In order to make pesto vegan you have to leave out the parmesan (or whatever hard cheese your recipe calls for) and this naturally means that a certain amount of flavour gets sacrificed. However as I recently discovered, it turns out that there is in fact a brilliant vegan substitute for parmesan which provides the umami depth and richness usually to be found in regular pesto. The secret to perfect umami-rich vegan pesto is in fact Miso, or fermented soya bean paste!
Of course the flavour profile of miso isn’t exactly the same as parmesan, so firstly I think it’s best to use a light miso as it will be somewhat less intense than dark. Secondly, miso’s surprisingly strong stuff, so I wouldn’t go too heavy with it initially!
Use whatever nuts or seeds you prefer, I don’t personally use pine nuts due to their being so expensive compared to other options. I often use sunflower seeds as they are mild flavoured and cheap; but almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts are all good too. As for herbs, use whatever you fancy likewise; or just go with whatever happens to be most abundant in your herb patch right now (for me it’s sorrel). If including woody herbs, I would keep them as a supporting act rather than the main feature. And as for oil, go for something that you feel will work OK with the herbs and nuts or seeds that you have chosen. Sometimes a blend is good if you don’t want a particular flavour to be too dominant. For general cooking I usually use rapeseed (aka ‘canola’, also to be found sold as generic ‘vegetable oil’) but as pesto is such concentrated stuff, this is one of the places I would personally make use of good quality oil; I’ve used EVOO, cold pressed Hemp and cold pressed Sunflower, sometimes singly and sometimes in combination.
When your pesto is made, pot it up and smooth out the surface (the back of a wet metal spoon is useful here) then drizzle a little extra oil over the top ensuring full coverage of the surface of your pesto. Kept in the fridge, this will preserve your pesto for ages.
(NOTE: Idea for miso pesto originally sourced here: http://ieatthepeach.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/parsley-miso-pesto/ )
Vegan Sorrel and Walnut Pesto, with Miso
- 2 oz young sorrel leaves
- 1 oz walnuts
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 4 – 6 tbsp olive oil
- 4 tsp white miso paste
- Add walnuts, garlic and sorrel to a food processor.
- Pulse until everything is sufficiently ground down.
- Add miso and oil. Process till well blended.
- Add salt and pepper to taste. Give one last whizz.
- Serve through pasta (add just a little oil or cooking water to pasta first to loosen it up) and top with a light sprinkling of nutritional yeast.