Vegan Arugula Pesto
Vegan Arugula Pesto, a simple plant-based pesto recipe made with arugula instead of basil! This simple 5-minutes recipe uses peppery arugula and nutritional yeast instead of cheese for a fun twist on traditional pesto sauce.
Love pesto, but don't have basil? Never fear! It's possible to make pesto with other herbs and greens, and one of our favorite alternative pesto recipes uses spicy and peppery arugula.
👉 Here are three reasons why you should be making pesto with arugula:
- It's tasty! This pesto has the bright and distinct spicy flavor of arugula with the traditional aspects of homemade basil pesto. You'll use it on everything!
- It's vegan. This recipes uses nutritional yeast in place of Parmesan cheese. Nutritional yeast has a cheesy, nutty flavor and contains vitamin B12 (an important nutrient for plant-based diets).
- It's incredibly easy and versatile. No prep required, just toss the ingredients in a food processor and drizzle in some oil. Make a big batch and freeze it to use as a sauce on pizza, vegetables, pasta, or in soups.
Want to learn more about the untapped potential of pesto? Let us show you how!
🌿 Arugula pesto ingredients
- Arugula: Arugula makes up the bulk of the pesto, providing beneficial vitamins such as A, K, C, and folate along with necessary minerals including calcium, iron, and copper. If you find the arugula has a bit to much bite for your taste, cut it with another leafy green or basil.
- Nuts or seeds: Pine nuts are traditional to pesto and give it the texture and crunch we've become accustomed to. You can also substitute other nuts or seeds, like pumpkin seeds (which we used in the recipe photos).
- Nutritional yeast: Nutritional yeast (aka nooch) is a hidden gem. It has savory flavor profile and is often used as a substitute to Parmesan cheese. Nutritional yeast has less sodium than cheese, which is great if you're limiting your sodium intake, but may require you to add a bit more salt to please your palette. Always salt with a light hand and add more as needed.
- Olive oil: Oil adds flavor but also brings pesto together and creates a suspension of the greens, nuts, and nutritional yeast. This allows the pesto to hold its texture instead of being a thick puree.
- Garlic, salt, and pepper: Every good pesto is properly seasoned. Load up on garlic and add salt and pepper to taste.
- Optional ingredients: A dash of lemon at the end brightens the flavors and adds a bit of acid to balance out this pesto.
🥣 How to make (step-by-step photos)
1️⃣ Step One: Wash and prep the arugula
The first step to making arugula pesto is to clean and prep the arugula.
Simple wash the greens under running water or submerge then in a large bowl of water to remove dirt.
Dry the arugula in a salad spinner or lay it flat on a kitchen towel.
2️⃣ Step Two: Blend the greens, nuts, garlic, and oil
Next add the cleaned and dried arugula to a food processor. Add your nuts or seeds and garlic cloves and pulse until finely chopped.
As you're pulsing the ingredients, drizzle in olive oil and continue to pulse until the chopped ingredients are well coated in oil, but still chunky.
3️⃣ Step Three: Add nutritional yeast, spices, and lemon juice
Finally, slowly add in nutritional yeast, salt, and pepper, tasting and adding more until you reach your desired taste.
🌱 Storage + freezing
We recommend making a big batch of pesto to keep on hand and use when pulling together quick meals. Here's how to store any extra pesto:
- Refrigerator: 1 week in a airtight container.
- Freezer: 6 months in a sealed freezer-safe container.
👉 Pro tips! It's best to always pour a thin layer of olive oil over top of your pesto before storing to minimize browning. Add pesto to ice cube trays, freeze, and transfer to a freezer-safe storage bag. Having small quantities on hand are perfect for when you need a quick flavor enhancer!
💚 Pesto variations
The pesto possibilities are endless! Below are a few ideas to make this pesto recipe your own.
Switch up the nuts or seeds: Use almonds, walnuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, or pumpkin seeds for a different crunchy base.
Play with the greens: Parsley, carrot tops, beet leaves, radish greens…the leafy green pesto ideas are endless!
Do a combo: Switch it up (or cut costs) by combining more than one green or nut in your pesto. Consider pine nut and walnut arugula pesto or try an arugula and kale pistachio pesto.
♻️ More vegan pesto recipes
We hope you enjoy making pesto – we love how quick, easy, and versatile it is! Check out our other non-traditional pestos:
- Carrot Leaves Pesto
- Radish Top Pesto
- Beet Greens Pesto
- Plant-Based Parsley Pesto
- Plant-Based Kale Pesto
- Plant-Based Spinach Pesto
Vegan Arugula Pesto Recipe
- 2 cups arugula
- ⅓ cup pine nuts, or pumpkin seeds if nut-free
- 2 whole garlic cloves
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ⅓ cup nutritional yeast
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
- Optional: squeeze of fresh lemon juice
- Wash and prep the arugula: First, clean the arugula by submerging it in a large bowl of water and swishing to remove dirt. Dry in a salad spinner or lay it flat on a plate or kitchen towel.
- Blend the greens, nuts, garlic, and oil: Next add the cleaned and dried arugula to a food processor. Add nuts or seeds and garlic cloves and pulse until finely chopped. As you're pulsing the ingredients, drizzle in olive oil and continue to pulse until the chopped ingredients are well coated in oil, but still chunky.
- Add nutritional yeast, spices, and lemon juice: Finally, slowly add in nutritional yeast, salt, and pepper, tasting and adding more until you reach your desired taste.
- Nuts or seeds? Traditional pesto sauce uses pine nuts, but any nut or seeds will be delicious in this pesto. We used sunflower seeds in this recipe (as shown in the accompanying photos) to make this pesto nut-free.
- Tools needed: food processor or blender, knife set, cutting board, salad spinner
- Prep ahead: Make this simple pesto up to 2-3 days before serving, or freeze until ready to use.
- Leftovers and storage: Leftover pesto should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days, and in the freezer for up to 2 months (possibly longer).
- Nutrition notes: This recipe made as written (with vegan cheese and seeds) is plant-based, gluten-free, and nut-free. It is a good source of vitamin C, plant-based protein, and fiber.