If you are a cilantro lover, this Vegan Cilantro Pesto is for you! This twist on traditional uses cilantro instead of basil in a plant-based pesto sauce that’s ready in only 5 minutes.
Love cilantro? Make a vegan cilantro pesto! While traditional pesto sauce uses basil, we like to switch up the herbs and make plant-based pestos with whatever herbs you have on hand.
👉 Here’s why you should be making pesto with cilantro:
- It’s tasty! Cilantro’s bright and lemony flavor brings out the garlic and pine nuts in this pesto with that distinct peppery kick.
- It’s vegan friendly. Parmesan cheese is replaced with nutritional yeast, the perfect vegan alternative for Parmesan cheese because of its nutty, cheesy flavor. You won’t miss the dairy in this pesto!
- It’s a no-prep recipe. All you have to do is pulse the ingredients in a food processor while drizzling in oil. It’s extremely simple to make and can be used on everything from pizza and pasta to marinating vegetables or enhancing the flavor of soup.
Want to learn how easy it is to make plant-based pesto with cilantro? Let us show you how!
🌿 Ingredients + substitutions
- Cilantro: The majority of this pesto is made up of cilantro. Cilantro provides beneficial vitamins such as vitamins A, C, and iron. Cilantro is sometimes referred to as coriander, which is the seed of the plant; however, this recipe utilizes the fresh, green and herbaceous leaves.
- Pine nuts: To give our pesto texture and crunch we use pine nuts, which are traditional to pesto. However, these can easily be swapped for sunflower or pumpkin seeds if you are trying to make a nut-free pesto.
- Nutritional yeast: Nutritional yeast is a savory vegan alternative to Parmesan cheese. It’s sometimes referred to as ‘Nooch’ in the vegan world and is coveted for its vitamin B12, which requires supplementation in vegan diets.
- Oil: Make sure to use a quality oil when making pesto to add more flavor to your sauce. The oil is drizzled in while processing the ingredients to ensure that they are well coated. Oil gives your pesto the appropriate texture: not loose, but not chunky.
- Garlic, salt, and pepper: Season your pesto with garlic, salt, and pepper, then taste and add more seasoning as needed.
- Optional ingredients: Round off your pesto with a hint of acid at the end. Adding a squeeze of fresh lemon will enhance the cilantro in this pesto.
🥣 How to make (step-by-step photos)
1️⃣ Step One: Wash and prep the cilantro
Begin by rinsing the cilantro under cold water to remove any dirt. Once cleaned, dry the herbs on a kitchen towel or in a salad spinner to remove excess water.
2️⃣ Step Two: Blend the greens, nuts, garlic, and oil
Next, add the cleaned and dried cilantro to a food processor. Add pine nuts and garlic cloves and pulse until finely chopped.
As you’re pulsing the ingredients, slowly pour in the oil. You’ll want your pesto to still have chunks for texture but all ingredients should be well coated in oil.
3️⃣ Step Three: Add nutritional yeast and season to taste
Finally, slowly add in nutritional yeast, salt, and pepper, tasting and adding more until you reach your preferred taste. For an added kick, add a squeeze of lemon juice for a fresh and light flavor.
To serve cilantro pesto, simply spoon over roasted vegetables, toss with pasta, or drizzle into soups for an added kick of flavor.
♻️ Storage + freezing
This plant-based cilantro pesto is so good you’ll want to have it on hand all the time. It’s easy to make a big batch and freeze it for later!
Freezing your pesto in ice cube trays and then moving to a freezer-safe storage bag lets you always have the perfect quantity on hand. Pull out as many cubes as you need for sauces or marinades, or use just one to add flavor to your favorite soup.
- Refrigerator: 1 week in a airtight container
- Freezer: 6-12 months in a sealed freezer-safe container
👉 Pro tip: Adding a layer of olive oil to the top of your pesto before refrigerating or freezing will help keep it from browning.
💚 Pesto variations
Vegan cilantro pesto isn’t the only way to make an alternative pesto. Below are a few ideas to make this pesto recipe your own.
- Switch up the nuts: Use almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, sunflower seeds, or pumpkin seeds for a different crunchy base.
- Play with the greens: Consider arugula, carrot tops, beet leaves, or radish greens instead of (or in addition to) basil or cilantro.
- Do a combo: Try combining more than one green or nut in your pesto. Consider sunflower seed and almond cilantro pesto or cilantro and carrot green pesto.
🌱 More vegan herb pesto recipes
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Vegan Cilantro Pesto Recipe
- 2 cups cilantro
- ⅓ cup pine nuts or seeds if nut-free
- 2 whole garlic cloves
- ½ cup 120 ml extra virgin olive oil
- ⅓ cup nutritional yeast or parmesan cheese
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
- Optional: squeeze of fresh lemon juice
- Wash and prep the cilantro: Begin by rinsing the cilantro under cold water to remove any dirt. Once cleaned, dry it on a kitchen towel or in a salad spinner.
- Blend the greens, nuts, garlic, and oil: Next, add the cleaned and dried cilantro to a food processor. Add pine nuts and garlic cloves and pulse until finely chopped. As you're pulsing the ingredients, slowly pour in the oil. You'll want your pesto to still have chunks for texture but all ingredients should be well coated in oil.
- Add nutritional yeast, spices, and lemon juice: Finally, slowly add in nutritional yeast, salt, and pepper, tasting and adding more until you reach your preferred taste.
- Make it nut-free: 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.
- Make it vegan: Make this pesto recipe vegan by using dairy-free parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast.
- Tools needed: food processor or blender, knife set, cutting board
- 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.