How to Make Oil-Free Pesto

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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.

How to Make Oil-Free Pesto

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 5 minutes

How to Make Oil-Free Pesto

Yields: 1 cup pesto | Serving Size: 1/4 cup | Calories: 23 | Total Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Trans Fat: 0g | Cholesterol: 2mg | Sodium: 82mg | Carbohydrates: 2g | Fiber: 0g | Sugar: 0g | Protein: 2g | SmartPoints (Freestyle): 1


  • 2 cups (packed) baby spinach or fresh basil leaves, or a combination
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, recommend Dairy-Free Parmesan recipe
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt


  1. Add all ingredients to a blender, or food processor, and pulse until all ingredients are combined and a pesto consistency is reached.
  2. Refrigerate until ready to use.

More Vegan Recipes We Think You’ll Love

Creamy Vegan Potato Salad

The thing I miss the most about being a vegan is creamy flavors. No worries about that with this creamy vegan potato salad! All you need is vegan mayo, a little Dijon mustard, and a bunch of fresh vegetables. You’ll surprise your omnivore friends with how much they’ll enjoy this recipe.

Avocado Vegan Fudge Brownie Recipe

Who doesn’t need a little dessert in their lives? This totally vegan fudge brownie recipe uses avocados and ripe bananas to create a completely creamy, fudge texture for this sweet treat. Between the amazing texture and the cacao peanut butter combination, you’ll be in heaven with this one.

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4 Comments on "How to Make Oil-Free Pesto"

  1. Raney Brown  March 22, 2018

    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. Erin V.  March 23, 2018

    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. 🙂

    • Gale Compton  March 24, 2018

      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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