This pesto seriously makes me crazy!
I’ve always known that pesto isn’t that great for you. I mean, it’s got a ton of oil in it and usually a bunch of cheese.
And you all know me… I’m totally okay with eating healthy oils, and I do like my fair share of cheese. But the sauce always felt like a really decadent food that I didn’t want to make a habit of eating regularly.
I have cracked the code to a healthy yet still delicious topping. What’s the secret?
Cashew cream is so easy to make (just soak raw cashews in hot water and puree!), and it’s so versatile. I’ve used it to make hearty roasted beet soup, I’ve used it in a chipotle sauce for veggie tacos, and I’ve used it to make vegan caramels.
And now, it’s in this sauce.
When I made this recipe, my goal was to make it a much healthier version than the traditional high-fat, high-caloric sauce, without sacrificing any of that creamy texture and bright flavor.
I eliminated the Parmesan cheese and pine nuts, and heavily reduced the amount of olive oil. The cashew cream in the recipe is the perfect replacement for all of these ingredients.
This makeover was totally transformative: my sauce has roughly less than half the calories and fat of a typical recipe.
And tastes heavenly.
The best thing is that you would never know it’s this healthy. Never, ever. It’s so creamy, fresh, and herbaceous with fresh basil and garlic – just like the traditional sauce. Not even your Italian grandmother would know!
Well, maybe your Italian grandmother would know…
But for most of us, this swap is one that is totally behind-the-scenes, meaning your dinner guests never have to know that the creamy, flavorful sauce on the pasta you’re serving up is actually really healthy compared to the regular stuff.
The only thing that someone might notice is the lack of oil that pools at the bottom of the dish. But I don’t think that’s something anyone is really going to miss.Print
Fresh and healthy vegan pesto swaps out pine nuts, cheese, and oil with something just as flavorful: cashew cream.
*To make cashew cream, combine 3/4 cup hot water with 1/2 cup cashews and let sit for 30 minutes, or up to 8 hours. In a food processor or blender, blend the cashews with their soaking liquid in 30-second increments until creamy, about 2-3 minutes total blending time. This makes about 1 cup. Reserve the other half, stored in the refrigerator.
- Category: Sauce
- Method: Food Processor
- Cuisine: Vegan
Keywords: pesto, vegan, healthy, basil, cashew cream, sauce
How Will You Use This Bright Sauce?
There are so many options for using this vegan version of one of my favorite condiments! Here are some of my favorite ideas:
- Serve it with freshly made zucchini noodles or pasta
- Try it as a topping over warm and hearty soup
- Spread it on sandwiches
- Use it as a zesty sauce on pizza
The other night, I served it in a really simple dish of pasta with sauteed mushrooms and veggie sausages. It was super easy, delicious, and totally doable on a weeknight. Success!
Let me know comments below how you decide to use it, after you rate the recipe!
Photos by Raquel Smith, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on March 3, 2016. With additional writing and editing by Nikki Cervone. Last updated: January 1, 2020 at 2:59 am.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Raquel Smith
Raquel is a whole foods enthusiast, an avid mountain biker, and a dog lover. She works by day at Food Blogger Pro and formerly maintained her food blog "My California Roots" (now merged into Foodal).