Watercress pesto

Pesto can be powerful! Traditionally made with pine nuts, crushed garlic, basil and hard Italian cheese, it has that wonderful salt plus fat combo that hits the spot along with delightful pungent flavours the tastebuds so enjoy. But it’s not plant-based. And it can contain a lot of oil. So what to do?

Once I started to play around with ideas for a good pesto sauce recipe, I realised there were more challenges than just the cheese and oil.

  • Pine nuts are really expensive!
  • Nut allergy is a big thing for many
  • Basil is very seasonal and often carries high air miles.
  • You need a lot of basil which can add to the cost

I started to explore alternatives to basil. Watercress worked the best. It has a sharp, pungent flavour of its own, it’s available in larger amounts and has a longer growing year with less air miles. It does need extra blend time though as it has surprisingly resistant fibres.

Walnuts compliment watercress rather beautifully. They have a good amount of healthy omega 3 fatty acids that are good for the brain. Which makes sense as they look like the brain too :). If nuts are off the menu, then sunflower seeds are a good alternative. Not quite as tasty as walnuts sadly, but they give a good base and texture as well as a range of healthy nutrients.

Because there is a good amount of fat in the nuts or seeds, extra oil is not essential in this recipe so it can be made completely oil free. However, if you enjoy the flavour of extra virgin olive oil and don’t need to avoid it 100% then a tablespoon really does add to the pesto’s overall flavour. Cold-pressed flaxseed oil is another option too.

The lemon juice provides a lovely tangy flavour. The vitamin C in the juice also lifts the flavour and helps you to absorb iron contained in the watercress. It’s not just there for decoration!

I use the small bowl of my magimix or the pot attachment of my stick blender to make this watercress pesto. A high speed blender is just too powerful so avoid that if you can.

This pesto sauce can be used for a whole range of dishes:

  • Add to pasta
  • Drizzle over risotto
  • Stirred into cooked grains like quinoa or millet
  • Dip for flatbreads or savoury pancakes
  • Dolloped over roasted vegetables
  • Side sauce for savoury bakes

I hope you enjoy making this tongue-tingling vegan and gluten free pesto sauce. Do let me know how you get on – and what you like to eat with it.

Watercress pesto

A delicious vegan pesto that can be made oil free and nut free too
Prep Time 8 minutes
Total Time 8 minutes
Servings 4 portions


  • food processor or small pot for hand blender


  • 2 tbsp walnuts or sunflower seeds for nut free
  • 85 grams watercress
  • 1 garlic clove grated
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil or cold pressed flaxseed oil optional
  • 1 tbsp water


  • Pop the walnuts or sunflower seeds into the small bowl of your food processor or hand blender pot. Whizz for 20 seconds to break them down.
  • Add all the other ingredients and blend until you get the texture you desire - you may need to blend for a few minutes so it's not stringy.
  • Check the flavour and add more lemon juice or salt as desired.
  • Store in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Stir well before using.
Keyword anti-inflammatory diet, iron, plant based sauce, vegan pesto, vitamin C, watercress


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