Friends, there was a time not too long ago that I had to live this life dairy-free. I know many of you do this, but I am a die-hard cheese lover and it was a challenge. It turns out that I really don’t like vegan cheese (there are a few exceptions – cashew cheese and vegan Parmesan is actually ok but you gotta make it yourself) and I had to change the way I cooked for my family completely. Just “leaving the cheese out” was not working. Enter vegan arugula pesto…

Family Dinners Get A Vegan Spin

We usually rely on staples in our house like tacos, enchiladas, pasta, pizza, and salads. Many of these dishes just aren’t the same without the cheese (or don’t taste right with vegan substitutes)! I didn’t want to make myself, my husband and my baby three completely different meals, so I needed some new tricks up my sleeve. I figured out how to make spaghetti carbonara with vegan cashew parmesan cheese (and my husband liked it too) and I easily modified our standard pizza recipe to one that could be made completely dairy-free and still satisfy my craving for a slice. To be honest, pizza is the only time I enjoyed a vegan mozzarella cheese (Daiya has the best melt!)

Going Dairy Free

To back up, I had to go dairy free because my daughter, Libby, was still breastfeeding and she was developing some eczema. After a trip to the doctor and several conversations with some naturopaths, I conceded. I went totally off dairy and soy for about 2 months. Ugh, it was hard. I think I went through cheese withdrawals and walked around the house for the first two weeks being very cranky.

The reason why going off of dairy is so hard is that you have to go completely off of these things for the proteins to leave your body – and it can take at least a month for that to happen. So you’ll be waiting a while before you can actually tell if it’s working. A couple of bonus things: I noticed my skin improved (even though it’s generally wrecked from lack of sleep and trying to keep up with my daughter’s appetite, it was suddenly less irritating, dewier, and the circles under my eyes were less dark). I also noticed I had less gas and maybe even a little more energy (but who knows when you have a little one…) 

My daughter looked and felt so much better. The eczema is still there, (and she’s on solid foods now so that’s a whole other conversation). But going dairy free made a big improvement and I’m glad we made the switch. I also started giving her a children’s DHA supplement, and that really helped her too. 

I relied on almond milk, cashew cheese, and focused on cooking my family meals that were naturally dairy free and delicious rather than trying to convert everything to vegan. I used more coconut oil and olive oil and less butter. 

*update* we are not dairy free anymore, but I still love cashew cheese and have some vegan parmesan to use up – so more on that in the future!

Pesto Goes Vegan

Here’s something that doesn’t need any vegan cheese product, and also makes a solid stand-in for pizza or pasta sauce. Vegan pesto! Slathered on crackers, spread on a pizza crust and topped with veggies and chicken, or mixed up in a quick pasta, it’s vegan pesto FTW! Pesto is super versatile, you can basically use any green herb (here it’s arugula, or rocket, as they call it in the UK), and any nut you like (pistachio! walnut! toasted almond!) Someone who does math should figure out how many possible combinations of pesto there could be… (that person is not me, but I’m going to venture a guess that it’s at least in the hundreds.)

Here, I’ve made a vegan version with spicy arugula and the classic pine nut. I got these pine nuts from Trader Joe’s. They come already toasted and saved me the extra step AND saved me from turning on the stove. In these last warm days of summer, it’s totally worth it.

vegan arugula pesto

You can use a food processor for many things… if you’re looking for a perfect wedding or birthday gift, consider the food processor. I use mine for hummus, sauces and dressings of all kinds, baby food, celery root purée and for shredding up a whole mess of vegetables for a slaw.

vegan arugula pesto

Back to pesto. Add in the nuts, garlic and lemon juice first, pulse, then add in the arugula and the nutritional yeast. Add a bit of olive oil and blend together. 

vegan arugula pesto

You want a nice consistent blend! 

And it’s that easy. Store in the fridge and eat it up within 2 weeks. 

vegan arugula pesto

Vegan Arugula Pesto
Yields 1
A vegan herby sauce that's perfect for pasta, pizza or dipping
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  1. 3 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  2. 3/4 cup nutritional yeast
  3. 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
  4. 2-3 cups packed arugula (more if you like your pesto with some bite!)
  5. 1 lemon
  6. 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  7. Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  1. In the bowl of a food processor, add the garlic cloves, pine nuts and lemon juice. Pile the arugula into the food processor, add the nutritional yeast and squeeze the lemon juice over it.
  2. Pulse a few times until the arugula is broken down and chopped small. Pulse about 6-10 times, until the nuts are in small pieces and garlic is minced.
  3. Now, with the machine running constantly, pour the olive oil in a thin stream through the feeding tube of the food processor. Let it process for about 1 minute total time, adjusting to add more or less olive oil for your desired consistency.
  4. Taste, adjust the salt and pepper or add a little more nutritional yeast if needed.
  5. Store in the refrigerator for up to a month. Try it on bread, crackers, stirred into pasta or as a pizza sauce.
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