Vegan Sunflower Seed Pesto transforms the classic pesto with a budget-friendly, nut-free, and dairy-free spin. It blends just 7 simple ingredients into an irresistibly tasty sauce in less than 5 minutes.
I love pesto, always have. It swoops in to save any dish from the brink of boredom - be it pizza, pasta, roasted veggies, or even a humble bowl of rice. But traditional pesto, with its combination of super pricey pine nuts and dairy-based Parmesan, does not align with a budget-friendly, nut-free, or plant-based lifestyle.
But by using sunflower seeds and leaving out the Parmesan, you can create a fantastic earthy but nut-free, expensive-tasting but wallet-friendly, and dairy-free yet flavor-rich alternative that will give the pesto a slightly different but equally delicious taste.
For other super flavorful and delicious sauces, try Cuban Chimichurri Sauce, Salsa Romesco (Easy Romesco Sauce), and Vegan Tzatziki Sauce. To learn how to make unique vegan sauces with just a few ingredients, visit How to Make Homemade Vegan Sauces (Easy + Fast).
Why You'll Love This Pesto
Sunflower seeds are much cheaper than pine nuts, especially when purchased in bulk at Mediterranean/Asian stores.
It's so easy to make and has minimal ingredients, so you can prepare this pesto in a matter of minutes, making it ideal for those hectic days.
It's bursting with fresh flavor. While I sometimes buy the big packets of basil at the store, we love to grow basil year-round in an indoor grower for the freshest and always-ready-to-pick fresh basil. Do you see those giant leaves in the picture below?! My husband is the proud papa of those babies.
It's a vegan nut-free pesto, making it suitable for plant-based diets and those with dairy or nut allergies. In addition, it is also gluten-free, low-carb, whole30, and freezer-ready for up to 2 months, although it's rare to have any leftovers.
This pesto adds flavor to countless dishes, making it a versatile kitchen staple. See below for the serving suggestions to get ideas.
Ready your aprons - here is all you need to make a delicious sunflower seed pesto.
- fresh basil leaves
- sunflower seeds (raw and unsalted)
- extra-virgin olive oil
Notes on Ingredients
Since this is an uncooked sauce, use good quality extra-virgin olive oil.
I like the lighter, milder, slightly earthy taste of raw sunflower seeds in pesto. While you can use roasted and salted sunflower seeds for this recipe, the flavor and texture of the pesto will be altered. You will also need to adjust the amount of salt used.
I don't recommend using garlic powder as a substitute for fresh garlic. It will not taste the same.
Here is the photographic journey from humble ingredients to delicious pesto. See the recipe card below for further information.
Pulse all the ingredients except the extra-virgin olive oil in a food processor.
Slowly drizzle the olive oil through the food processor's top opening while running.
Open the food processor and scrape the sides to ensure everything blends evenly.
Check for the consistency and taste. Adjust flavor with extra salt, pepper, or lemon juice if needed. Thin with more olive oil if it is too thick.
- Stick with a food processor to make it easy to add the olive oil—smooth drizzling at its finest. A bullet might be handy for a rapid mix, but for a creamy pesto texture, the food processor is the champ. A blender is not great to use for pesto either. They're just not cut out for pesto perfection. They falter with getting the texture right and let too much pesto play hide and seek at the bottom, turning "getting every delicious bit out" into a full-blown extraction operation.
- Pulsing the food processor is key if you want texture in your pesto.
- Use fresh basil for the best flavor. The fresher the basil, the more vibrant and aromatic your pesto will be.
- If you're like me and sometimes don't want to use too much oil, there are ways to cut back without sacrificing flavor. I sometimes reduce the oil by half and add a bit of water to get the blending going - a couple of tablespoons work. Just remember, these adjustments will alter the pesto's texture and shelf life, so it might not be as rich and may not last as long in storage, but it will still be super flavorful and healthier!
- The other trick to reduce the amount of oil is to slowly drizzle the olive oil in, bit by bit until the pesto reaches your desired consistency. You may not need to use the whole amount.
- Don't overprocess. Blend the pesto until it’s just smooth to keep a bit of texture.
- The pesto will darken when stored due to oxidation. To maintain its green color, whether you're freezing it in an ice cube tray or storing it in a container in the fridge, consider adding a thin layer of olive oil on top. Then press plastic wrap right on the surface. This simple trick helps preserve its fresh appearance.
- Grate Some Vegan Parmesan Cheese: Add in approximately ¼ cup of vegan Parmesan cheese. I'm a fan of Violife's block of vegan Parmesan—it's delicious. However, I find the pesto so flavorful that it doesn't need it but I wanted to mention the option.
- Other Seeds: Use other seeds like pumpkin, pistachios (technically a seed), or hemp seeds for a different taste and texture. If nuts are not a problem, use walnuts.
- Avocado: Add ½ a ripe avocado to the pesto for extra creaminess. This is also helpful if you want to reduce the amount of oil you are using.
- Other Greens: I like using only basil for this recipe, but I have added spinach when I don't have enough basil. It bulks it up and gives an extra nutrient boost and a vibrant green color. When I've had abundant mint growing, I've added a few leaves for a great alternative flavor.
Here are some delicious ways to use your vegan sunflower pesto:
- Tossed in Pasta: Of course, this is the classic choice. Mix it with your favorite pasta for a quick and flavorful meal.
- Spread on Sandwiches and Wraps: Use it as a flavorful spread in sandwiches and wraps, especially sandwiches with delicious grilled veggies - yum.
- Bread: Serve it on various pieces of bread (toasted or not), including baguette slices, ciabatta, sourdough, crostini, bruschetta, or whole-grain bread.
- As a Dip: Dipping crackers, breadsticks, or fresh veggies makes for a delicious snack.
- Salad Dressing: Thin it with more olive oil and vinegar, then drizzle over fresh salads.
- Roasted Vegetables: Enhance the flavor of roasted or steamed veggies by drizzling pesto on top of dishes like these Sheet Pan Oven Roasted Vegetables.
- Pizza Sauce Alternative: Spread it on pizza dough before adding toppings for a unique twist like in these Vegan Pizza Rolls.
- Marinade: Marinate tofu, tempeh, or vegetables before grilling or baking.
- Stuffed Mushrooms: Fill mushroom caps with pesto, add some breadcrumbs, and bake.
- Hummus: Drizzle some over hummus like this High-Protein Lupini Bean Hummus for a nice presentation and a punch of flavor.
- Grain Bowls: Stir into cooked quinoa, rice, or couscous for an extra flavor boost. You can also fold it into your favorite vegan risotto recipe.
- Baked Potato Topping: A dollop of this pesto on baked potatoes is delicious.
- Soup Finishing: Swirl into soups for added richness and depth. It's delicious in Vegan White Lasagna Soup or Healthy Vegan Broccoli Cheese Soup.
- On Avocado Toast: Spread on toast, topped with avocado slices for a nutritious snack.
Stored in an airtight container, it can last up to a week in the refrigerator. Just remember to add a little olive oil to the top then press plastic wrap to the surface to keep it from oxidizing.
Yes, it freezes really well. Portion it out using an ice cube tray and freeze it for several hours, then transfer it to a freezer bag. It can last for several months.
Yes, it’s naturally gluten-free.
What did you think?Print
- 50-60 grams fresh basil leaves (2 cups)
- ½ cup sunflower seeds (raw and unsalted)
- 2 cloves of garlic
- juice of 1 lemon
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- ¼ - ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Add Ingredients to a Food Processor: Place all the ingredients, except for the oil, into a food processor equipped with an "S" blade. Pulse until everything is chopped. Open it up and scrape down the sides whenever needed.
- Drizzle in Olive Oil: Slowly drizzle in the olive oil with the processor running. Continue to blend until the mixture reaches your desired consistency. You will probably need to scrape down the sides a few more times and may not need all the oil.
- Adjust Seasonings: Taste the pesto and add salt, pepper, or lemon juice as needed. If the pesto is too thick, add more olive oil to reach your desired consistency.
- Serve or Store: Immediately put this pesto to good use (check out the serving ideas in the post), or keep it fresh by transferring it to an airtight container and drizzling a bit of olive oil on top to prevent browning. It'll remain vibrant and tasty in the fridge for about 4-5 days. For longer storage, freeze it in a container suitable for the freezer.
Fresh basil equals vibrant pesto.
The food processor is my go-to for making pesto. The blender is doable, but a bit harder to get the consistency right and a bit of a hassle to scrape all the pesto from the bottom.
Cut back on oil without losing flavor by reducing it by half and adding a bit of water if needed. Also, using a food processor makes it much easier to use less oil by drizzling it and stopping when you reach your desired consistency.
This is a matter of preference, but I like to blend pesto until it is just smooth for a bit of texture.
To prevent basil pesto from darkening, add a thin layer of olive oil when storing in the fridge or freezing.
Nutritional information is only an estimate.
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 5 minutes
- Category: Sauces and Condiments
- Method: Food Processor
- Cuisine: Italian-Inspired
- Diet: Vegan
- Serving Size: ¼ cup
- Calories: 371
- Sugar: 0.8 g
- Sodium: 298.5 mg
- Fat: 37.7 g
- Carbohydrates: 7.7 g
- Protein: 5.5 g
- Cholesterol: 0 mg
Keywords: quick, easy, less than 10 ingredients, gluten-free, budget friendly, basil, food processor, nut-free