This dairy free pesto uses tahini (sesame seed paste) in place of pine nuts for a less expensive, equally delicious option. Because no cheese is involved this pesto freezes well and it’s a great way to use end-of-summer basil.
This post was originally published in August 2018. It has been updated with improvements to the text and recipe, and a new picture.
If you’re not too fond of tahini, don’t worry – the basil and garlic are the major flavours here and tahini adds a bit of creaminess and umami flavour without the high price point of pine nuts. Dairy free pesto is a touch different, especially if you’re using it as pasta sauce, but still excellent.
I usually add sunflower seeds or hemp to pesto, but tahini is a new favourite. It cuts out some of the time needed to blend because it’s already a paste, and if your food processor or blender isn’t particularly strong you won’t end up with chunks of seeds or nuts in your pesto.
This doesn’t taste quite like a traditional pesto as pine nuts have a more neutral flavour than tahini, but it’s an enjoyable change. I didn’t think I’d like it when I first made it. Tahini can be a bit overwhelming, but used here in a fairly small amount and in combination with strong ingredients, it’s a nice addition. Use it any way you’d normally have pesto – on pasta, pizza, soup, and so on. It’s a favourite with this roasted tomato soup.
- Fresh basil
- Lemon juice
- Sea salt
- Olive oil
Place the basil, garlic, lemon, tahini, and salt into a food processor. Blend on high speed until a rough paste forms, then add the olive oil in a very slow stream while blending. Continue mixing until a homogenous, slightly piecey pesto forms.
Alternatively, you can follow the same steps but using a tall container and an immersion blender instead. I do this more often but the food processor is more practical if you want to make a larger batch.
The pesto keeps in the fridge for a few days, and freezes well in ice cube trays or dolloped onto a parchment lined tray, then removed and kept in a sealed container in the freezer.
Tips and Notes
As this pesto doesn’t include any cheese, it can easily be frozen for longer periods of time. I like to freeze in ice cube trays and then store in the freezer to add to tomato sauce or minestrone after my garden basil is finished for the season.
When harvesting basil, pick off the large leaves and leave the smaller ones at the stalk. Basil grows like most herbs, with multiple leaves growing above individual larger ones, so your basil will only get larger as you harvest it if you do it properly. If you’re buying bunches of basil, you can use the stalks as well as the leaves here.
Basil does well in pots, even indoors, but it’s best to grow from seed rather than planting one you get at the supermarket as the root system is poor at best. To grow outdoors, try planting them beside tomatoes if you can! Basil improves the flavour of tomatoes and helps to keep pests down.
The only substitutions I’d recommend here is a variation on the seed or nut butter you use. Sunflower seed butter is a good option, and so is almond butter. I don’t have any others I’d suggest.
You could hypothetically use an alternative oil, like avocado, if you’re out of olive oil. It will change the flavour so only do it if you’re in a pinch.
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- 80 grams (3 cups) fresh basil
- 2 cloves garlic
- Juice of a lemon (~ 3 tablespoons)
- 2 tablespoons tahini
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Place the basil, garlic, lemon juice, tahini, and salt into the bowl of a food processor* fitted with the blade attachment. Blend until the basil has broken down and is fairly smooth.
- Add the olive oil in a slow stream, keeping the food processor running, until the pesto is smooth and lighter in colour. Spoon into a jar or container and store in the refrigerator for up to a week, or freeze indefinitely.
* A smaller machine will work more effectively for this recipe, or you can use a stick blender (which are amazing if you don't have much space/cash! I use mine just about every day).
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 56Total Fat: 6gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 107mgCarbohydrates: 1gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 1g
This data is provided by a calculator and is a rough estimation of the nutritional information in this recipe.