This Wasabi Pesto recipe is a unique vegan pesto that goes well with virtually everything. Use it to top seafood such as shrimp or salmon. Mix it into starchy sides such as rice or roasted potatoes. Or spread it on your favorite crackers or toasty bread. You'll be impressed by how deeply flavorful this vegan sauce is.
What is Pesto?
Traditional Pesto Genovese, the pesto most of us know best, is made by blending basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, and garlic into a paste/sauce. The reason this type of pesto is so special is that it combines salty, herby, and umami-forward flavors into one delicious balanced sauce.
I wrote a pesto guide several months ago, which provided both a basic pesto recipe and substitution ideas for when you want to stray from traditional Pesto Genovese without completely abandoning the concept.
What is Wasabi Pesto?
That's where Wasabi Pesto comes in. This recipe was originally inspired by a delicious dish I had at a NYC restaurant called Vandal. It was NYE 2020, and I ordered Salmon with Wasabi Pea Pesto. Though I only had it that one time because Vandal has since shut down due to COVID, I have recreated it many times based on my memory of it.
I couldn't get enough of it. It was a little spicy, really bright and herbaceous, acidic, and silky smooth. Visually, it was stunning. Strikingly green. It was such an amazing partner to perfectly cooked, buttery salmon.
My recreation uses a combination of pistachios and wasabi peas, or dried/crunchy wasabi-coated peas, as the nutty ingredients. The fact that both of these items are green helps the pesto maintain its bold green color.
Though I do not keep a vegan diet, I think it's important to point out that this pesto recipe is naturally vegan. It calls for all vegan ingredients so vegan friends can make it without any substitutions.
It would be so delicious tossed into cooked potatoes to make Wasabi Pesto potato salad. Other options are to spoon it over seared tofu or mix it into a can of butter beans as part of an appetizer spread.
Nutritional Yeast for Vegan Pesto
Traditional pesto recipes call for Parmesan cheese, and lots of it. Don't get me wrong, Parmesan cheese is an excellent way to add cheesy, nutty, AND salty flavor to food.
However, this pesto, with flavors of wasabi and sesame oil, meshes better with nutritional yeast than it does Parmesan cheese. This dry yeast product still offers a cheesy/umami/stinky flavor without the density of cheese.
Therefore, nutritional yeast is perfect for bringing deep umami flavor to this pesto while maintaining its silky smooth texture. Plus, it's an addictive flavor that will keep you going back for more.
Other Flavors in Wasabi Pesto
Most pesto is at least a little herby, and this wasabi pesto is no exception. I recommend using a combination of basil and mint. Using two herbs helps to further enhance the pesto's complexity and flavor profile without being overpoweringly minty or basil-y.
The primary oil in this pesto is olive oil, just like in traditional pesto. The optional addition is sesame oil. Use just a tablespoon or so! Sesame oil has a delicious but strong flavor.
Wasabi Peas and Pistachios
The nutty component of this Wasabi Pesto comes from pistachios and wasabi peas, which are dried crunchy peas coated in wasabi. I often find myself eating a handful of them as a crunchy, salty, spicy snack, and they're perfect for providing this recipe with its wasabi flavor.
I bought myself this large bag from Amazon recently. Since I eat them as a snack, use them in this pesto recipe, and crush them on top of salads and fish, I go through them rather quickly.
I would highly recommend buying a food processor if you don't have one already. My large 8-cup Cuisinart food processor makes pesto, salsa, hummus, and other sauces. I find that it's sturdy, not too loud, and works well. You'll use it often.Print
An intensely flavorful vegan pesto that goes well with practically anything, including seafood, meat, noodles, potatoes, sandwiches, rice, beans... am I forgetting something?
- 1 bunch of herbs; half basil and half mint.
- ⅙ cup wasabi peas
- ⅙ cup pistachio nuts (fill a ⅓ measuring cup half way with wasabi peas and half way with pistachios)
- The juice and zest of 1 lemon
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 2 oz nutritional yeast
- salt and pepper
- ½ cup of olive oil
- 2 Tb sesame oil
- Place the first 7 ingredients into a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped.
- Switch the food processor to low and slowly stream in the sesame oil and olive.
- Switch the food processor to high for another 30s.