How to Make Fresh Pesto: 5 Vegan Pesto Recipes and How to Use Them

Disclaimer: Results are not guaranteed*** and may vary from person to person***.

fresh pestoI absolutely love everything about fresh pesto! The sweet aroma of all the pleasantly pungent fresh herbs and spices is just mouth-watering good. Also, many of the ingredient options for pesto are so high in nutrients that more people are using pesto for just about anything from eggs to potatoes—and, of course, on pasta.

A healthy pesto will contain healthy fats, notably when you use extra virgin olive oil and/or avocados for your recipe. Sulfur-containing garlic in pesto may also help fight and prevent diseases such as cold and flus, heart disease and hypertension, and even cancer. When you use fresh herbs like basil, you are getting a healthy source of flavonoid phytochemicals in your diet. These phytochemicals act like antioxidants that destroy free radical and help prevent various chronic conditions.

A History of Pesto

Basically, you can’t go wrong with fresh pesto. Where did this deliciously green and aromatic creation come from? The sauce originated in Genoa, which is the capital city of Liguria, Italy. From that time, pesto was mostly prepared with basil, pine nuts, olive oil, crushed garlic, and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

The name pesto is derived from the Genoese verb pesta, which means to pound or crush. This is in reference to the original method of preparation that uses a mortar and pestle to crush or ground the ingredients.

However, eating pesto actually dates back further than that. The ancient Romans consumed a similar paste called moretum. The paste was made from crushing together herbs, salt, garlic, cheese, vinegar, and olive oil.

Pesto is now a generic term to describe sauce that is made through crushing and pounding. This leaves the original pesto flexible to make it the way you want. In ancient Provence, France, pesto didn’t include pine nuts, and they would use mint, cilantro, or spinach instead of basil. Nowadays, you can also use blenders or food processors to cut out the mortar and pestle crushing, and make pesto quite easily and quickly.

How to Use Pesto

In a departure from nearly every other pasta sauce, you do not cook pesto. The fresh and raw flavor from pesto depends on it. You see, prolonged exposure to high heat is basically the worst thing for pesto. This is one reason why most store-bought pesto should be left on the shelves. The high-heat sterilization necessary for bottling and canning pesto will cook the basil, and turn its scent dull.

The following is a basic procedure for cooking fresh pesto on pasta:

  • Transfer cooked pasta to a serving bowl.
  • Add the pesto, and add a bit of boiled water.
  • Mix to bind and emulsify the oil-based pesto.

Although there is still heat in this process with the water and pasta, the freshness of the pesto is not significantly affected, as it would be if you heated the pesto on a stovetop. That is basically it for “cooking” pesto; however, there are a variety of ways to actually make the stuff.

Dairy-Free Pesto?

Unlike the traditional Italian recipes, I refrain from using dairy in my pesto recipes. I’m sensitive to dairy, and in my opinion, the pesto tastes just as good without it. Not to mention, dairy is linked to various health conditions, including lactose intolerance, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and vitamin D toxicity.

I use pesto in various ways. I use it with gluten-free quinoa or rice pasta, but I will also use it with spiralized zucchini and sweet potatoes, other potato dishes, salads, scrambled eggs, and on homemade gluten-free tortilla or pizza crusts. You can even dip anything you’d like in your pesto, including veggies or crackers. There really are a lot of options for pesto besides pasta. As a result, making pesto is so much fun.

Let’s take a trip into my kitchen with all the fresh ingredients I use to make pesto. How do I make dairy-free pesto recipes? Here are five unique and delicious ways to make fresh pesto.

5 Delicious Vegan Pesto Recipes

1. Avocado Basil Pesto

This is my go-to pesto for many dishes. It combines well with rice and quinoa fusilli, and spiralized sweet potatoes and zucchini. The avocado in the recipe contains healthy fats and lots of B vitamins to give you energy.

You can also add your choice of dried herbs to the recipe. I’ve added rosemary, oregano, and salt. The basil in here is also loaded with vitamin K and anti-inflammatory compounds. Its volatile eugenol has been found to block the cyclooxygenase (COX) enzyme in a way similar to over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and aspirin.

Like I said, this pesto is one of favorites, and you likely won’t be disappointed in its flavor.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup or more of fresh basil
  • 1 large or 2 medium avocado
  • 2-3 tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. of fresh organic lemon juice
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. of oregano
  • 1 tsp. of grounded rosemary
  • Coarse sea salt, to taste

Directions:

  • In a food processor or high-speed blender, combine olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, rosemary, salt, avocado, and fresh basil.
  • Add fresh green onion and tomatoes to your favorite dish with the pesto.

2. Dill and Cashew Pesto

The following fresh pesto recipe is another favorite of mine. This one is fairly addictive, and it goes well with spiraled zucchini pasta; however, you can really use it with anything. The dill in the recipe is a good source of minerals like iron, manganese, and calcium; and it contains flavonoid antioxidants like vicenin and kaempferol. It also has monoterpene phytonutrients like limonene, anethofuran, and carvone. These phytonutrients will activate the antioxidant compound glutathione that helps prevent free-radical damage.

Cashews also contain healthy fats that are great for heart health. The zesty taste of this pesto will have you coming back for more. Leftovers will store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to three to five days.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of fresh organic lemon
  • 1 cup of soaked raw cashews
  • 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil or grapeseed oil
  • 1 cup of filtered water
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp. of coarse sea salt
  • 1-2 tsp. of fresh black pepper
  • 1/2 bunch of fresh dill

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in a blender, and process until it is smooth. It is ready to use with your favorite pasta or vegetables.

3. Kale and Vegan Parmesan Pesto

For those who just can’t live without parmesan cheese in pesto, I’ve got a treat for you. Vegan parmesan tastes amazing, and makes a great addition to this recipe. The kale in the pesto recipe also provides a lot of phytonutrients, antioxidants, and other beneficial nutrients. Kale is especially high in vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, and manganese. The recipe also has pine nuts to give the pesto a nutty flavor.

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup of extra virgin oil
  • 1 recipe of vegan parmesan cheese (see below)
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 cup or more of fresh basil
  • 1 cup or more fresh kale
  • 3 tbsp. of pine nuts
  • 1/2 tsp. of coarse sea salt
  • Pinch of black pepper

For the vegan parmesan cheese:

  • 1/2 cup of raw cashews
  • 2 tbsp. of nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 tsp. of course sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp. of garlic powder, or to taste

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in a blender, and process until it is smooth. Use with your favorite pasta, or dish.

4. Hemp Basil Pesto

The following recipe is different because it contains hemp seeds. Hemp is another great fat source to complement the olive oil. The pesto recipe also includes fresh basil, lemon juice, and garlic. The recipe will make about one cup of pesto, and combines well with quinoa, rice, pasta, or your choice of vegetable. I also love using this pesto with salad.

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch of fresh basil
  • 1/3 cup of hemp seeds
  • 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. of fresh organic lemon juice
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • Coarse sea salt and cayenne, to taste

Directions:

Blend all the ingredients together in a high-speed blender or food processor. It’s ready to go on your favorite dish.

5. Wild Leek and Spring Garlic Pesto

Foodies or chefs have likely heard about the delicious ramps—also called wild leeks, wild garlic, or wood leeks. Spring garlic, or green garlic, is another food that goes great with pesto. Both wild leeks and spring garlic grow in the spring, and are often found in community supported agriculture (CSA) boxes from local farmers. Similar to traditional garlic, spring garlic is full of the sulfur compound allicin. Garlic scapes are the flowering top of the garlic clove, which is another great addition to this fresh pesto.

Ingredients:

  • 4 garlic scapes, cut into two-inch pieces
  • 1 handful of pea shoots
  • 1 bunch of celery leaf
  • 1-2 kale leaves
  • 1 portion of vegan parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup of lemon juice
  • Coarse salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 4-5 wild leeks
  • 2 spring garlic

For the vegan parmesan cheese:

  • 1/2 cup of raw cashews
  • 2 tbsp. of nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 tsp. of course sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp. of garlic powder, or to taste

Directions:

  • Combine all ingredients in a high-speed blender or food processor until smooth. Use the pesto for your favorite pasta or dish.

Fresh Pesto is Easy

These fresh pesto recipes should give you some variety—although I’m sure you’ll have your favorites and use them over and over again. Also, for people new to cooking and need some confidence, keep in mind that it’s really hard to mess up pesto. It’s oil, herbs, and spices. You can personalize it to your preferred taste, and it will likely be delicious no matter what you do it. After all, cooking and eating are both to do be enjoyed, so enjoy!



Sources:
Gritzer, D., “The Right Way(s) to Serve Pesto on Pasta,” Serious Eats; http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2016/02/pesto-pasta-potatoes-green-beans-recipe.html, last accessed March 31, 2017.
“Understanding the Problems with Dairy Products,” NutritionMD; http://www.nutritionmd.org/nutrition_tips/nutrition_tips_understand_foods/dairy.html, last accessed March 31, 2017.
“Is Pesto Sauce Healthy?” SFGate; http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/pesto-sauce-healthy-2355.html, last accessed March 31, 2017.
Liddon, A., The Oh She Glows Cookbook: Vegan Recipes to Glow from the Inside Out (Toronto: Penguin Canada Books Inc., 2014), 173.
Liddon, A., Oh She Glows Every Day: Quick and Simply Satisfying Plant-Based Recipes (Toronto: Penguin Canada Books Inc., 2016), 267.
Telpner, M., The UnDiet Cookbook (China: Random House LLC, 2015), 90.
“The History of Pesto Sauce,” Splendid Recipes and More, March 11, 2015; https://splendidrecipesandmore.com/2015/03/11/the-history-of-pesto-sauce/.
Mateljan, G., The World’s Healthiest Foods: Essential Guide for the healthiest way of eating (Seattle: George Mateljan Foundation, 2007), 298, 548, 698, 710.

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