How to Make Oil-Free Pesto

What's not to love about a delicious, dairy-free and vegan sauce?

Over the years, pesto has been one of my go-to sauces. It’s the perfect way to spruce up a plain, grilled chicken breast or add flavor to a dipping sauce. The only problem with pesto? It’s basically a bunch of herbs, cheese, and nuts swimming in olive oil. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – that’s a terribly delicious combination – but, it’s not exactly a low-calorie condiment. I wanted to know how to make oil-free pesto for this very reason – I wanted my cake, and I wanted to eat it, too!

I wondered if this oil-free pesto would be just as satisfying as regular pesto, but the only way to find out was to give it a try. To make things more interesting, I also wanted to cut out the dairy to make this pesto healthy and vegan-friendly. After trying a few batches, we came up with the recipe below and I couldn’t be happier with the results.

How Did We Pull It Off?

How to Make Oil-Free Pesto

We resolved the dairy component with one simple move: use this incredible recipe for 5-Minute Dairy-Free Parmesan Cheese. The flavors of cashews, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, and salt come together with a coarse texture and cheese-like flavor when pulsed in the food processor. They act as both the nut and the cheese component of pesto, helping the sauce hold its texture while also bringing a punch of flavor.

Then, we just tried making the pesto without adding any of the oil to see if it worked. We added quite a bit more lemon juice than we normally did in order to get the consistency right, and it turned out incredible. The spinach and basil packed in the fresh, herbaceous flavor while the dairy-free parmesan brought the savory nuttiness. It was all balanced out by that bright acidity of lemon juice. Who needed the oil?

We think this oil-free recipe is just as delicious as oil-based pestos, but we’d love to hear your feedback after you make it! And if you really like a nutty pesto flavor, feel free to add a few tablespoons of walnuts, cashews, or the standard pine nuts.

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Gale Compton

Gale co-founded SkinnyMs. with a goal to provide women with delicious recipes, fitness routines, and ways to reach their ideal weight. Gale has been featured on the Today Show in which she won a cook off for the best Lasagna. Be sure to search for her winning recipe, Skinny Lasagna Rolls.

Guided by her firm belief in healthy eating and the power of exercise, Gale has written two cookbooks and several fitness ebooks. She earned her Fitness Training Certification from, National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association. Gale loves to run with her dog Maggie and has completed numerous half-marathons.

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4 Comments

  1. I have never thought of adding lemon juice. I make my pesto oil-free by using no-fat yoghurt! I will give the lemon juice a try.

  2. Eager to try this! I was looking for a pesto that didn’t use all that oil. And I love lemon!

    A couple notes: The recipe currently lists “1/4 cup tablespoons parmesan cheese.” I assume this is 1/4 cup?

    Also, there is no mention or link of the dairy-free Parmesan in the recipe itself. This might confuse people that just scroll to the recipe without reading the text above it. 🙂

    1. Erin, It is mentioned in the intro but I just added it to the recipe. And, it is 1/4 cup. Thanks, Erin. 🙂

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