I love to use a nice and dense pesto that is rich in flavor for sandwiches, mixed into salads, with pasta, or in many other applications. Rich in flavor, and full of nutrients, it’s useful adding some variety to your plant based diet. This oil free vegan kale pesto fits that bill perfectly. This pesto has the added benefit of using kale, useful for when basil is out of season. Which is most of the time locally: we only get tiny and expensive packets of basil in our local stores and only when its in season… so I’m stuck growing it myself if I ever want to make basil pesto! So this recipe is necessary for… well, most of the year.
Because this recipe uses sunflower seeds as part of the base, it is less expensive than other versions of this pesto (including other kale pestos). For example, pine nuts are often used as part of the pesto base – locally, pine nuts cost nearly $6 for 100g. Sunflower seeds are about 71 cents for the same amount.
We also use nutritional yeast instead of Parmesan cheese, which is another vastly cheaper product. Who said being vegan was expensive again? 🙂 For other adjustments and swaps, see the section after the recipe.
Oil free Vegan Kale Pesto
- Add all ingredients to your food processor, and pulse until you reach the desired consistency. I like adding about 1 Tbsp of tahini, and then increase the amount until you reach the desired consistency. You can also add some water if you want to thin this down a bit - it is dense!
This recipe makes about 1 cup of pesto.
Changes and substitutions
Kale: Use flat or curly leaf kale: any of them will work fine. You can substitute any dark leafy green, such as spinach, collards, chard, or mustard greens. Each will bring their own flavor profile (for example, spinach is tame but mustard greens are very bold) – play with the herbs and spices to accommodate for these adjustments.
Herbs: I used cilantro in this recipe, but you could use parsley, mint, or a combination of any of these.
Sunflower seeds: You can substitute other seeds or nuts. Walnuts, pistachios, traditional pine nuts – try them out! We like using sunflower seeds because they are inexpensive, can be locally/regionally sourced, and lower in fat than many nuts (such as cashews). You can also use fewer sunflower seeds if you want (1/3 of a cup also works well instead of 1/2).
SOS-Free: Omit the optional salt for a SOS-Free recipe. Increase the citrus and/or garlic if desired to accommodate. Also make sure any nuts, seeds, and tahini you use are also sodium-free.
Tahini and nutritional yeast: I have made this recipe with and without tahini, and with and without nutritional yeast. Both of these work, but you will obviously notice some differences. Tahini and nutritional yeast have been added to increase the traditional flavor profile of this recipe, and I also enjoy the texture change by adding the tahini. However you can omit each of these ingredients if you prefer.
Nutritional yeast: You can omit this. Note that the flavor of nutritional yeast does not come out on its own, this is used to just add a subtle note due to the omission of cheese (traditionally used in pesto).
Texture and density: This is a dense texture and flavor if you add the tahini. I start with 1 tablespoon of tahini, and then increase a bit depending on how dense I want to make the pesto (up to 2 Tbsp). You can adjust the density by adding some water or more lime or lemon juice to the recipe.
Citrus: Lime, lemon, or even orange will work. You can also increase the amount of citrus notes in this recipe by adding some zest from your lemons or limes.
Garlic: If you are using bottled minced, you may want to add a bit of additional garlic as it’s typically not quite as strong. You can substitute ginger, or use a powdered product. You could also use shallots.
Share this vegan recipe
Vegan kale pesto is super easy to make, and it’s so much cheaper than making a non-vegan and/or traditional style pesto. And is “in season” at any time of the year. Share this easy recipe with your friends, or save it for later.
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