Creamy, light, tangy, and refreshing, these oil-free vegan lemon bars are about as healthy as lemon bars get! They're no-bake, with an easy pumpkin seed crust, and only take about 30 minutes of hands-on prep. Nut-free and coconut-free, too!
When I first started testing this recipe I wasn't sure I'd be able to come up with such a light, special diet-friendly lemon bar that tastes THIS good. No eggs, butter, coconut, nuts, or shortbread crust? I mean, what the heck is going on here?!
If you know much about lemon bars, you know this recipe is breaking literally ALL of the rules. Yet they're so good!
I enjoy a rich, decadent vegan dessert as much as the next person, but I also love healthier sweet treats that I can enjoy more often. And I know a lot of you agree.
In a way, these healthy lemon bars remind me of my Oil-Free Banana Brownies, as in, these are to traditional lemon bars what those are to classic brownies. And y'all seriously love those low-calorie brownies. 🙂 So let's get to it!
This is a summary to get you started and explain the purpose of the ingredients. Be sure to scroll down for the complete recipe.
For the crust:
- Raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas) - These form the bulk of the crust and provide texture.
- Rolled oats (certified GF, if needed) - Oats reduce the overall fat content and lend a bit of chewiness to the crust. This means that the crust is not 100% crisp, but we actually didn't mind that at all. The oats also give the crust a hint of granola aroma and flavor. For a crispier crust feel free to replace the oats with more pumpkin seeds, or use walnuts or almonds if you're okay with nuts. See the FAQs below for more tips.
- Vanilla extract
- Maple syrup - sweetens and binds the crust
- Sea Salt
For the lemon filling:
- Silken tofu - low in calories and rich in protein, silken tofu adds creaminess and volume to our healthy lemon bars. Choose the refrigerated type for best flavor.
- Lemon juice - fresh lemon juice creates the best flavor, but lemons can be very expensive and difficult to come by in some areas. So I also tested the recipe with bottled lemon juice with great results.
- Zest from 1 or 2 lemons - this takes the lemon flavor over the top!
- Non-dairy milk of choice - either plain or vanilla is fine.
- Tapioca or arrowroot starch - this adds creaminess to the lemon filling and helps it set.
- Agar powder - agar is a vegan gelatin substitute and is also important for the consistency of the filling. Since these lemon bars contain no eggs or saturated fat, agar helps them set. You want lemon bars, not a lemon blob. 🙂
- Organic cane sugar - this sweetens the lemon curd filling without impacting the pure lemon flavor or color. I haven't tested the recipe with other sweeteners and can't recommend any substitutions at this time. These bars use about 60% less sugar than traditional lemon bars, so there's that!
- A pinch of turmeric or nutritional yeast - optional, for color
- Sea salt
Step By Step Process
1. First, make the crust. Place a heavy-bottomed pot or sauté pan over medium heat. Add the pumpkin seeds and oats, and toast until fragrant, about 7 minutes.
2. Pour into a food processor, and pulse until roughly chopped.
3. Add the salt, maple syrup, and vanilla. Pulse again to distribute the syrup and further break down the seeds and oats. Check the texture, and squeeze a small amount between your fingers to see if it holds together. It should look like coarse crumbs at this point. Add another teaspoon of maple syrup for stickiness, if needed.
4. Pour the mixture into a parchment-lined, 8-inch square pan. Lightly spread the crumbs around the pan so that it's even, then firmly press the crust into the pan so that it's compact. Place the crust in the refrigerator.
5. Rinse out the food processor and sauté pan to remove any fragments left behind by the seeds and oats. Set the pan aside. To the food processor, add the lemon filling ingredients, and blend until smooth.
6. Pour the lemon mixture into the pan, and place on the stove over medium heat. Using a whisk or silicone spatula, stir frequently while heating. Once the mixture is hot and just starting to bubble, stir constantly and cook until thickened, about 3 minutes. This is just enough time to activate the starch and agar so the filling will set when chilled. Pour the filling onto the crust, and refrigerate for at least 2 to 3 hours.
Once the lemon bars are fully chilled, cut into 16 squares.
Tips and FAQs
I don't recommend any substitutions for these two ingredients. There are many other ways to make vegan lemon bars, such as with coconut cream, coconut oil, or cashews. But because this recipe is oil-free and so low in fat, the starch and agar are necessary for the bars to set.
These capture the fresh and tangy lemon essence surprisingly well, but no, they don't taste exactly like classic recipes that contain eggs, butter, flour, and 2 cups of sugar. But if you're looking for a healthier vegan treat that's light, lemon-y, creamy, and refreshing, I think you'll be very happy with these!
Stored in the refrigerator, lemon bars will keep for up to 5 days. After a couple of days the pepita-oat crust gets softer, so keep that in mind. If you're making these for a party it's best to make them earlier the the same day or the night before.
Sure thing! As I mentioned above, the crust is far from traditional, and the lack of oil makes it a bit fragile. If you have a vegan crust you love, or a crisp nut crust, feel free to switch thing up.
Yes, very easily! If you don't mind using some oil, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of melted coconut oil to the food processor just before adding the maple syrup. This will bring more sturdiness and crunch to the crust.
I hope you enjoy these lightened up Vegan Gluten-Free lemon bars. If you try the recipe be sure to leave a comment and star rating below to let us know!
More Vegan No-Bake Desserts:
Vegan Gluten-Free Lemon Bars (Oil-Free, too!)
For the crust:
- 1 ¼ cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
- ½ cup old fashioned rolled oats
- pinch of fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons maple syrup
For the lemon filling:
- 10 ounces silken tofu See Notes.
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest, from about 2 lemons
- 1 cup lemon juice, from about 7 large lemons Fresh is best, but bottled pure lemon juice works in a pinch.
- ⅓ cup plain or vanilla non-dairy milk of choice
- ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon organic cane sugar
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 ½ tablespoons tapioca or arrowroot starch
- 2 teaspoons agar powder
- small pinch of ground turmeric or ¾ teaspoon nutritional yeast, optional, for color
- Line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper, allowing it to overhang two sides of the pan for easy removal.
- Place a heavy-bottomed pot or sauté pan over medium heat. Toast the pumpkin seeds and oats until fragrant, about 7 minutes. Pour the seeds and oats into the bowl of a food processor, and pulse several times to chop.
- Add the salt, maple syrup, and vanilla to the food processor. Pulse again to distribute the syrup and further break down the seeds and oats. Check the texture, and squeeze a small amount between your fingers to see if it holds together. It should look like coarse crumbs at this point. Add another teaspoon of maple syrup for stickiness, if needed.
- Pour the crust mixture into the parchment-lined pan. Lightly spread the crumbs around the pan so that it's even, then firmly press into the pan so that it's compact. Place the crust in the refrigerator.
- Rinse the food processor and sauté pan to remove any seed or oat fragments. Wipe clean with a towel if necessary. Set the pan aside. To the food processor, add the tofu, zest, juice, milk, and sugar, and blend until smooth. Taste the filling, and add a bit more lemon zest or sugar, if desired. Add the tapioca, agar, and turmeric/nutritional yeast, if using. Process for 15 to 20 seconds to ensure all ingredients are blended.
- Place the pot/saute pan over medium heat, and pour the lemon filling into the pan. Stir frequently with a whisk or silicone spatula. When the mixture begins to bubble, stir constantly, and cook until thickened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat, and let the mixture cool for about 5 minutes, whisking occasionally so that it doesn't set.
- Remove the crust from the refrigerator, and pour the filling onto the crust. Smooth the top with a silicone spatula. Refrigerate the lemon bars for at least 2 to 3 hours before slicing into 16 squares.