This vegan pesto tastes just like the classic Pesto Alla Genovese recipe- but secretly dairy free and vegan. Only 5 ingredients and made the traditional method for the absolute best flavor. 

plate of vegan pesto pasta

You are just going to absolutely love this easy vegan pesto sauce recipe. Using a mortar and pestle rather than a food processor will leave you with a. pesto that tastes like it came from Italy, leaving your vegan dinner recipes tasting absolutely amazing!

Why this vegan pesto recipe is different:

Pesto alla genovese is a classic Italian spread used for pasta, crostini, vegetables and more. And just like my cherry tomato sauce, It’s traditionally made with just 5 ingredients: basil, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, and olive oil. This means that it’s technically not dairy free nor vegan (more on that in a second).

The word, “pesto,” is derived from the verb “pestare,” which means to crush. Traditionally, pesto is made with a mortar and pestle (again, pestle can be broken down into pest-le; the root of the word, pest-, deriving from pestare). 

Of course, vegan pesto exists on the web, but this one is different. Unlike other modified dairy free pestos, this version does not contain lemon juice (which is not traditionally found in pesto), nor does it use a food processor. 

In fact, the way to create the absolute best tasting pesto is not with a food processor, but with a mortar and pestle. This is because instead of just chopping all of the ingredients together, which is what a food processor does, a mortar and pestle helps to release the oils and flavors by breaking down the ingredients a bit better.

Trust me, once you make pesto this way, you won’t want it any other way!

jar of vegan pesto


  • Fresh basil: Ideally, your basil is super fresh and has just been picked. I have a small basil plant in my kitchen that I use. However, you can also purchase the basil from your local grocery store.
  • Garlic: Use fresh garlic cloves instead of already minced garlic for the best flavor.
  • Pine nuts: Pesto alla Genovese is traditionally made with pine nuts. Please see substitutions below!
  • Vegan parmesan cheese: To make this pesto both dairy free and vegan, we’re substituting in vegan parmesan cheese. Violife and Forager Project are two that I love. Violife is nut-free, while Forager Project does contain nuts. 
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil: You do want to use a really high quality olive oil because that’s what’s going to come through the most. I recommend using Jovial Foods. 
vegan pesto ingredients

I find that the vegan parmesan adds enough salt to the pesto; however, if you’d like your vegan pesto sauce to have a bit more salt, please feel free to add it to taste. 

Pine nut substitutions:

If you don’t want to use pine nuts (whether you are nut-free or prefer a different option), here are a few substitutions.

For nut-free:

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Hemp seeds

For non-nut free:

  • Walnuts
  • Cashews

Vegan parmesan substitutions:

If you’d prefer not to use vegan parmesan, such as by Forager Project or Violife, you can substitute in nutritional yeast for the parmesan. 

Overview: How to make vegan pesto with a mortar and pestle:

As I mentioned above, this vegan pesto recipe specifically uses a mortar and pestle, as that will yield the absolute best flavor for your pesto!

Of course, you can use a food processor if you do not have a mortar and pestle. However, while it takes longer, the latter will yield a better, more aromatic and pungent flavor than when using a food processor. 

The most important part about using a mortar and pestle is that you swirl the pestle around the edges of the mortar, rather than pound the pestle into the mortar base. This is to gently release the oils and flavors of each ingredient properly. 

You’ll also add one ingredient at a time, crushing them into the last ingredient until a paste forms. It’s a slower process than using a food processor, but well worth it- especially when you want to impress a dinner party or use for a holiday dinner!

How to store pesto properly:

Ideally, you’ll use your homemade vegan pesto right away; however, if you have leftovers or you’re storing the pesto for later use, here are a few options.

Refrigerator: You can place your vegan pesto in the fridge once you’ve sealed it in an airtight jar. I recommend pouring about 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil on top of the pesto in the jar before closing it. This will help to prevent the basil from oxidizing in the fridge. Your pesto will last for about 3-4 days in the fridge.

Freezer: Alternatively, you can easily freeze freshly made vegan pesto in ice cube trays. Simply pour the pesto into the ice cream trays and freeze for 3-4 hours. Once frozen, pop the pesto cubes out of the trays and place into an airtight container or bag to freeze for up to 3 months. 

jar of vegan pesto on a table

Vegan pesto variations:

If you’re looking to jazz up your classic vegan pesto alla genovese, here are a few substitutions:

  • Basil: Swap in argula, kale, cilantro, arugula, or spinach (or just simply swap out half of the basil for any of these!)
  • Pine nuts: As we mentioned above, you can use walnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, or sunflower seeds
  • Add in miso paste: And use Thai basil, along with swapping out pine nuts for peanuts.
  • Crush in sun-dried tomatoes: Along with parsley and the basil for a tomato twist on your classic vegan pesto sauce!

What to use this dairy-free pesto recipe for:

You’ll just absolutely love this homemade easy vegan pesto recipe! You can serve it both hot and cold in whichever recipe you’d like. It’s perfect for:

And more!

plate of vegan pesto

Want to save this recipe for later? Add it to your favorite recipe board on Pinterest!

vegan pesto pinterest pin

If you make this recipe, please be sure to leave a comment and a rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ below. This helps others to find the recipes! As always, I absolutely love to see your beautiful creations on Instagram and Pinterest, so be sure to tag me there as well!

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jar of vegan pesto

Classic Vegan Pesto alla Genovese Recipe (Nut Free Option)

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  • Author: Britt Berlin
  • Prep Time: 10
  • Total Time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: 4 1x
  • Category: Sauces
  • Method: No-bake
  • Cuisine: Italian
  • Diet: Vegan


This vegan pesto tastes just like the classic Pesto Alla Genovese recipe- but secretly dairy free and vegan. Only 5 ingredients and made the traditional method for the absolute best flavor.


  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/3 cup raw pine nuts
  • 2 cups fresh basil, de-stemmed
  • 1/3 cup vegan parmesan*
  • 1/4 cup high quality extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt to taste (optional)


  1. This method is specifically written for using a mortar and pestle. It yields the best tasting vegan pesto (much more than using a food processor). You can use a food processor, but if you have the time, using a mortar and pestle will yield the best results.
  2. Chop the garlic. Add the garlic into the bowl of your mortar, and begin to crush the garlic with the pestle. Circle the pestle around the mortar, crushing the garlic into almost a paste. This should take 1-2 minutes.
  3. Next, add in the pine nuts, and begin to crush the pine nuts into the garlic but swirling the pestle along the edges of the mortar, like you did with the garlic. Do NOT bang the pestle up and down to crush the pine nuts. Try to swirl the pestle around until all of the pine nuts have been crushed into almost a paste.
  4. Add in the basil in increments. Take about 1/3-1/2 cup of basil, and add it to the mortar. Begin to swirl the pestle around the edges of the mortar until cursed into bits. Add in another increment of basil and repeat. Repeat until you’ve used all of the basil.
  5. Then add in the vegan parmesan, and mix it into the vegan pesto. Scrape down the pestle as needed with a spoon.
  6. Pour in the olive oil, and this time, stir it in using a spoon. Add sea salt to taste here.
  7. Use immediately in your recipe, and check the blog post for how to properly store vegan pesto for later and further storage tips. Enjoy!


No pine nuts: You can swap in cashews or walnuts for the pine nuts.

Nut-free: Swap in pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds or hemp seeds.

Vegan parmesan: I recommend using either Forager Project or Violife. You can swap in an equal amount of nutritional yeast for the vegan parmesan.

Please see the blog post for proper storage tips to prevent your pesto from oxidizing!

vegan pesto pasta on a table