Vegan Kale Pesto

Back when I lived with my parents, my mother would prepare dinner for us every evening, punctually at 6, when my father arrived home from work. Generally, dinner consisted of a starter salad, followed by a pasta dish, and finished off with fruit for dessert. The pasta dishes were always tremendous, and many that you will find on this blog have been inspired by my mother’s cooking. Though I generally did little to help my mother in the kitchen, one of the pasta dishes I always loved helping her with was the pesto. Her pesto was a semi-traditional basil pesto, as she always substituted walnuts instead for pine nuts. Bright green and delicious, we would always make extra and freeze the remainder for later dates. I loved watching the ingredients incorporate in the cuisinart; scraping down the sides and tasting frequently, obviously, until the flavor was just right. This pesto required copious amounts of Parmesan cheese; mom had this trick of using little to no salt in all of her dishes, choosing instead to substitute parm, thus providing the sufficient amount of saltiness necessary for seasoning.

However, given my reluctance to incorporate dairy products into every meal, I recently started to wonder whether it would be possible to replicate this dish in a vegan manner. That is when I came across a vegan kale pesto online, by Tessa. I first prepared it with my sister for Thanksgiving this year and we were both blown away by how amazingly delicious it was. My sis now claims it is her favorite pesto so far, which is a strong statement given the tastiness of my mother’s recipe.

The interesting ingredient here (and utterly necessary) is the nutritional yeast. High in B1 vitamin, it is a complete protein, low in fat, gluten free, and makes anything taste cheesy. Hence, the ability to produce a vegan pesto that is dairy free but tastes like it is not.

Makes 1 cup of pesto
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup steamed kale leaves 
  • 6 tablespoons pine nuts
  • Dried chili flakes
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup nutritional yeast
  • 2-3 small cloves garlic 
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt, to taste
  1. Heat a pan with a little bit of coconut oil and add a few shakes of dried chili flakes. Let the chili cook for about a minute, then add the pine nuts. Stir every now and then- don’t let them burn! Once the pine nuts are brown on all sides, remove from heat. (These pine nuts can also be toasted in the toaster oven without oil, but I would definitely recommend adding some chili flakes.)
  2. Steam the kale until it is bright green- this should take only about 3 minutes or so. Do not overcook! The kale does not need to be very wilty.
  3. Place all ingredients in a food processor (except for the salt) and process. Taste and add salt until it reaches your preferred level of saltiness.

I made this pesto in two dishes so far. The first time I made it, I mixed it with quinoa and served it as a side dish to salmon. The second time I made it, I went the more traditional route, mixing it with quinoa pasta and roasted french green beans (dish shown below).



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