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How To Make Pest Without Nuts

  • Author: Mansee Muzumdar
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: ~1 cup
  • Category: Sauces
  • Cuisine: Italian


Learn how to make nut-free pesto using pantry friendly ingredients. Try my favorite -a classic pesto recipe that swaps the pine nuts for toasted rice for the nutty flavor and texture - or use sunflower seeds for an even easier substitute. Toss your fresh pesto with pasta or rice, add into marinades for chicken or shrimp or use in a spread for sandwiches and wraps. 


  • 2 tablespoons rice (Sticky, Jasmine or Basmati work well)
  • 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups (~3 oz)  basil leaves (remove tough stems)
  • 1/3 cup (~ 1/2 oz) grated parmesan
  • 1/2 cup olive oil


  1. Add 2 tablespoons rice to a small, dry skillet. Turn heat to medium.
  2. Let rice toast for 8-10 minutes, or until golden brown. Stir or shake the pan often to ensure all "sides" of the rice get toasted.
  3. Once rice is golden brown, transfer to a mortar and pestle, spice/coffee grinder or a high-powered blender or food processor. Grind rice until it's mostly a powder, with just a few larger pieces (see photo in post below).
  4. Add rice, 3 chopped garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon lemon zest and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a food processor or blender. Blend until garlic is very finely chopped and you have a paste-like mixture.
  5. Add 2 1/2 cups basil leaves and pulse 15-20 times or until finely chopped and combined. Add 1/3 cup parmesan cheese and pulse 5 more times.
  6. Transfer mixture to a bowl and stir in 1/2 cup olive oil. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. For best results, let pesto sit for at least 20-30 minutes before using to allow all the flavors to come together. If you like your pesto a little runnier or more sauce-like, feel free to add more olive oil!
  7. Store basil in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to a week. 


  • Instead of rice, you can also just use sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds to replace nuts. Feel free to toast them the same way you would the rice for extra flavor!
  • Traditionally, sticky rice is used to make rice powder. While that is best, if you can't find sticky rice or don't want to go out and buy another kind of rice (I get it!), I've found both Jasmine and Basmati work really well too.
  • Letting the pesto sit for 20-30 minutes (or longer) accomplishes 2 things: The flavors have time to sit and mingle, making the entire sauce even more delicious. It also lets any of the chunkier rice pieces (if they didn't grind fully into a powder) soften just a bit more and make the entire batch more cohesive.
  • To keep the pesto fresh in the fridge, store in a small, air-tight container with a thin layer of olive oil poured on top.