This Pumpkin Seed Pesto is fresh, vibrant and so flavorful! Pumpkin seeds are the perfect stand-in for pine nuts. Easily made in a food processor in just 10 minutes!
Pesto. I love it! There are a million different versions of pesto out there, but I think I’ve created the BEST one!
It’s super bright and fresh. Perfect paired with pasta or rice or as a dip for crackers or fresh veggies. This easy pesto is also dairy free and vegan. It’s going to become your new favorite green sauce!
Ingredients you need
Ingredient notes and substitutions
Pumpkin seeds ~ Pumpkin seeds do double duty in this vegan pesto. They are the perfect stand in for pine nuts (which I can’t eat because of Pine Nut Syndrome).
The have a mild nutty flavor that offers a somewhat “cheesy” taste when blended, making them the perfect stand in for parmesan cheese, which is typically found in traditional pesto recipes.
Be sure to use pumpkin seeds that have been hulled (contain no shells). Pepitas are pumpkin seeds that come from a specific variety of pumpkin and are grown without a shell. These would be a great choice, as well.
Almonds ~ I like adding a handful of almonds along with the pumpkin seeds to create a creamier texture.
If you need a nut-free option, simply leave them out and use more pumpkin seeds.
Basil ~ Basil is the prominent flavor in most pestos. It’s sweet and savory with a peppery flavor and hints of mint. It smells incredible and reminds me of summer days.
You can play around with other herbs, like parsley or cilantro, if you dislike basil, but I encourage you try this pumpkin seed pesto as is! The flavors are well balanced and the basil is not overpowering.
Arugula ~ I always try to sneak in extra greens if the opportunity presents itself. Pesto is a great place to do this. Arugula has a “spicy” peppery bite that complements the basil perfectly.
Lemon ~ This vegan pesto recipe is bursting with fresh lemon. The strong lemon flavor helps to calm the bitterness of the basil and arugula and brightens up the whole dish. Don’t skip it!
Fresh lemon juice is best. If you don’t have fresh lemons, bottled 100% juice may be used.
Extra virgin olive oil ~ Most pesto recipes contain a lot of fat due to the oil, nuts and cheese. I like to use a little bit of oil in this pesto to give it a rich, fatty taste and mouthfeel, but then thin it out with water to keep it more nutritionally favorable. Use a good quality extra virgin olive oil for the best taste. Do not sub with another oil.
If you need an oil-free option, leave out the oil and add water until the desired consistency is reached. Add more salt and/or lemon juice as needed to punch up the flavors if necessary.
How to make the recipe
Pesto is one of the easiest recipes to make. Simply place all of the ingredients, except oil and water, in a food processor.
Start the food processor and drizzle in the oil through the top. Stop to scrape down the sides. Start it up again and drizzle in the water, a little bit at a time, until it comes together to your desired consistency.
Do not over process. You do not want it to be perfectly smooth. A little bit of texture is great in pesto, but you don’t want any big chunks either.
Pesto will keep for up to a week in an air-tight container in the fridge.
You can also freeze pumpkin seed pesto for 6 to 9 months in a freezer safe container or plastic zip top bag.
Pro tips for success
~ Use fresh basil! This will not work with dried basil.
~ Be sure to buy pumpkin seeds that have been hulled (contain no shell). Or use pepitas.
~ Use unsalted pumpkin seeds and almonds, so you can control the amount of salt that goes into it.
~ For a nut free option, leave out the almonds and use all pumpkin seeds.
~ For an oil-free option, leave out the extra virgin olive oil.
~ Process until no big chunks of nuts remain, but do not over processes into a perfectly smooth sauce. You want some texture to remain
~ Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking. Add more salt or lemon juice, if needed.
~ Use this pumpkin seed pesto as a sauce for pasta or rice, a dip for fresh veggies, pita chips or crackers, a spread on a baguette topped with fresh sliced tomato, a dollop on top of a baked potato, a mix-in for soup right before serving, etc. The possibilities are nearly endless and they’re all delicious!
~ If you are using this pesto for sauce on pasta, save some of the pasta cooking water and stir it in when mixing the pesto and pasta. It will help to thin it out and make it creamy.
Traditional pesto originated in Genoa, Italy, and contains basil, pine nuts, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, grated hard cheese, like Parmesan, and salt. [source]
Pepitas are pumpkin seeds, but they come from a specific type of pumpkin and grow without a shell. [source]
Pumpkin seeds are high in protein, fiber, healthy fats, iron, zinc, copper, manganese, phosphorus, vitamin K, and more! They’re also high in antioxidants. [source]
Pesto can sometimes taste bitter due to too much basil or extra virgin olive oil. I like mixing the basil with other types of greens and using just enough oil for a nice mouthfeel, but finishing with water to reach the desired consistency.
This pumpkin seed pesto has fresh bold flavors that should not result in a bitter pesto.
Yes! I love using this pumpkin seed pesto as a dip for crackers, chips or raw veggies.
More vegan sauce recipes
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Pumpkin Seed Pesto
- 1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
- 1 cup packed arugula
- 2 cloves garlic peeled
- ½ cup raw shelled pumpkin seeds
- ¼ cup raw almonds
- ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon salt or to taste
- ⅛ teaspoon pepper or to taste
- 2-3 tablespoons water to thin
- Place all ingredients, except olive oil and water, into a food processor fitted with the S-blade.
- Process until combined, scraping down sides as necessary.
- Drizzle in the olive oil through the top while the machine is still running. This should make everything come together smoothly.
- Add water 1 tablespoon at a time, processing after each addition and scraping down sides as necessary, until the desired consistency is reached.
Storage/Freezing Store this pesto in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to a week. Freeze in freezer safe containers or plastic bags for 6 to 9 months.