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.
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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Variations and Serving Ideas
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.
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.