Vegan arugula pesto recipe

Arugula Pesto

PUBLISHED: 6.27.2020

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.


One of the yummiest non-basil sauce 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.

“Adult” arugula can have a pretty peppery bite, which some may not care for. It’s fresh and a little tart, bright green, and full of vibrant flavor. If you optimistically bought a bag of arugula that’s not as fresh looking as it once was, making arugula pesto one tasty way to prevent tossing it in the trash. 😉

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, a substance with purported benefits in preventing certain types of cancer.

The leafy green 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 arugula, 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.

Lemon zest and almonds with arugula

For the biggest nutritional bang for your buck, try to eat arugula raw, such as in a salad or in this arugula pesto. It’s loaded with 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 arugula pesto is easy and quick.

  1. I start with pre-washed bagged arugula. If you’re using loose arugula, 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

What’s different in a vegan arugula pesto?

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.

Recipes with Arugula Pesto

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

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Lemon Arugula Pesto

  • Author: Jen Hansard
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 1 cup 1x
  • Category: Side Dish
  • Method: Blending
  • Cuisine: italian
  • Diet: Vegan


Don’t toss that wilted arugula! Turn it into a fresh lemony pesto instead. Use it as you would any other kind of pesto, but it’s especially delicious served with roasted veggies or as a base for avocado toast.



  • ¼ cup raw almonds, roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
  • 4 cups arugula, loosely packed (wild or baby)
  • Juice and zest of 1 large lemon
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • Sea salt, to taste


  1. Place almonds and garlic cloves into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Pulse until finely chopped.
  2. Add arugula and lemon zest to the food processor. Pulse a few times to combine.
  3. 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.
  4. Transfer to a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Can also be frozen for up to 2 months.


  • 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.

Keywords: arugula pesto recipe


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  1. Dani Mitchell says:

    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.

  2. Erin says:

    This is definitely going on the menu this week. It sounds so yummy!

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