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Dairy-Free Basil Pesto

I don’t know about you, but I LOVE pesto!  Pesto screams summer to me, or better yet, my fantasy of sitting at a seaside cafe in Genoa, Italy at sunset, holding my handsome husband’s hand while a light, salt kissed breeze strokes my face as I sip on a glass of Italy’s finest vino and I twirl gluten free pasta tossed with scallops and pesto around my fork.

And then I’m rudely brought back to reality when one of my little ones quips, “mommmmm…what is this green stuff on my chicken?”

“Just try it, I promise you will like it.”

“Mmmm…this is good.  We can call these moldy fingers!”

Let’s put these ideas together, shall we?  A breezy seaside dusk in Italy, a nice glass of wine, the freshest basil pesto in the world and…moldy fingers??

Kinda takes the romance out of it doesn’t it? 😉

Traditionally, pesto is made with basil (or another herb, like mint or parsley), pine nuts (or other nut or seed), garlic, Parmesan cheese and olive oil.  But what if you can’t have the casein-laden cheese?  Does that mean “the fantasy” is lost to you forever?  Heck no!

When first I contemplated pesto without the cheese, I thought long and hard about what it was that the Parmesan contributed in this beautiful green sauce.

Was it color?  No.

Was it texture?  No.

Was it saltiness and tang?  YES!

So which ingredients could possibly make up for this loss of flavor and stimulation of the tongue?

How about fresh squeezed lemon juice and a sprinkle of sea salt?  YES!

Dairy-Free Pesto

printable recipe

2 cups Fresh Basil Leaves, packed

1/3 cup Pine Nuts or Walnuts (or perhaps raw sunflower seeds for those who are tree nut-free?)

3 medium Garlic Cloves, minced

1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 and 1/2 tsp. fresh squeezed Lemon Juice (more or less, to taste)

1/2 tsp. Sea Salt

  • In a food processor or blender, combine the basil leaves with the nuts (or seeds), lemon juice and sea salt.  Pulse a few times until mixture is reduced in volume and the mixture is well incorporated.
  • Add the garlic and pulse a few times more.
  • Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the blender or food processor is running, stop to scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula.
  • Taste.  Add more lemon juice and/or salt if needed.

The following is the picture of the perfect, pan-seared scallops and the perfect casein-free pesto.  As far as the seaside table, relaxing breeze and the quiet, romantic moment?  Maybe another time. 🙂

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#6 Jenny


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  1. Oh, what a great post, Heidi! I love it! You took me right to Italy with you … until your boys brought up those moldy fingers. LOL Terrific dairy-free pesto recipe, dear. Even more readers will be loving you after this recipe! 🙂 That scallops photo is making me want scallops and pesto right now. That would be a heavenly breakfast in my book! 😉


    • Thank you Shirley! And seriously…what is UP with those two boys of mine, LOL! I used to make Tinkyada's spinach pasta with marinara sauce and they referred to that meal as "green worms with blood and guts." Mmmmm, yummy.

      You know, I have been CRAVING scallops since Seattle (what was the name of that restaurant we went to?). I used to hate scallops before that meal, and I realized that preparation is absolutely key. I loved the crisp crust from the pan searing and the tender, succulent meat inside (I had only had rubbery, soggy scallops before that meal). It took me several tries before I finally hit pay dirt after I found this tutorial over at Use Real Butter:….

      I now eat scallops at least once a week (much to Mike's chagrin, they're not cheap!). 😀

  2. Rebecca Bochenek says

    Any good alternatives to garlic? I've used hemp seed as an alternative to the pine nuts.

  3. Lovely Pesto recipe, with no dairy! We have a dairy allergy so no cheese for my little guy. I thought he would miss Parmesan Cheese, but found it really adds mostly saltiness, so it's been no problem leaving it out.

  4. This sounds easy and delicious. Thanks for the great recipe!

  5. Heidi, I LOVE pesto. I am always so bummed on the rare occasions when I eat out and I get excited at the sight of pesto on the menu, only to have my hopes and dreams destroyed when the waiter tells me there is cheese in it. I am very excited to try this. Thank you!

  6. Ooh I love pesto! I can't wait for the bastard rabbit in my backyard to stay away from my basil long enough for me to have enough to be able to make this!

    And now I feel like Elmer Fudd.

  7. Rebecca S says

    I love pesto and I thought I had to say goodbye to it pretty much forever (I mean, forever at home) because of my little guy's allergy to dairy and nuts…but I had never, ever thought to try sunflower seeds! I am totally going to try this! I am soooo excited!!!

  8. Lemon and salt – you've got it girlfriend! I always try to explain to people that the allure of parmesan is mainly the salt, but nobody listens to me. Maybe they'll listen to you 🙂

    I have to admit though, that is the brightest green pesto I have ever seen. You are using some super-fresh garden-grown basil, no?

  9. Mmmm, my girlfriend makes the best pesto with a hint of lemon! Great idea girl! We also make ours dairy-free and we add some nutritional yeast. Pretty awesome too! Your pics are gorgeous Heidi. Can I come to Italy too?

  10. Heidi, I love pesto! For the first time in years I didn't plant my herb garden because we're moving, and I miss my bushy basil plants. I've never tried non-dairy pesto and will have to try it. Love the parm, but we're trying to cut it out.

  11. Okay, this is hysterical. I love your visions of that beautiful meal in Italy. Can Kurt and I join you in that fantasy?? I love your dairy-free pesto version! Totally going to make this considering all of this basil I have growing!

    Great recipe, missy!!



  12. This looks delicious! We are in love with pesto in our house, I'll have to try this dairy free version soon. Our basil plant is looking pretty awesome so hopefully we'll be making it soon. Have you been to Italy? I can't wait to go back and pesto makes me think about it even more. Bryan and I decided that whenever we get married out honeymoon will definitely be there. Where else would two little Italians go?? (Ok a million places, but I have been there and fell in love with it and he has never been and always wanted to go). And your photo is beautiful-oh how I would of loved this for dinner tonight.

    And I'm so excited I won the download!! I got my iPhone about a month ago an have been wanting to get this. Yay!! You just made my night.

  13. Thanks so much for this recipe!!! I was just today thinking I needed to find a dairy-free pesto recipe and this looks fantastic!

  14. Goggle found this page for me – thank you so much google and Heidi.  Forgot there was cheese in pesto when I was planning what to do with all the basil that I have.  You have saved the day.  Thanks again.

  15. My mom makes a very similar pesto! ^_^ She likes to use a mixture of cashew and almonds (more almonds) thought because walnuts can sometimes have a sour edge to it. Also, for times we cannot get our hands on basil or want a bit of extra iron in our meal (we’re also vegetarians) we use baby spinach. If you are going to use sunflower or pumpkin seeds instead of nuts, my suggestion would be to add a spoonfull of shredded coconut for some body 🙂

  16. Living in the Caribbean, I use steamed breadfruit or green plantain in the place of pasta for a gluten-free alternative.

  17. I made this last night and it was just amazing. I didn’t know what to do with all the basil left over from my garden. I never think of pesto because my husband is lactose intolerant. When I came across this recipe I was so excited. I can’t even begin to describe to you how much my hubby loved it (and me too, of course)!
    I had enough basil to make about 4 batches. Can’t wait to have some again tonight!

  18. So we (or really me and my sons because they’re too little to protest) are pesto lovers! We have baby-food cubes of it in the freezer! 🙂 We also have a CSA so when we have an over abundance of something our favorite way to deal with it is in the form of pesto, also the less space-consuming as our freezer is teeenie! So, We make pesto without parmesan (also dairy-free) and with almonds because we can’t do nuts either and almonds are a stone-fruit that we don’t have allergies to! yay!

    Things we enjoy in place of basil when it’s not around include: arugula, garlic scapes (then don’t add garlic because that’s too much garlic!), cilantro (with some cumin), and parsley! All excellent pesto choices and freezing in baby cubes is great for us because you have one ounce to freeze at once and just pop it into the hot pasta (for us it’s corn pasta because we have rice allergy and celiac disease at our house) and let it melt! YUM! You have great recipes!!!

  19. sharendaroam says

    Thank you for your dairy-free pesto recipe. I made it and it turned out scrumptious! We are making it again tonight!


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