Vegan Cilantro and Parsley Pesto with Whole Lemon (2022)

Vegan Cilantro and Parsley Pesto with Whole Lemon (1)

This delicious raw and vegan cilantro and parsley pesto recipe is packed withnutrients (like omega 3!) and super simple to make. Add it to pasta, as a toppingon toast, a dressing… the possibilities are endless. This make-ahead recipe isalso freezer-friendly and easily doubled.

There are few simple pleasures as perfect as a good pesto. And the dietitian in me has to admit that I get pretty excited that pesto makes it so easy (and delicious!) to fill up on nutrient-dense plant foods, which is kind of the whole modus operandi from the plant-based recipes here on the blog, and in my book Eat More Plants.

This vegan pesto recipe, studded with rich cilantro, zippy parsley and whole lemon, is no exception. It’s rich in omega 3 fatty acids, thanks to walnuts and hemp hearts, an important part of a healthy anti-inflammatory diet.

You’re going to want to eat this pesto on everything: pesto slathered on avocado toast. Or lavished on pasta, perhaps swirled into a creamy vegan pasta sauce Scrambled into tofu…or dressing a new potato salad. It’s a great meal prep recipe to have on hand for easy + flavourful meals.

How do you make vegan pesto?

Pesto hails from Genoa in Italy, where it is traditionally ground with a mortar and pestle into a thick paste-like sauce from basil, pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil, salt and parmesan cheese. Although most of us grew up on the basil-garlic-pine nut-parmesan version, I tend to think of pesto as a formula:

2 cups greens + 1/4 – 1/2 cup nut/seed + 1-2 garlic (always garlic!) + creamy/umami notes (formally known as cheese) + any additional flavours you want to add (like lemon etc) + oil

So to make a vegan pesto, you can see that really, we’re just looking to replace the creamy/umami notes. Which some folks do with a vegan parmesan…but I find that the flavour and quality varies so widely that I’d rather use a dependable (and whole food!) ingredient: nutritional yeast.

I’m particular about pesto…of course I am. You need olive oil, but I don’t like it too oily. Or too cheesy, because I don’t want to hide the greens. I am using parsley and cilantro in this recipe because they’re deeply flavourful (and nutritious!) why would we want to hide them!

I also like a lot of acid so it doesn’t taste flat. Ask my husband. He thinks I go a step too far on acid…but that’s a whole other story.

(Video) MUST-TRY VEGAN PESTO | pesto 3 ways

The easiest way to make a vegan pesto: in the food processor!

There are two main techniques for making a pesto in the food processor, depending on whether you want a loose sauce or a creamier one.

  • For a creamier sauce, as pictured here: add all ingredients to the food processor at once and blend until smooth!
  • For a looser sauce, pulse everything BUT the oil until it is finely chopped. Then, drizzle in oil while pulsing until it looks more like a loose, fine salsa.

Is pesto healthy?

As a dietitian, I am here to say that yes, vegan pesto is absolutely a healthy food. I mean, when was the last time you put 2 cups of herbs in a recipe?!?

There are some voices in the plant-based nutrition community that warn about consuming oils, but I don’t think that the current nutrition research backs this up. Take extra virgin olive oil, for example. It’s primary fat is oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid associated with a healthy heart. Olive oil also contains polyphenols that support appropriate inflammatory response in the body as part of a healthy anti-inflammatory diet. In fact, one recent trial found that consuming olive oil was associated with 19% lower risk of dying overall.

I think that we get really hung up on super foods when anti-inflammatory nutrition is all about the everyday food heroes like greens, nuts and seeds that you can eat day in and day out. And pesto is literally greens, nuts, seeds, garlic and extra virgin olive oil. ALL of the good things. So eat it up.

Even better, this cilantro + parsley pesto contains ingredients specifically chosen for their nutrient density:

  • Cilantro + parsley: they are inexpensive, nutrient-dense greens packed with plant-based phytochemicals that help to fight oxidative damage and inflammation.
  • Omega 3-rich walnuts and hemp seeds boost your intake of these important anti-inflammatory fats.
  • Garlic: a gut-friendly food rich in microbiome-boosting FODMAPs as well as sulfur-based phytochemicals that help squelch inflammation. Eating garlic raw delivers these phytochemicals in their most potent form.
  • The nutritional yeast gives it that familiar umami note that traditionally comes from parmesan while boosting B vitamins that are important on a plant-based diet.

Vegan cilantro and parsley pesto ingredients

This delicious vegan pesto recipe requires just 9 ingredients (including salt!) and whips up in 5 minutes with minimal chopping. If you’ve got a ton of leftover herbs in the fridge, this is the way to use them up.

  • curly parsley
  • cilantro
  • lemon
  • walnuts
  • hemp hearts
  • nutritional yeast
  • garlic
  • salt
  • extra virgin olive oil

Vegan Pesto Tips, Substitutions + Storage

  • This pesto will keep very well for 3-4 days in the fridge. There might be a tiny bit of separation, just stir it up!
  • You can use literally ANY nut or seed for this recipe, so no worries if you have nut allergies.
  • Don’t have hemp hearts? Just add extra walnuts.
  • Want a more traditional texture? Pulse the ingredients, minus oil, to chop, then drizzle in or whisk in the oil.

Ways to use this vegan pesto recipe

When you taste this pesto, it will taste strong – almost too strong – but the reason for that is that the flavour will dilute once it’s on pasta. You need a whole lot of flavour to stand up to those strands. But there are so many other ways you can use this recipe to liven up everyday dishes:

  • Try adding a bit of mayo to make a sauce for grain bowls, potato salads or veggies.
  • Spread it on sandwiches, wraps, pizza or anything else your heart desires.
  • Swirl it into soups or toss it with a tofu scramble
  • Add it to ready made dough and twist into pesto garlic knots
  • Want a thinner sauce? Whisk in a little more olive oil or warm water

More easy vegan pasta sauces + pasta recipes

  • Super Easy Vegan Cashew Alfredo Sauce
  • Vegan Hummus Pasta in 20 Minutes
  • Easy Vegan Pasta Salad

Vegan Cilantro and Parsley Pesto with Whole Lemon (2)

Vegan Cilantro and Parsley Pesto Recipe

4 people

Prep Time: 5 mins

Total Time: 5 mins

This delicious raw and vegan cilantro and parsley pesto recipe is packed withnutrients (like omega 3!) and super simple to make. Add it to pasta, as a toppingon toast, a dressing… the possibilities are endless. This make-ahead recipe isalso freezer-friendly and easily doubled.

4.07 from 15 ratings

(Video) Vegan Pesto

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  • 1 cup curly parsley, leaves and tender stems, lightly packed
  • 1 cup cilantro, leaves and tender stems, lightly packed
  • ¼ cup walnut halves
  • ¼ large lemon, skin on, seeds removed
  • 2 tablespoons hemp hearts
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, extra virgin
  • Food Processor or immersion blender

  • In a small food processor or large cup for blending, add the parsley, cilantro, walnuts, lemon, hemp hearts, nutritional yeast, garlic and salt. Pulse until finely chopped and uniform – or puree if using an immersion blender.

    (Video) Easy vegan walnut & parsley pesto

  • Next, drizzle in olive oil while pulsing the mixture, to emulsify the pesto. If using an immersion blender, the mixture will have a creamier consistency when you blend.

  • If adding pesto directly to pasta, toss pasta with a tiny drizzle of olive oil first to coat the strands so the pesto spreads a bit easier. Loosen up the pesto with a bit of pasta cooking water if you wish.

  • Or store pesto in an airtight jar in the fridge for up to three to four days…if it lasts that long!

The flavour of this recipe really varies depending on the ingredients. If your lemon has a thicker skin with thick white pith, it could be a bit bitter. A tiny pinch of sugar will balance this out…or cut the pith from the lemon, reserving peel. You can vary the amount of garlic depending on how much you like it. And make sure to buy fresh walnuts and store them in the freezer! They shouldn’t be overly bitter.

Cuisine: American, Italian

Course: Sauces

(Video) Parsley Pesto || Healthy Vegan Recipes


Can I use cilantro instead of basil for pesto? ›

Can you make substitutions for the cilantro and basil in pesto? You can substitute cilantro or basil for other leafy greens such as kale, spinach, chard, kale, arugula, or watercress. Herbs that can be substituted are mint, tarragon, and sage, but parsley is too close the same oil as basil and might be overpowering.

Can you use cilantro and parsley together? ›

Or, if you're making a recipe that calls for any combination of herbs (there are many recipes that do, especially salads), parsley and cilantro are an excellent combination (along with basil and mint).

Can I use parsley instead of basil in pesto? ›

There are plenty of substitutes you can use for basil and still create a delicious pesto. The best substitutes for basil in pesto are either leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, arugula, watercress or even seaweed, or herbs, such as parsley, cilantro, mint, sage or tarragon.

Why is pesto no vegan? ›

Pesto can be used as a dipping sauce, as salad dressing, sandwich spread, and even to fill up burritos. If we take a trip to Italy, where pesto was created, you'll find out that the traditional pesto is made with fresh basil leaves, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, garlic, and pine nuts, therefore, it's not vegan.

What are substitutes for basil in pesto? ›

The best substitutes for basil in pesto are other greens that have similar properties. Herbs like parsley, oregano, cilantro, mint, sage, or tarragon work well. Leafy greens like spinach, kale, arugula, or even carrot and beet greens also make great substitutions.

Do basil and cilantro go together? ›

Basil and cilantro are great companion plants to grow, as cilantros' volatile oils may repel pests like aphids and beetles that would damage tender basil leaves. Growing basil and cilantro together is a great introduction to companion gardening.

Do you use cilantro stems or just the leaves? ›

The leaves of the cilantro plant are the most commonly used part of the plant used in recipes. However, the small tender stems are fine to eat, and can be used in many recipes along with the leaves.

Which is healthier cilantro or parsley? ›

They're similar nutritionally, although parsley comes out ahead for its vitamin K content. Both are rich in antioxidants. Incorporating more of either herb into your diet may help improve your health and liven up your meals.

Can you substitute cilantro for parsley in pesto? ›

Other Alternatives

Try a combination of basil and parsley or use arugula, cilantro, spinach, mint, watercress, garlic scrapes, Swiss chard, kale, celery, oregano or broccoli rabe for the main ingredient in this flavorful dish, which can be used as a topping, spread or dip.

Can you use parsley stems in pesto? ›

Pesto and Salsa Verde

They can help to fill out a blended sauce like pesto—it's kind of all the same when you buzz it up like that—and when chopped finely they add flavor and a bit of crunch to looser sauces, like a simple salsa verde. Get 'em in there! Boost the flavor in your bean broth with some parsley stems.

Is pesto always made with basil? ›

True pesto is made from fresh basil, garlic, olive oil, pine nuts, and cheese pounded together into a thick, green paste.

Why can't vegetarians eat Parmesan? ›

Which cheeses are not vegetarian? Parmesan cheese is never vegetarian. Cheeses from a specific location need to follow a consistent recipe to be recognised as having specific names. In the case of Parmigiano-Reggiano, or Parmesan cheese, this means always using animal rennet.

Can vegans eat hummus? ›

So, Is Hummus Vegan? Yes, it's almost, always is suitable for vegans. Hummus is a vegan staple that allows you to have some versatility in your diet. It's an immensely popular food amongst vegans so you may have found a new favourite yourself.

Is olive oil vegan? ›

Nowhere along the olive oil production process do we see any animal products used, nor any animals exploited. Whether you choose oil from black or green olives, or different varieties like Koroneiki, Arbequina, Arbosana, or Mission, you're safe to consume these plant-based, healthy vegan fats.

What can you use instead of cilantro? ›

Substitute cilantro with other herbs such as parsley, Thai basil, or dill. Lemon and lime are also good substitutes in a pinch as they mimic the bright flavor of cilantro.
Here are some of the most common cilantro alternatives:
  • Parsley.
  • Thai basil.
  • Dill.
  • Lime.
  • Cumin.
  • Caraway Seeds.
  • Mexican Oregano.

How can you tell cilantro from parsley? ›

Cilantro leaves are more rounded, while parsley leaves are pointed. However, the best way to tell the two apart is by smelling them. Parsley has a fresh, mild herbal scent, while cilantro has a much stronger, spicy, citrusy aroma. Some people describe the smell and taste of fresh cilantro leaves as soap-like.

Is basil and parsley the same? ›

But what is the difference between basil and parsley? Basil, which has large, rounded leaves, adds an almost minty freshness to both sweet and savory recipes. Parsley has small, jagged leaves and has a more bitter, grassy, and almost spicy flavor that subtly brightens savory dishes.


1. Cilantro Pesto (Vegan)
(Jerry James Stone)
2. Coriander/Cilantro Pesto Recipe | VEGAN | Plant Based
(Those Vegan Guys)
3. Parsley Pesto
(The Clever Meal)
4. Green Dharma Coriander Pesto | Vegan (oil-free, no added sugar)
(Food. Health. Fit.)
5. Dairy and Gluten-Free Coriander Pesto Recipe
(Chef Cynthia Louise)
6. OIL-FREE PESTO! 🌿 Two RECIPES! Both NUT FREE, Oil Free & Vegan!
(Let's Eat Plants)

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