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Healthy Pesto Recipe

This healthy pesto recipe is as least as delicious as classic recipes but it comes with significant fewer calories. 

Thanks to the combinations of sun-dried tomatoes, arugula, and cashews we are able to use much less oil than in traditional recipes. However, a few pine nuts, some parmesan cheese and lots of basil provide the unique pesto taste. 

You can serve this lightened up pesto with pasta, in sandwiches or as a sauce for Mediterranean inspired dishes. 

If you love homemade pesto recipes, make sure to check out my pumpkin pesto recipe or my avocado basil pesto!

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A bowl of pasta served with a creamy pesto sauce, a glass of healthy pesto in the background.
This healthy pesto ist packed with flavor!

About this Recipe

If you have ever asked yourself, whether pesto is healthy or not, I have good and bad news for you. Yes, pesto, especially a homemade pesto is a healthy, wholesome food. But, yeah there’s a but, it’s really high in fat and calories.

Since you usually need about a half or even a whole cup of olive oil for an average pesto recipe, these calories sum up pretty quickly. As long as you consume it in moderation and only in small servings sizes, it’s absolutely fine. Therefore, I love using a classic pesto to refine a dish or to spread it thinly in my sandwiches. 

However, whenever I like to use a bigger servings size, for example when I use it as pasta sauce, I tend to go with this healthy skinny homemade pesto. 

Instead of half a cup of olive oil, we’ll only need one single tablespoon. And no worries, it still tastes damn delicious. To compensate the lack of oil, we’ll refine it with some sun-dried tomatoes and arugula, which will provide the missing nutty, slightly bitter taste of olive oil. 

On top of that, a few standard ingredients such as roasted pine nuts, some Parmesan cheese and lots of basil should not be missing in this recipe.


  • Soaked cashews for a creamy texture
  • Fresh basil leaves – indispensable since we are making a basil pesto
  • Arugula for a nutty, slightly bitter flavor
  • Sun-dried tomatoes for saltiness
  • Some parmesan or pecorino cheese for even more salty flavors
  • Toasted pine nuts for more the typical pine nut taste of pesto
  • Just a single tablespoon of olive oil
  • Some water, salt, pepper, and lemon juice to balance out the flavor

The exact measurements can be found in the recipe card below. Of course, you can adjust these amounts to make more or less. 

Please note, I always base portion sizes on my personal dietary needs (presumably those of the average woman). However, you or perhaps one of your fellow eaters may need more or less than I do. So, feel free to adjust.

Ingredients for a healthy pesto recipe.
Ingredients for this healthy pesto recipe

Substitutions and Variations 

Instead of pine nuts, you can also use walnuts. These also go very well with the taste but are also much cheaper than the precious pine nuts.

If you want to prepare your pesto vegan or vegetarian, you can simply omit the cheese or replace it with a vegetarian Parmesan. Those who like can also add one or two cloves of garlic.

If desired, you can also omit the cashews since they aren’t required to make a delicious, healthy pesto. But they will make the pesto creamier. So don’t be surprised if your cashew-free pesto looks a little different than mine.

If you don’t have enough time to soak the cashews for at least eight hours, you can also pour boiling hot water over them and let them soak for just one hour. If you’re using a high quality blender, it should work as well.

This process shot is showing a bowl with soaked cashews.
Soaking the cashews will make this pesto incredibly creamy.

How to Make this Recipe

To make this recipe, you’ll need either a food processor, a high-powered blender, or a hand blender. Furthermore, the cashews need to be soaked in water for at least eight hours, or preferably overnight. So, schedule that in if possible. But don’t worry, you’ll find two emergency alternatives in the FAQs in case you’re in a rush.

Well, to prepare this healthy pesto recipe, first wash the arugula and basil thoroughly. Cut the parmesan cheese in small cubes or grate it coarsely. 

Since toasted pine nuts taste even better then raw pine nuts, I recommend toasting them beforehand. Therefore, put them in a pan without any oil or butter and roast them for a few minutes over medium heat. 

Now, in a food processor or a tall container, add the arugula, basil, cheese, tomatoes, pine nuts, olive oil, and cashews. Start blending while gradually adding two to four tablespoons of water. Blend until the pesto has reached a creamy, chunk-free consistency.

Finally, season to taste with two teaspoons of lemon juice, salt and freshly cracked black pepper. 

How to Serve It

This healthy, lightened up pesto goes very well with pasta, as a sauce in sandwiches or for Mediterranean dishes. You can also use it as a low-calorie dressing for pasta salads or serve it as a side dish at barbecues, buffets, or for your next holiday dinner. 

But if you ask my boyfriend, he will say that you can eat this pesto with every savory dish you can imagine. And actually, I think he’s right. Pesto always works. 🙂

Here’s How to Save this Recipe or Make It in Advance

Since we use such a tiny amount of olive oil our healthy homemade pesto will not keep as long as a store-bought or a classic pesto recipe would do. 

The reason therefore is that the high vitamin E content in the oil acts as a preservative due to its antioxidant effect. But since we use less oil, we also have a less preservative effect and therefore we need to eat the pesto more quickly! 😀 

However, in an airtight sealed jar, our pesto will keep for up to a week when stored in the fridge. But my guess is, that it all eaten up by that time anyway. 

Healthy pesto with basil and cashews and a bowl of pasta in the background.
Stored in the fridge in an airtight sealed jar it will keep for a least one week.

Your Common Questions Answered

In case there are any questions left, I hope these FAQ will help you. If not, feel free to drop your question in the comments below.

I don’t have time to soak the cashews overnight. Can I still make the recipe?

Yes, you can. Alternatively, you can pour boiling hot water over the cashews instead of cold water and let them soak for an hour instead of eight or more. The second alternative would be to simply omit the cashews. The pesto still tastes great this way, but it won’t be quite as creamy.

Can I omit the sun-dried tomatoes?

Yes, you may need to add a bit more salt the pesto. To enhance the flavor, you can also add a dash of soy sauce or a fresh clove of garlic.

How long will the pesto keep in the refrigerator?

This skinny pesto will keep for about a week in the refrigerator if sealed airtight jar.

Save for later

Click the pin button and add the recipe to one of your Pinterest boards. This way you can also easily bookmark the recipe for later. The pin button will appear as soon as you hover over the picture. 

Use the button in the upper left corner to pin this recipe to your Pinterest board.
Bookmark the recipe for later!

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I hope you like this recipe and that you give it a try soon. If you have any further questions or suggestions, feel free to drop them in the comments, or send me a massage via email at or Instagram(@julesbalancedrecipes). 

In case, you’ve tried this recipe, I’d appreciate your comment and rating for this recipe. It’s easy to do via the comments section below this post and it would mean the world to me.

And if you loved this recipe, you may also link some of my other healthy and calorie friendly sauces and dips! 

Have fun trying it out and bon appétit,

A bowl of pasta served with a healthy homemade pesto sauce.

Healthy Basil Pesto

Julia Schmitt
This healthy pesto is packed with flavors thanks to the sun-dried tomatoes, toasted pine nuts and lots of basil. It also has significantly fewer calories since cashews and arugula replace most of the olive oil.
Note: If possible, soak the cashews in water for 8 hours or overnight. *
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 5 mins
Total Time 10 mins
Course sauce, Side Dish
Cuisine Italian
Servings 8 servings
Calories 79 kcal


  • 1 food processor or a hand blender
  • 1 frying pan


  • 50 g raw cashew nuts (1.8 oz or ⅓ cup)
  • 15 g pine nuts (1 tbsp or 0.5 oz)
  • 4 sun-dried tomatoes
  • 20 g basil (0.7 oz or 1 cup)
  • 30 g arugula (1 oz or 1.5 cups)
  • 20 g parmesan cheese (0.7 oz)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2-4 tbsp water
  • salt, pepper
  • 2 tsp lemon juice


8 hours or the night before

  • In a bowl, add the cashews and 200ml (1.5 cup) of cold water and let them soak for about 8 hours or more. (Alternatively, pour boiling water over them and let soak for an hour).
    This process shot is showing a bowl with soaked cashews.


  • In a pan, add the pine nuts (without any oil or butter) and roast them over medium heat until they turn lightly brown and develop an intense nutty smell. Remove them from the heat and set aside. 
    Roasted pine nuts in a small pan.
  • Drain and rinse the cashews, place them in a food processor or tall container. Wash the basil and arugula, spin dry if possible, and put them in the food processor as well.
    This process shot is showing a colander with arugula and basil leaves.
  • Finely dice the parmesan cheese and add the cubes alongside the pine nuts, tomatoes, olive oil and water to the food processor. Blend until you have a chunk-fee, creamy pesto.
    Parmesan cheese is getting cut into small cubes.
  • Season to taste with lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Transfer the pesto to an airtight jar and store it in the fridge. 
    Healthy pesto with basil and cashews and a bowl of pasta in the background.


Tip: If you want to serve the pesto with pasta, save some pasta water and add it in sips when you mix the pasta and pesto together.


Calories: 79kcalCarbohydrates: 2.8gProtein: 2.3gFat: 6.3gSaturated Fat: 0.9gCholesterol: 1.7mgSodium: 158.2mgPotassium: 60.1mgFiber: 0.8gSugar: 0.7gVitamin A: 37.3IUVitamin C: 3mgCalcium: 43.3mgIron: 580.5mg
Keyword basil pesto, Cashews, healthy pesto recipe
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