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Did you know that pesto isn’t just made with basil? Prepare to be wowed by this peppery, slightly tart pesto recipe which features arugula. With a bright squeeze of lemon and some richly nutty almonds, this arugula pesto recipe will quickly become a fav.

Vegan arugula pesto recipe

One of the yummiest non-basil sauces you can make is this lemony arugula pesto recipe. People seem to have strong feelings about arugula: love or hate. Which side do you fall on? I love arugula, particularly on a salad or a burger. Yet it doesn’t have a place in a smoothie for me—I tried once and never again. In this arugula pesto recipe though, it provides a bright, bite which makes it a great sauce.

Table of Contents
  1. What is Arugula?
  2. How to Make Arugula Pesto
  3. Recipes with Arugula Pesto
  4. Lemon Arugula Pesto Recipe
Arugula Pesto

What is Arugula?

Arugula, also known as rocket, rucola, roquette, and eruca, to name a few, is a member of the Brassicae family, and is a cousin to kale, cabbage, and radishes. The peppery flavor is attributed to the presence of glucosinolate. Glucosinolate may help prevent some types of cancer.

Arugula originated in the Mediterranean, where it remains a popular salad vegetable. Baby arugula is less peppery or pungent because it is harvested while it is still young. Wild versions, though usually harvested when young also, may pack more of a peppery punch.

The larger the leaves grow, the spicier and stronger the flavor becomes. It also intensifies as spring progresses into summer. If you are a newbie to this leafy vegetable, then go for the young bunch first, working your way up to the stronger tasting, more mature leaves.

ingredients for a delicious sauce

For the biggest nutritional bang for your buck, try to eat arugula raw, such as in a salad or in this arugula pesto. It contains all kinds of vitamins and minerals from vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin A, and folate, to iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium.

How to make Arugula Pesto

How to Make Arugula Pesto

Making pesto is easy and quick.

  1. I start with pre-washed bagged arugula. If you’re using loose arugula, then be sure to give it a good wash and spin it dry in a salad spinner.
  2. Chop the nuts and garlic so there aren’t large chunks of either in the pesto.
  3. Using a food processor or blender makes things very easy. You can also make pesto by hand using a mortar and pestle.
  4. Add the oil last, through the feed hold, in a slow steady drizzle so that it is incorporated. If the pesto separates, give it another whirl and it should come together again.
Healthy vegan lemon arugula pesto recipe

What makes this pesto vegan?

My arugula pesto recipe is 100% vegan, meaning no animal products are included in the ingredient list. Most traditional pesto recipes call for some kind of hard, aged cheese like Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano. Vegan arugula pesto relies on lemon zest and juice and almonds to add extra flavor and richness, respectively. Even if dairy doesn’t bother you, try this recipe out and see how it compares to your dairy-filled versions. I was pleasantly surprised how well it passed the taste test!

Recipes with Arugula Pesto

Try using arugula pesto in any of these recipes to brighten them up and add more protein and tasty flavors:

More pesto recipes

If arugula just isn’t your thing, or you are a pesto lover, here are some other great, vegan pesto recipes:

This arugula pesto might be a new concept for you, and I encourage you to dive in and try it! Even if arugula isn’t your green of choice, you might just fall in love with this recipe. Once you make it, don’t forget to rate and review it below. I’d love to know what you think!

5 from 2 votes

Lemon Arugula Pesto

Don't toss that wilted arugula! Turn it into a fresh lemony arugula pesto instead. It's especially delicious served with roasted veggies or as a base for avocado toast.
Prep: 20 minutes
Total: 20 minutes
Author: Jen Hansard
Course: Condiment
Cuisine: Italian-Inspired, Plant-Based
Serves: 6


  • food processor


  • ¼ cup raw almonds
  • 2 garlic cloves peeled and halved
  • 4 cups baby arugula
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • sea salt to taste
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  • Place almonds and garlic cloves into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Pulse until finely chopped.
  • Add arugula to the food processor. Pulse a few times to combine.
  • With motor running, add lemon juice and olive oil through the feed hole. Stop and scrape down sides as needed. Once pesto is the consistency of a slightly chunky paste, stop the food processor and add a good pinch of sea salt. Pulse a few times. Taste and add a little more salt, if needed.
  • Transfer to a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.


  • Other nuts can be substituted for the raw almonds.
  • Swap half of the arugula with spinach or another mild leafy green or herb for a milder flavor.
  • Can also be frozen for up to 2 months.


Calories: 199kcal, Carbohydrates: 2g, Protein: 2g, Fat: 21g, Saturated Fat: 3g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g, Monounsaturated Fat: 15g, Trans Fat: 1g, Sodium: 4mg, Potassium: 101mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 1g, Vitamin A: 317IU, Vitamin C: 4mg, Calcium: 39mg, Iron: 1mg
Tried this recipe? Show me!Mention @SimpleGreenSmoothies or tag #SimpleGreenSmoothies!

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  1. 5 stars
    Oh my gosh— I’ve fallen in love with arugula this past year and was SOOO happy to see this pesto recipe! It sounds delicious and I cannot wait to make it. Thanks Jen for another rawkin’ recipe.