Take a handful of fresh basil and spinach leaves and turn them into a nut-free pesto in 5 minutes! This tasty vegan spinach pesto recipe will require no expensive pine nuts or cashew nuts, only seven simple ingredients.
Do you pesto as much as we do? Try our vegan sun-dried tomato pesto, red pesto tofu pasta, or vegan pesto pasta. You can find even more vegan pasta recipes here, as you can never have enough inspiration. Am I right?
What to expect from this recipe?
The original Italian pesto (also called “pesto alla Genovese“) is made of pine nuts, basil leaves, Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, and a bit of salt. Traditionally, all ingredients are crushed in a mortar and mixed with olive oil. This is the base of all pesto variations, including spinach pesto.
This vegan spinach pesto is a flavorful and unique twist on the traditional pesto. The absence of nuts in the recipe means that the pesto will have a slightly different texture. It will be softer and more delicate but still flavorful and rich.
Spinach leaves bring an earthy and fresh taste with slightly bitter notes. They are paired with olive oil and garlic to give them a balanced and light taste. At the same time, nutritional yeast and sunflower seeds will add a nutty flavor. You can expect a vibrant, fresh, and well-balanced taste that’s creamy, savory, and satisfying.
You need the following 7 ingredients and a food processor to make a delicious vegan spinach pesto in no time.
- Fresh basil leaves → You cannot make pesto with dried herbs.
- Fresh spinach leaves → Kale, arugula (rocket salad), watercress, and collard greens are quite similar to spinach. The flavor profile will be slightly different if you choose other substitutions.
- Fresh garlic clove → When making pesto, fresh ingredients like garlic will give you a stronger flavor and better texture than dried alternatives like garlic powder or granules.
- Nutritional yeast → instead of Parmesan cheese
- Sunflower seeds → instead of pine nuts
- Extra virgin olive oil
I see lemon juice as an ingredient in some vegan pesto recipes. We don’t think you need it, though. Neither do the people in Italy, since the traditional pesto recipe doesn’t have it either.
🛒 You can find detailed measurements for all ingredients in the printable version of the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
Prepare the ingredients
- Wash the basil and spinach leaves.
- Peel garlic cloves.
- Measure all ingredients.
Making vegan spinach pesto
- Add all ingredients to your food processor.
- Blend it until you get the correct texture. You might need to stop and scrape the sides a couple of times before your pesto is ready. The end result shouldn’t be as smooth as this oil-free hummus, but there shouldn’t be any large pieces. Its texture should be similar to a thick, stiff paste with a little chunkiness, like in the below picture.
Do you want to try it with a mortar?
- Start by crushing the garlic and the sunflower seeds to a creamy consistency.
- Add the nutritional yeast and the salt and mix thoroughly.
- Add the spinach and basil leaves little by little. As well as olive oil. You should alternate between the leaves and the oil.
- Crush them as hard as you can. It may take a while to get them to a chunky consistency.
- Wash and dry the fresh leaves. Use a paper towel or a clean kitchen cloth to dry the fresh basil and spinach leaves after washing. Too much moisture will likely affect the texture of the pesto.
- Chopping makes it easier. If you are making a smaller batch, and you were to use an immersion blender, it is best to chop the ingredients roughly to make blending easier.
- Spicy: Add ½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes to make it fiery.
- Nutmeg: Garlic is not the only flavor that pairs well with spinach. We love using nutmeg as it has a warm and sweet flavor that pairs well with spinach. Nutmeg can add depth of flavor to spinach dishes, like in our vegan spinach soup.
- Lemon: While lemon is usually not part of pesto, but spinach’s slightly bitter flavor is balanced well by the sharp tang of lemon.
Think of anything Italian, and then think outside of this box. We have a couple of ideas for you to start with:
- PASTA → Start with this vegan pesto pasta recipe (see the below picture). Traditionally, Italians use mandilli de sæa (“silk handkerchiefs”), trofie, or trenette, but any pasta would be perfect. Or add an extra layer of flavor to this asparagus lemon pepper pasta.
- GNOCCHI → How about serving it with our homemade vegan sweet potato gnocchi? I’ll tell you that it will be delicious.
- LASAGNA → You can add a unique twist to this simple vegan lentil lasagna with pesto. Or try our vegan cabbage lasagna recipe, where you can substitute spinach alfredo with this spinach pesto.
- PIZZA → Skip pizza sauce and use pesto to make this Mediterranean pizza.
- RISOTTO → What’s not to love in vegan risotto, especially with some spinach pesto for additional yumminess.
- MARINADE → You can use it as a marinade for grilled vegetable kabobs, vegan cauliflower steak, or tofu steak. Pesto would be perfect to add to roasted asparagus and mushrooms, or roasted cauliflower.
- SANDWICH → Add it to a grilled cheese sandwich or bruschetta. I would totally try it with vegan egg salad sandwich. Skip the cream cheese and turn these veggie pinwheels into a pesto one.
- SALAD → Drizzle it on top of your favorite salad. Pesto goes well with everything.
- SOUP → It can be a garnish or topping for any creamy vegan soup. We especially love it with this Hokkaido pumpkin soup or with this vegan cauliflower soup. Don’t forget vegan minestrone soup! So delicious with it.
Let us know in the comments what is your favorite dish with pesto!
- Food processor vs immersion blender. When making pesto, use a food processor for larger batches and an immersion blender for smaller ones. An immersion blender, like our strong Bosch one, can easily blend hard ingredients like nuts and seeds to the desired consistency, even if making only 2 servings.
- Fridge: You can store vegan spinach pesto in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days as the layer of oil preserve it. It’s important to pay attention to the odor of the oil, if it has a pungent smell or if the taste is off, the pesto should not be consumed.
- Freezer: This pesto can be frozen for up to 6 months, and since it is a rich and flavorful sauce, a small amount of 2 tablespoons per serving is enough. A good way to freeze pesto is by using ice cube trays, and then once frozen, transfer them to a freezer-safe storage bag to save space.
Sunflower seed is a cheap alternative to pine nuts. It was a light color and subtle, nutty, and slightly sweet flavor. Roasted ones have an even deeper, nuttier, and more complex flavor. Pepitas (pumpkin seeds), sesame seeds, or hemp seeds work just fine.
The original pesto uses basil, but you can use mint, cilantro, or parsley in combination with fresh spinach leaves. They all will taste slightly different.
More vegan spinach recipes
You can browse through our vegan spinach recipes or check out these.
More vegan pasta sauce recipes
Browse through our vegan pasta sauce recipes or choose one from the below list:
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Vegan Spinach Pesto
- Wash basil and spinach leaves. Peel garlic. Measure the other ingredients.
- Take a food processor and add all ingredients. Stop and scrape the sides from time to time.
- Blend until you get a thick, stiff paste-like consistency with a little chunkiness.
- Serving suggestions are above the recipe card.
What can I use instead of sunflower seeds?You can use any other nuts and seeds actually. The most popular ones to make vegan pesto is cashew nuts and pine nuts. But almonds, pecans, walnuts, and even pepitas (pumpkin seeds) work just fine. We choose sunflower seeds for their budget- and allergy-friendly nature as well as because we just love using sunflower seeds in place of other nuts and seeds.
What can I use instead of basil and spinach?You can use any combination of fresh green herbs and leafy greens. The original pesto uses basil, but you can use mint, cilantro, or parsley. Instead of spinach, you can use kale, arugula (rocket salad), watercress, or any other collard green. The flavor profile will be slightly different for all combinations.
Can I use dried leaves instead of fresh ones?Nope, I don’t recommend using dried leaves. The consistency will be way off.
UPDATED: This recipe was originally posted in May 2021. It has been updated with more info, tips, serving suggestions, and related recipes and republished in Jan 2023.