Oil-Free Vegan Basil Pesto

One of my favourite things ever is basil pesto. For some reason, however, I don’t often think to make it. Probably because I feel like I should only make it when it’s “buy fresh basil by the bushel” season. I’ve eaten it even more rarely since Sean and I started following (most of the time) a whole-foods plant-based diet. There’s no question that olive oil and parmesan are part of the charm of pesto, but for me, fresh basil is the real star.

fresh basil and garlic

Then a week or two ago, there were big pots of live basil for cheap at the grocery store, and I knew it was time. I have learned quite a bit about WFPB cooking (in which you don’t use any oils that have been removed from their sources) in the past few years, and I figured my experience, a bit of research, and my love for pesto would guide me to something yummy. And I was right!

Here’s what I put in it:

  • 2 cups packed fresh basil
  • 5 cloves fresh garlic*
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts**
  • 1/4 cup raw cashews***
  • juice from 1/2 a lemon (~1.5 Tbsp)
  • 2 Tbsp olive brine – my (not-so-) secret ingredient!
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 2 tsp white miso
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/4 tsp salt

*I put these under the broiler for a few minutes for a deeper, mellower flavour, but raw garlic is great too.

**I also put these under the broiler, and earned some insight.  Here’s an example of what not to do, namely forget to keep track of how long you put them in for. You’re welcome.

overdone pine nuts

Fortunately for me, they were still really delicious. I was going to put them on salad, and then tell you my discovery of how yummy dark-roasted pine nuts are on salad… but then I ended up just eating them straight. No salad involved.

They really only need 2-3 minutes under the broiler to be lightly toasted like this.

pine nuts

And again, that’s optional, because pine nuts are scrumptious – and more sharply flavoured – when they’re raw.

***I soak my cashews by pouring boiling water over them and letting them sit for 10-15 minutes. In future, I may try sunflower seeds and/or pepitas as a smaller-footprint alternative.

I put all that stuff in the food processor, because I was more in the mood to clean a food processor than a blender. But I’m sure the blender would work too.

pesto ingredients

This is the part where I mention that I’m not a photographer. Any resemblance to actual high-quality food photos is purely coincidental.

You’ll notice that when I cook, my countertop, while aesthetically pleasing in its nature, is not artfully strewn with prettily curling basil leaves or juicy lemon slices or whatever. It looked like this:

I guess that produce sticker is curling rather prettily.

I food-processed the pesto until it looked nice and green and flecky… and voilà!pesto penne

It was enough for all of our 375g package of penne, with almost a 1/2 cup left over. And damn, it was flavourful. I honestly did not miss the cheese or oil at all. My hubby also commented more than once on how tasty it was, and my daughter ate it up (my son would never touch such a food).

YAY! Basil pesto FTW!!



2 thoughts on “Oil-Free Vegan Basil Pesto

  1. Beverly Shepard says:

    Love this post! The style is engaging, the recipe inspiring, and the photos are great! I especially like the one of the “overdone” pinons — such nice colours set off artistically by the bowl. I guess I need to try this, though it probably won’t be cashews.

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