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Simple Pesto with Zoodles or Noodles (Nut-Free and Dairy-Free)

RecipesRobyn Downs4 Comments

This bright, fresh pesto is easy to make and is nut-free and dairy-free. Serve it over zoodles, pasta, or with grilled veggies, fish or chicken for the perfect summer dinner. 

Simple Pesto with Zoodles or Noodles (Nut-Free and Dairy-Free)

I make pesto at least once per week during the summer when our garden is overflowing with mint and basil.

It puts summer garden herbs to great use, plus it's easy to make and super versatile. It's great over zoodles or pasta, adds zing to simple grilled veggies, fish, or chicken, and livens up salads and sandwiches.

For years I made pesto the traditional way using pine nuts and parmesan cheese.

Recently, however, my husband Andrew has (rather begrudgingly) discovered that dairy seems to aggravate his allergies.

We still eat cheese or cream on occasion, but for the most part our meals these days are dairy-free.

Since I wasn't willing to take pesto off the menu I've been experimenting with the recipe to find a suitable dairy-free version. I knew I was onto something when I added nutritional yeast in place of the parmesan cheese.

Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast that has a "cheesy" flavor, and when blended with the other pesto ingredients tastes surprisingly like the real thing.

You can find nutritional yeast on the bulk aisle of most natural food stores, but if that's not an option for you it's also available from Amazon. If you're not dairy-free, though, feel free to use parmesan in place of the nutritional yeast in this recipe.

Once I had developed a tasty dairy-free pesto recipe I decided to also make it nut-free so I used a combination of pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds in place of the traditional pine nuts.

You can use all sunflower seeds, all pumpkin seeds, or a combination of the two for this recipe, depending on what's available and what you prefer.

I love this pesto served over zoodles, while Andrew and Elle prefer it over pasta, so I usually make both to keep everyone happy.

Spoon the pesto over warm pasta and serve immediately, or mix it into zoodles and let them sit for 5 minutes to soften a bit (just don't let them sit too long as the salt in the pesto will draw too much water out of the zoodles rendering them watery).

No need to cook the zoodles first, though I like to use room-temperature zucchinis so the final dish isn't cold.

Simple Pesto with Zoodles or Noodles (Nut-Free and Dairy-Free)


1 | Feel free to use mint leaves, basil leaves or both; use what you have and what you like.

2 | Have your child assist with the pesto making process. He can pick the mint leaves and add them to the bowl, dump in the seeds, and drizzle in the olive oil. Then when the pesto is ready, remove the blade and then let him taste it. My 3 year old, Elle, will eat spoonful after spoonful of pesto out of the food processor, but won't touch it once it's on her plate. Strange but true.

3 | Serve the pesto on the side of the noodles, letting your child add as much or as little as she likes.

4 | Add a bit of honey to the pesto to tone down the bitterness.


Naturally Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Grain-Free, Sugar-Free, Nut-Free, Vegan, Vegetarian, Paleo and Whole30 Friendly

Simple Pesto with Zoodles or Noodles (Nut-Free and Dairy-Free)

Simple Pesto with Zoodles or Noodles (Nut-Free and Dairy-Free)


1 garlic clove, minced

⅓ cup raw, unsalted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) or sunflower seeds (or combination of both)

¼ cup nutritional yeast

½ teaspoon salt

2 cups packed mint or basil leaves (or combination of both)

1 tablespoon lemon (about half a lemon)

⅔ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon honey (optional, omit to make this vegan and Whole30 friendly)

4 zucchinis, spiralized or 12 oz cooked gluten-free noodles

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved


1. Combine the garlic, seeds, nutritional yeast, salt, lemon juice, basil or mint, and honey (if using) in a food processor or high-speed blender. Pulse until coarsely chopped.

2. Stream in the olive oil, processing until fully incorporated and smooth. Taste for seasoning, adding additional salt and honey to taste.

3. If serving with noodles, toss with the pesto, top with cherry tomatoes, and serve. If serving with zoodles, toss with the pesto and let sit for 5 minutes for the zoodles to soften a bit. Toss again and serve immediately to avoid the zoodles getting mushy. 

Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side dish.

Notes: I used this Spiral Vegetable Slicer to make the zoodles in this recipe.