care dining sites. She now serves as a test kitchen dietitian, developing 500+ recipes per year. She is a member of the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics and International Association of Culinary Professionals. Find her on LinkedIn.
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