This fresh and healthy recipe for arugula pesto tastes wonderful over pasta and can also be used in other ways. We keep the recipe dairy-free so that anyone can enjoy it.
Learn how to make this vegan arugula pesto in 5 minutes in a food processor with simple ingredients.
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To learn more on this topic, check out our guide on how to make vegan pesto + 9 pesto recipes.
Dairy-free pestos are our favorites because they are tasty and healthy at the same time. And arugula pesto made this way is the perfect balance of creaminess, herby flavor, cheesiness (without the cheese), and rich and velvety mouthfeel.
Since arugula can be overpowering on its own, we add some basil to this recipe. Basil is milder and complements the flavor of the arugula very well. You’ll love it.
To replace the parmesan cheese we use nuts. Our nut of choice is almonds. We find that almonds have a neutral flavor that works really well in green pestos.
Nutritional yeast is added to the almonds to recreate that mild cheesy flavor that we love in pesto. Nutritional yeast works wonderfully in this recipe!
Traditionally pesto is made with a mortar and pestle, but here we are making it with a food processor to speed things up. It’s delicious this way too!
We don’t include lemon in the ingredients list because that’s not essential to make a good-tasting pesto. However, if you like to add a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice to make this sauce a little more acidic go for it.
If you like that zesty lemony flavor, then we recommend adding some grated zest on top, for example, if you serve this vegan arugula pesto with pasta.
Arugula: the star of this arugula pesto recipe. Try to get fresh arugula, with small leaves if possible, and when in season. It’ll be less bitter.
Basil: although this is not a basil pesto, we still like to add fresh basil leaves to soften the sharpness of the arugula, which can be overpowering on its own.
Garlic: a key ingredient in any pesto, we add just a small clove. You can add more or fewer garlic cloves based on your preferences.
Pine nuts: they add creaminess and a distinctive nutty flavor to the pesto. They are a key ingredient in authentic pesto recipes. If you can’t find them where you live, substitute almonds, pistachios, cashew nuts, walnuts, or macadamia nuts.
Almonds: our nut of choice to replace the parmesan. Raw, unsalted almonds are best for this recipe. You can replace almonds with pistachios, cashew nuts, walnuts, or macadamia nuts for pine nuts.
Nutritional yeast: it adds a mild cheesy flavor to this pesto sauce. Combined with the nuts is our favorite parmesan replacement.
Olive oil: best if extra virgin to have a more fruity, and richer flavor.
Ice-cold water: to make this pesto lighter. We find that adding only oil makes it a little too heavy for our taste. Also, ice-cold water keeps the basil and the arugula cold when blending, keeping the pesto greener.
Salt: since there’s no parmesan cheese (which is very salty), this pesto requires salt. Good salts are sea salt or kosher salt.
Peel and cut the garlic in half lengthwise, remove its core, if any, and add the clove to the food processor. Removing the core makes it more digestible.
Add almonds, pine nuts, nutritional yeast, and salt.
Blend until you get a finely coarse texture (1 minute).
Add arugula, basil leaves, olive oil, and ice-cold water.
Pulse a few times until the arugula and the basil are fully incorporated with the other ingredients. Taste and adjust for salt. If you prefer a thinner pesto, add more oil or water.
Pesto is a diverse and creamy addition to pasta, vegan salads, gnocchi, trofie, and many more. It’s a handy way to get more veggies into your meal and add healthy fats to your diet.
– Eat as a sauce: Try it with farfalle, cooked al dente. Toss them with a few tablespoons of homemade pesto and a dash of reserved pasta cooking water.
Look at how the pesto gets in all the nooks and crannies of the pasta. It’s a mouthful of creamy pesto happiness. It’s also a great dressing for vegan pasta salad and chickpea salad.
To make arugula pesto less bitter, add basil to it. Basil is sweeter and softens up the spicy, bitter notes of arugula. We recommend using 1 part of arugula and 1 part of basil. Check out our recipe below for arugula pesto.
Arugula tastes bitter when it’s harvested too late, and the leaves get to grow large. Your pesto might taste bitter if your arugula tastes bitter. Taste the arugula before using it for pesto. If it tastes very bitter, then it might not be the best idea to use it for pesto. For best results, we recommend mixing basil and arugula when making arugula pesto.
More pesto recipes
If you’re looking for different ways to make pesto and increase your veggie intake, see our variety of pesto recipes:
- Zucchini pesto: a green and healthy version that pairs perfectly with spaghetti
- Sun–dried tomato pesto with walnuts which is a great dipping sauce served with flatbread
- Parsley pesto; an antioxidant-rich sauce perfect for roasted potatoes
- Artichoke pesto is a creamy condiment for pasta,
- Chestnut pesto is a creamy and indulgent condiment that we pair with pasta and roasted mushrooms
- Roasted red pepper pesto is perfect in a sandwich as a spread. Pair with grilled eggplant and fresh lettuce for a complete meal
How do you enjoy pesto in your home? We’d love to hear from you, let us know in the comments below!
Store arugula pesto in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. To make it stay green and fresh, transfer it to a jar or to an airtight container, and cover it with a thin layer of oil. This prevents oxidation and keeps it fresher.
You can also freeze arugula pesto for up to 6 months. To do so, transfer it to a small jar or into an ice cube tray and pop it into the freezer. Then when ready to use it, thaw only the cubes you need.
Thawing depends on how you want to use it. To use it with pasta, all you have to do s to toss a couple of iced pesto cubes in a mixing bowl with 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water, then toss in the pasta.
To use it as a spread, on pizza, or to drizzle on veggies, then thaw in the refrigerator overnight.
- Food processor or blender
- 1 small garlic clove
- ⅓ cup almonds
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 packed cup arugula
- 1 packed cup basil leaves
- ¼ cup cold water
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Peel and cut the garlic in half lengthwise, remove its core, if any, and add the clove to the food processor.Note: the core of the garlic can be hard to digest; we remove it to have a lighter pesto.
- Add almonds, pine nuts, nutritional yeast, and salt.
- Blend until you get a finely coarse texture (1 minute).
- Add arugula, basil leaves, olive oil, and ice-cold water.
- Pulse a few times until the arugula and the basil are fully incorporated with the other ingredients.Taste and adjust for salt. If you prefer a thinner pesto, add more oil or water.Note: pulse instead of blending continuously. The heat from blending ruins the fresh herbs. Ice cold water helps keep the temperature low and preserves flavor and color.
- Use immediately, or store in the refrigerator in a bowl with a thin layer of olive oil on top to prevent it from turning dark. Alternatively, transfer into a small jar and freeze for up to 6 months.
- To use it with pasta, add pesto to a bowl, add ½ cup of pasta cooking water, and stir to dilute it. Reserve some more pasta water for later.Drain pasta, add it to the bowl with the pesto and stir to combine. Add more reserved pasta water or more pesto if necessary. Finish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and serve.Tip: remember to salt the pasta cooking water with a generous amount of salt. before cooking the pasta.Tip: arugula pesto goes well with lemon zest grated on top just before serving.
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