There’s really nothing traditional about this raw vegan pesto recipe, except perhaps the basil and garlic.
With heaps of spinach, both hemp seeds and hemp oil, and a generous amount of savoury yeast flakes, my raw vegan pesto recipe is definitely “interesting”, but it’s also so delicious that I hope you’ll forgive it for being a little different.
And not only is my pesto bursting with amazing colour and flavour, but it’s also entirely nut-free, which is definitely a bonus.
I make this one for my 10-year-old son, who loves to have it over a big bowl of pasta, along with chopped spring onions, chives, soy cheese, pepper and sesame seeds.
He’s always had an amazingly “gourmet” set of tastebuds, and I’m thrilled that he loves my raw vegan pesto recipe so much.
To make it convenient, I portion the pesto into an ice-cube tray and freeze it for later.
And any time we need some, we just defrost a cube (or three) at a time in the dehydrator and we’re all set.
I’ve had this pesto on raw zucchini noodles, kelp noodles and rice noodles, and it also works beautifully as a dip or sandwich spread, so it’s very versatile too.
And this is another of my “chuck it all in the blender” recipes, so it ends up being quite a smooth pesto.
But as a result, it’s also super quick to make (which is almost a prerequisite for all of my recipes these days) and what my raw vegan pesto lacks in texture, it makes up for with an amazing tangy flavour.
I love that it’s packed to the brim with greens – as you can see by its “incredible hulk” colour – and all the other amazingly nutrient-dense ingredients as well.
This raw vegan pesto really is one of those dishes that not only tastes good, but is super good for you too.
Just don’t tell your kids!
- 1 bunch (90g) basil
- 1 cup (60g) spinach, tightly packed
- ⅓ cup (50g) hemp seeds
- 6 tsp (25g) hemp oil
- 2 cloves (6g) garlic
- ¼ cup (20g) savoury / nutritional yeast flakes
- ⅓ cup (80g) lemon juice
- ¾ tsp salt
- Add everything to your blender and process until smooth (user your tamper if necessary).
- Use immediately, or freeze in portions for up to 6 months.
During: 10 mins
- I have always wondered whether I should be using just the basil leaves, or the stems as well, but with this recipe I’ve done both, depending on how much basil I have on hand. If I have enough basil to have the luxury of using just the leaves, then I do that, and feed the stalks to my hungry guinea pigs. But if I’m running a bit low on basil, I’ll chuck the stalks in as well, and it works equally well. My high-speed blender probably helps to make sure that the stalks blend properly, so if you don’t have one, you may want to stick with using just the leaves.
- I discovered the trick with spinach one day when I didn’t have enough basil, and wondered what I could use to “pad out” the recipe. Fortunately I had some baby spinach leaves in the fridge, and used those, and discovered that they worked really well. But what’s even cooler is that you don’t even have to use any spinach at all if you don’t want to. I’ve made this recipe with all basil, and it worked just as well, so it’s also a very forgiving recipe too. Although I’ve never tried using less basil, I’d guess that you need a minimum amount to make the flavours work, but the recipe does seem reasonably flexible.
- I use the hemp seeds in place of the usual pine nuts, and they give it a great nutty taste. Hemp seeds are also packed with the perfect ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fats, and they’re really high in protein too. I love them! If you don’t have hemp seeds, you could probably use pine nuts, or possibly even sunflower seeds at a pinch (although I haven’t tried this one).
- The hemp oil also has the ideal ratio of fats, and replaces the usual olive oil. I use a lot less oil in my pesto than most recipes, even the raw vegan ones, because I’m trying to minimise the amount of refined oils that I use in my dishes, but I do think that a little bit helps with the creaminess. If you wanted to make this recipe paleo, you could leave the oil out entirely and see how it goes. My guess is that it would still work pretty well.
- I don’t bother chopping up my garlic before adding it to the blender – I just throw the cloves in whole and my high-speed blender takes care of them – but if you’re concerned about having chunks of garlic, you could definitely mince them beforehand.
- Savoury yeast flakes (also know as nutritional yeast) are basically a particular variety of yeast that has been grown, harvested, washed and dried, and adds a lovely cheesy flavour to recipes, along with heaps of protein and vitamins. You should be able to find it in your local health food store. I’m not 100% sure that it’s raw, but I see it like a spice – something you add in (relatively) small amounts to add flavour to a dish – and it really does help when recreating vegan versions of cheesy dishes.
- I’ve only ever used fresh lemon juice in my raw vegan pesto, because it gives it such a great kick of flavour. I have a wonderful lemon tree in my backyard that has blessed me with an abundance of fresh lemons, and I highly recommend always using fresh lemons in your dishes.
- I use pink Himalayan crystal salt in my dishes because it contains lots of trace minerals that are good for you, and apparently it tastes better too. So if you’re going to use salt at all, the pink stuff is the best!
- If you decide to freeze your pesto, like we do, be careful which ice-cube tray you use for it. This pesto is very green and stains easily, so don’t use your very best ice-cube tray unless you’re willing to take the risk of staining it permanently. I tend to use the trays that came with our freezer, because they’re not great for water, but they’re perfect for pesto. Once it’s frozen (usually overnight), I pop them out of the tray and put them into a regular storage container in the freezer. They usually only take 5-10 minutes to defrost at 40°C in a small bowl in our dehydrator, which makes them very convenient.
I’d been buying a couple of different raw vegan pesto products from my local health food shop, and then I saw this recipe for Hemp Pesto Pasta by Callie England and decided to give it a try.
I really enjoyed the experience, and then, in my usual style, I tweaked her pesto recipe to suit my tastebuds, preferences (and desire for precision), and began using it in all kinds of different ways.
I decreased the amount of oil, added more hemp seeds, savoury yeast and lemon juice and so this fantastically tangy and flavoursome raw vegan pesto recipe was born.
I stumbled onto the spinach idea one day when I found myself out of basil halfway through making the recipe, and it worked so well that I decided to make it a permanent feature.
After all, spinach is super good for you, often cheaper than basil (unless you grow your own), and who wouldn’t want to sneak more greens into their kids’ diets when they can?
But it was really only once my son declared that he liked my raw vegan pesto recipe better than any of the other pestos we were buying that I decided to permanently add this recipe to my repertoire.
After all, what better encouragement does a mum need than her kids asking for her version of something in preference to anything else?
And it’s this kind of win that makes it all worthwhile!
Have a fantastic day.