This post may contain affiliate links. See my disclosure for more info.
This arugula pesto recipe is so easy to make & packed full of flavor. Plus, it’s free from dairy and garlic, and also has a nut-free option.
This dairy-free arugula pesto has quickly become a new staple in our house. It’s a bit non-traditional, which is just my style when it comes to cooking.
This recipe is a great example of how you can throw together a few really simple ingredients you have laying around and you’ve just created something magical (with minimal effort).
Which is exactly how this arugula pesto happened.
We’ve been eating it on homemade pizza, crispy smashed potatoes, and with pasta. We like carbs over here, obviously.
Arugula Pesto Ingredients
- Fresh basil – gives it that signature pesto taste.
- Arugula – adds a peppery taste, while still not overpowering the overall flavor
- Shallot – sometimes raw garlic is a little too bitter and pungent in sauces. Replacing garlic in traditional pestos with lightly cooked shallot gives it a delicate flavor which works really nicely.
- Lemon juice – adds brightness.
- Macadamia nuts – texture and a smooth, buttery flavor
- Nutritional yeast – hint of dairy-free cheesiness and notes of umami
- Extra virgin olive oil – helps to emulsify the pesto and adds both richness and flavor
How to Make Arugula Pesto
Prep. Heat a small pan over medium heat and once it’s warm. While the pan is heating up, measure out the nuts and dice the shallot.
Toast the nuts. Once the pan is warm, add the macadamia nuts to the dry pan, and toast until they start to turn slightly brown and are aromatic (stirring occasionally so as not to burn them). About 3-5 minutes. Remove the nuts from the pan and add them to the bowl of your food processor.
Saute the shallot. Now, add a little oil to the same pan and add the diced shallot. Cook until translucent and add to the bowl of your food processor with the rest of the ingredients.
Combine. Process until everything is well incorporated, scraping down the sides as needed.
Adjust seasoning. Taste and add more salt or another squeeze of lemon until it’s reached your desired taste.
Make it Your Way: Ingredient Substitutions
Please remember that recipes are meant to be used as guides.
How can you make this arugula pesto using what you already have? Here are some ideas…
- No fresh basil? ➝ If you don’t have any fresh basil, you can use you can also use fresh cilantro, dill, mint, or parsley (parsley or dill would be the mildest).
- No shallot? ➝ You can also use leek greens, green onions, or garlic (see tips below for reducing bitterness).
- No macadamia nuts? ➝ You can also use almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, or cashews.
- Nut-free? ➝ Instead of nuts, you can also use pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or hemp seeds.
Helpful Tips: How to Fix Bitter-Tasting Pesto
- Toast the nuts. Some nuts have tannins in their skin which makes them taste bitter. Adding heat helps to resolve the bitterness.
- Avoid using raw garlic. Although raw garlic is traditionally used in pesto, it does have a very bitter flavor that not everyone is able to properly digest (garlic burps, anyone?). If you have a hard time getting past the raw garlic taste, use roasted garlic or opt for sautéed shallots (like in this arugula pesto) instead.
- Use a mixture of greens to neutralize the flavor. Using all arugula could make this pesto too bitter for some people’s palettes. Mixing the arugula with another fresh herb like basil helps to balance out the bitterness.
- Don’t skip the lemon juice. Lemon juice adds brightness to any dish, but it also helps to balance out the flavors including removing a bitter taste. Although this recipe doesn’t call for much, don’t leave it out.
- Add a pinch of sugar. This should only be used as a last resort. Using just a tiny pinch of sugar (you don’t want your pesto to be sweet) will help to balance out the flavor if it still tastes bitter.
How to Store Arugula Pesto
Storing Pesto in the Fridge
It’s best stored in a tightly sealed jar or container in the refrigerator for up to one week or a couple of months in the freezer.
If freezing the pesto, it’s easiest to do this by adding it to a silicone ice tray. Once they’re frozen, easily pop them out and add them to a tightly sealed container or bag until ready to use.
More Easy Sauces & Dips
If you also love sauce and/or dips, be sure to check out:
Arugula Pesto (Dairy-Free)
- 1 cup fresh basil, packed
- 1 cup arugula, packed
- 1 shallot, diced
- ⅓ cup macadamia nuts
- 1½ tsp nutritional yeast
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ lemon, juice about 1 tbsp
- salt, to taste
- Heat a small pan over medium heat and once it's warm. While the pan is heating up, measure out the nuts and dice the shallot.
- Once the pan is warm, add the macadamia nuts to the dry pan, and toast until they start to turn slightly brown and are aromatic (stirring occasionally so as not to burn them). About 3-5 minutes. Remove the nuts from the pan and add to the bowl of your food processor.
- Now, add a little oil to the same pan and add the diced shallot. Cook until translucent and add to the bowl of your food processor with the rest of the ingredients.
- Process until everything is well incorporated, scraping down the sides as needed.
- Taste and add more salt or another squeeze of lemon until it’s reached your desired taste.