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Nut-free Cilantro Arugula Pesto

This unconventional pesto is peppery, fresh, and can be used in many ways! Plus, it’s nut and dairy-free, so great for friends with allergies, as well.

small jar of bright green pesto with knife in it on a cutting board next to tomato toast

It blew my mind when I first learned that pesto didn’t always mean a basil/pine nut/parm/garlic sauce! Which, admittedly took longer to learn than I’d like to admit. Even this piece from 1997 talks about how ground-breaking it was for chefs to try new ingredient combinations in pesto sauces. Which, when you’re making vegan pesto, you’re already omitting parmesan, so why not just be fast and loose with it? 😉

two images of herbs growing in container garden

In this case, as you can see above, my garden runneth over with both cilantro and gorgeous arugula, but no basil! If I had parsley I may have made chimichurri – which I love – but I wanted to get creative with it. So, I put together this cilantro-arugula pesto that incorporates toasted pumpkin seeds to round out the super-freshness of the herbs and greens.

large bowl of cilantro with seeds and salt on a cutting board
images of toasting pepitas in a pan, and chopping arugula

For a lil’ zip there’s plenty of lemon juice and zest, and to balance out the flavors I added just a touch of agave nectar and red pepper flakes – thanks to inspiration from chimichurri. This sauce really comes together quickly and packs in the flavor! I like to use this as a spread on toast with fresh tomatoes and grated vegan parmesan (as pictured in this post), but also in a vegan grilled cheese, and of course, in pasta.

image collage of preparing pesto in a food processor

Substitutions + Tips:

  • Cilantro – if you’re one of those people that isn’t a fan of cilantro, I’m not sure how you got this far down in the post, but I applaud your dedication. If, by chance, you are one of those people, you can try using basil instead of cilantro, if you MUST.
  • Arugula – the peppery-ness of these green really mellows out the cilantro, to make this pesto pleasantly savory.
  • Pepitas – AKA shelled pumpkin seeds. They’re raw here and then you toast them, but if you want to cut corners buy them already roasted. You can also use sunflower seeds instead, if those are more accessible to you.
  • Lemon juice/zest – I liked using lemon as opposed to lime to keep it more Italian instead of Argentinian, but I’m sure lime would also be fantastic in this. Also!! Make sure to zest before you juice the lemon, it’s much easier.
  • Olive oil – this helps the texture to be somewhat smooth, plus the fat enhances the flavor. Using only water would turn this a bit fluffy and the flavor would be different.
  • Agave nectar – for a touch of sweetness/balance, though you can use cane sugar or maple syrup instead.
  • Crushed red pepper – totally optional, but I love a lil’ heat in this!
  • Food processor – I prefer using this to a blender because even if you leave it running your pesto will still have some texture, whereas a blender will turn it into a VERY smooth, sauce, and that’s not what we’re looking for here.
silicone spatula scooping pesto out of food processor
small jar of bright green pesto with knife in it on a cutting board next to tomato toast

Nut-free Cilantro Arugula Pesto

Yield: About 1 1/4 cups
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes

This unconventional pesto is peppery, fresh, and can be used in many ways! Plus, it's nut and dairy-free, so great for friends with allergies, as well.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (75 g) raw pepitas
  • 4 cups (90 g) loosely packed cilantro leaves
  • 3 cups (95 g) chopped or baby arugula
  • 2-3 tablespoons (30-45 ml) water
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) lemon juice, plus 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon agave nectar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper, optional
  • 1/4 cup (45 g) olive oil

Instructions

  1. In a skillet over medium heat, place pepitas, and toast them for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring/flipping every minute or so, until they begin to brown and are fragrant. Transfer seeds to a plate to cool fully.
  2. Once cool, place seeds in a food processor equipped with an s-blade, and pulse until they become the size of large grains of sand (approximately!). Next, add greens, and pulse until the greens also break down in size.
  3. Then, add water (starting with 2 tablespoons (30 ml), lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, agave nectar, sea salt, and pepper. Run processor until mixture become smoother in consistency, scraping down the sides to make sure you don't miss larger pieces. Then, as the processor is running, slowly drizzle the olive oil in so that it can emulsify.
  4. Once all of the oil has been added, taste pesto and adjust seasonings if necessary. Use on toast, in pasta, in paninis, how ever you like! Stores in refrigerator for up to 10 days.

Notes

  • Pepitas - AKA shelled pumpkin seeds, if you want to cut corners buy them already roasted. You can also use sunflower seeds instead, if those are more accessible to you.
  • Lemon juice/zest - Make sure to zest before you juice the lemon, it's much easier.
  • Olive oil - this helps the texture to be somewhat smooth, plus the fat enhances the flavor. Using only water would turn this a bit fluffy and the flavor would be different.
  • Agave nectar - for a touch of sweetness/balance, though you can use cane sugar or maple syrup instead.
  • Crushed red pepper - totally optional, but I love a lil' heat in this!
  • Food processor - I prefer using this to a blender because even if you leave it running your pesto will still have some texture, whereas a blender will turn it into a VERY smooth, sauce, and that's not what we're looking for here.

Did you make this recipe?

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small jar of bright green pesto with knife in it on a cutting board next to tomato toast

Here are some other ways you can use this pesto!

small jar of bright green pesto with knife in it on a cutting board

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