Make This Killer Vegan Pesto in Five Minutes Flat With a Surprising Ingredient

Pesto is a fabulously flavorful and endlessly versatile sauce to prep ahead and use on absolutely everything. But it is generally made with cheese, and therefore not traditionally vegan. Fortunately, there is an animal product-free ingredient that makes for a super cheesy and rich taste in pesto.

If you are not already on board with nutritional yeast…. get there.

When I was an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, it was a favorite ingredient among fellow residents throughout the hippie-minded co-op housing system where I lived. There, I learned to use it on an array of things that need an added dose of texture, creaminess, and sort of a substantial cheesiness and nuttiness. We often sprinkled it on popcorn, and it was way better than movie theater processed cheesy popcorn — and high in vitamin B12 to boot.

Turns out, it also makes for a killer vegan pesto. This one, adapted from Minimalist Baker’s recipe, takes just five minutes flat to make using a handful of ingredients — many of which you already have at home. No shopping (in a pandemic) required.

Super-Easy Vegan Pesto With Nutritional Yeast


  • 2 cups fresh basil
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 3 lemons
  • 3 cloves equivalent minced garlic
  • sea salt to taste
  • water as needed for consistency


  • Use a food processor to make a paste from the basil, pine nuts, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, salt, and garlic. (You will need about three cloves’ worth, but I hate chopping garlic for the lingering smell on my hands. Plus, I’m lazy. So, I use the equivalent in jarred minced garlic instead. You do you!)
  • Add the olive oil slowly, and then add 4-6 tablespoons of additional oil (If you are trying to avoid extra oil you can use veggie broth or water!) until the texture is just right. It should be thick and substantial, but still thin enough to pour.
  • Taste and add more of the salt or other ingredients as you wish to tweak and customize the flavor.

As I said, I love this pesto for its versatility: Spread it on sandwiches, toss it with veggies for side dishes, and definitely add it to pasta for some comfort cooking. I love a pasta bake for a family-style crowd-pleaser, and this baked pesto rigatoni, a vegan version adapted from Pinch of Yum, is super easy and fast to whip up.

Vegan Baked Pesto Rigatoni


Your pesto from above, plus water and literally just these two additional ingredients:

  • 1 pound of rigatoni or whatever pasta shape floats your boat (slash appeases your kids)
  • 3 cups chopped tomatoes


  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees as you bring your water to a boil in a large pot. Add the pasta to the water, cooking as long as the package directions specify.
  • While the water is boiling, chop the tomatoes; I love a variety in a range of colors.
  • When the noodles are cooked, drain and toss them with the tomatoes, two cups of pesto, and enough water to bring it to a saucy consistency.
  • Transfer the whole thing to a baking dish. Add breadcrumbs on top if you like. Cover loosely and bake for about 10 to 15 minutes.


Written by: Alesandra Dubin