I love recipes that take advantage of pantry staples and this one does just that! Roasted red peppers give it a rich and creamy texture while inexpensive sunflower seeds sub in for pine nuts. Best of all, this vegan twist on a classic pesto can be used in a multitude of different ways, making it a great option for meal prep.
How to make this pesto
I highly suggest investing in a food processor or mini prep if you plan on meal prepping and making your own sauces, vinaigrettes, and dips from scratch. I have both, but use my full size processor 90% of the time.
A blender is a great backup option. Blenders will give you a silky smooth texture, but with a pesto like this, you’ll want a little bit of chunkiness from the seeds. I’ve also found that if you’re making a small batch, there’s often not enough volume for a blender to do it’s job properly as many of the ingredients get trapped under the blades and don’t get fully incorporated. You don’t want that!
The beauty of this recipe is that you simply add all of the ingredients to the food processor and pulse until they are incorporated. With the machine turned on, you will slowly drizzle in the olive oil to achieve that rich and creamy texture.
Unlike a traditional basil pesto, this one uses much less olive oil since the roasted red peppers add a lot of moisture themselves. Plus, this sauce is vegan and doesn’t contain any parmesan which would normally dry out the mixture and necessitate more oil. Not that I have anything against parmesan!
ingredients & substitutions
Here are the ingredients you’ll need to make this dreamy sauce:
- Roasted Red Peppers-You’ll find the best flavor in whole roasted peppers in a glass jar, not diced up in a tin can.
- Basil-If you don’t have fresh basil on hand, I have made this many times with Italian parsley and it still tastes amazing.
- Garlic-Whole cloves. Please don’t buy the kind that comes minced up in a jar!
- Sunflower Seeds-Roasted is best if you can find them. If they are already salted, you may want to dial back to 1 teaspoon of salt to start and add in more if you need it. It would be equally delicious with pine nuts, walnuts of hazelnuts!
- Tomato Paste-Since this recipe only uses 2 TBSP, I like the kind that comes in a tube you can keep in the fridge. If you open a small can and have some leftover, it will only stay good in the fridge for 7 days before you need to toss it.
- Lemon-I often add both the zest and the juice from lemon to my recipes because so much of that wonderfully bright and sour flavor comes from the zest
- Smoked Paprika-This spice adds complex smokiness to the recipe but if you don’t have it on hand, regular paprika will do the trick too!
- Sherry Vinegar-If you don’t have sherry vinegar, I’ve had success substituting with half as much red wine vinegar.
- Olive Oil-Since this sauce isn’t getting cooked and every ingredient needs to be top notch, this is where you’ll want to break out the good quality extra virgin olive oil you’ve been saving all year.
Ways to use this red pepper pesto
- My Mason Jar Red Pepper Pesto Salad recipe
- As a base to flatbread pizzas, topped with mozzarella, asparagus and balsamic reduction
- Tossed with zucchini noodles and fresh arugula
- Dolloped on top of a filet of halibut or cod
- As a sauce for a brown rice or quinoa buddha bowl
- Served alongside a juicy roasted pork tenderloin, yum!
Roasted Red Pepper Pesto
- food processor or blender
- 1 cup whole roasted red peppers
- 1/2 cup fresh basil
- 4 whole cloves garlic, peeled
- 1/4 cup roasted sunflower seeds
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 whole lemon, zested and juiced
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 1/2 tsp sherry vinegar
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Combine roasted red peppers, basil, whole garlic, sunflower seeds, tomato paste, lemon juice and zest, smoked paprika, sherry vinegar, red pepper flakes and salt in food processor. Pulse until combined.
- With the motor running, drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil until well combined and smooth. You may need a little more of less depending on how *juicy* the red peppers are.
- This recipe is vegan, dairy-free and nut-free!
- I’ve found the best success with whole roasted peppers in a glass jar, not diced or in a can.
- If you don’t have fresh basil on hand, parsley makes an excellent substitute.
- This pesto will keep in your fridge for 7 days.