Vegan French Pistou: Pesto Without Nuts

Pistou sauce in bowl on table
Michelle Arnold / EyeEm / Getty Images
  • Total: 5 mins
  • Prep: 5 mins
  • Cook: 0 mins
  • Yield: 1/3 cup (about 4 servings)
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
293 Calories
20g Fat
28g Carbs
10g Protein
See Full Nutritional Guidelines Hide Full Nutritional Guidelines
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 1/3 cup (about 4 servings)
Amount per serving
Calories 293
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 20g 25%
Saturated Fat 3g 16%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 108mg 5%
Total Carbohydrate 28g 10%
Dietary Fiber 14g 51%
Protein 10g
Calcium 859mg 66%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

French pistou sauce is like a pesto but is made without nuts—perfect for those with a nut allergy, or who want a pesto but don't want the nuts. This vegan version of pistou is more of a basil sauce since it's also made without cheese. Traditionally, most pistous in France were never prepared with cheese, but almost all American and contemporary recipes tend to add cheese to appeal more to American palettes.

Using Pistou

Though traditionally added to vegetable soups or soups with pasta like minestrone soup, you can use a homemade pistou to drizzle on salads, particularly bean salads, or over homemade noodles or vegan gnocchi. Pistou is also delicious added to a quick tofu scramble in the morning to transform the usual breakfast dish into something completely different. 

Making Pistou

The process of making pistou is similar to making a regular pesto sauce (after all, it really is just pesto without pine nuts or any kind of nuts), but it can be a bit more challenging to get the basil to blend together. Adding the liquid first, rather than last, helps.

If you feel like you may miss the texture of the nuts, try making a homemade pesto sauce with sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds. 


  • 2 cups basil (loosely packed)
  • 4 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (use a good quality olive oil)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Steps to Make It

  1. Give the basil leaves a good rinse, and gently pat them dry. Make sure any larger and/or thicker stems are removed from the leaves. They don't blend well and they taste too bitter and woody. 

  2. Place the basil, garlic, lemon juice, and about half of the olive oil in the blender or food processor and process until smooth, scraping the sides as needed.

  3. With the blender running, slowly add the remaining olive oil, blending until smooth. Add salt and a bit of pepper, if you like. Start with just a touch, as you can always add more. 


  • Pair your French pistou sauce with Italian vegan gnocchi or any kind of pasta. A grooved or corkscrew pasta to hold onto the pistou is best. 

Recipe Variations

  • For a little variation or to make your pistou even more gourmet, try a blend of herbs—add a bit of tarragon or parsley to the mix—or use a savory gourmet oil like avocado or macadamia nut. 
  • You can add nutritional yeast to vegan pesto, but you may find that if you use fresh basil and a decent quality olive oil, this pistou has such an invigorating basil flavor that you don't need to soften it with nutritional yeast.