Pesto is one of those lovely, practical condiments that lights up the room and brings dishes to life. Infinitely versatile depending on what else is happening on the table, you can take it well beyond the traditional basil staple. And yes, pesto without cheese is delicious too. Several players in the vegan repertoire can create that creamy umaminess that tames the bold, bright herbs a tad and rounds the whole thing out perfectly.
It’s easy and quick to throw together, great for using up giant bunches of sad-looking herbs or greens languishing in the fridge, and practically impossible to screw up. So not much excuse not to give homemade pesto a go. I am sure you won’t regret forsaking the expensive, fancy store-bought varieties.
Here are the few ingredients that form the base of most of my pestos. Experiment to find your perfect match! I give suggestions for some favourite combos below, as well as a recipe for a somewhat unusual mix you may not have come across before.
Herbs: basil, Italian mix (e.g. oregano and parsley), rucola, kale, perilla
Oil: olive oil, nut oils, light sesame oil
Nuts/seeds: pine nuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, cashews, almonds, walnuts. Toast them for extra flavour.
Sour: lemon juice, vinegar
Salty: salt, soy sauce
Cheesy/Umami: nutritional yeast, miso paste, toasted chickpea flour
Touch of sweetness: pinch of sugar, maple syrup, apple/pear concentrate
Other spices/seasonings: black pepper, chili flakes, ginger
Classic: basil, oregano, parsley + olive oil + pine nuts + lemon juice + garlic + salt + black pepper
Sophisticated: kale + walnut oil + sunflower seeds + walnuts + lemon juice + balsamic vinegar + toasted chickpea flour + maple syrup + white pepper
Rucola: rucola + olive oil + cashews + lemon juice + garlic + nutritional yeast + apple/pear concentrate + salt
Red: sundried tomatoes + olive oil + pumpkin seeds + sunflower seeds + salt
Perilla is a herb in the mint family used in several Asian cuisines. Seek it out in Asian stores, especially Vietnamese or Japanese (known as shiso). This is not really recipe but a rough guideline, taste and adjust!
A bunch of perilla leaves (~50g?)
Several glugs of light sesame oil
Handful of toasted mixed seeds (sunflower + pumpkin seeds and soy)
1 clove garlic
Juice of 0.5-1 lemon
Tiny bit of ginger
Soy sauce to taste
Combine in blender and blend to desired consistency. Transfer to a clean glass jar and cover with some oil to preserve. Store in the fridge.