Plant BasedQuickRecipesSide Dishes

Better Basil Pesto

Better Basil Pesto

Nothing quite beats a classic basil pesto – except perhaps this Better Basil Pesto. What makes this version better, in my humble opinion, is the lack of Parmesan cheese. This twist makes it lighter than the original classic. But not to worry, it is every bit as flavorful as the original. This is achieved by adding nutritional yeast instead of the cheese.

Over the years this has become my favorite pesto recipe and I must admit that even though I like Parmesan cheese I actually prefer this pesto to one weighed down by cheese. This one is much lighter and keeps the flavors of basil and pine nuts front and center. I use this on pasta (obviously), in risotto, in salad dressings, soups, dips, and as a sandwich spread.

For an even lighter basil Pesto check out my shamefully delicious Oil Free Basil Pesto. That one uses heart healthy white beans instead of the oil, yet retains the full basil and pine nut flavors.

A really quick note on nutritional yeast

Nutritional yeast is nothing like the yeast used for baking bread. Nor is it the same as brewer’s yeast. For starters is it not an active yeast so cannot be used as a leavening agent. What it does have is a rich cheesy flavor perfectly suited to be used in lieu of actual cheese for those wishing to limit or completely avoid dairy cheese. I personally use it a lot and like the fact that it contains many vitamins and minerals. I always try to get a brand which contains a good amount of vitamin B12. This is because for those of us eating a mainly plant-based diet getting enough B12 through food alone is very difficult. So including nutritional yeast in my diet gives me that extra peace of mind – as well as that lovely cheesy flavor.

alt="healthier basil pesto in a glass bowl."

Better Basil Pesto

Dea Zoffmann
A classic Italian basil pesto, without cheese but full of flavor.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Italian


  • I use a hand/immersion blender but a regular blender also works.


  • 200 grams fresh Italian basil, large stems removed (That is two seriously packed cups).
  • ½ cup pine nuts
  • 2 large garlic cloves minced
  • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¾ teaspoon sea salt
  • Pepper to taste


  • On a dry frying pan over medium heat toast the pine nuts until lightly browned. Keep an eye on them as the can quickly burn. Set aside to cool a bit before blending them with all the other ingredients.


The pesto will keep in the fridge for a few days but can also be frozen without a problem. I freeze my pesto in ice cube trays.
Keyword cheese substitute, healthy, plant based, vegan, vegetarian

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating