The old joke about someone being 'vegetarian except for bacon' is a bit stale but nonetheless, it harbors some truth. Bacon is one of the most missed foods when people give up eating meat and often the first one back (the "gateway meat"). Still, most vegetarians I know have found many inventive ways to add bacon's delicious qualities into their food without using actual bacon itself. For me, bacon's appeal is the coming together of three things: fat, smoke and salt. I suggest addressing each of these when searching for a way to add bacon-y goodness to vegetarian and vegan foods. Read on for several suggestions.
Of course, it's important to note that vegetarians and vegans aren't the only ones who forgo bacon. People who keep kosher cannot eat bacon as noted by joyofkosher who requested this topic.
First, let's look at smokiness. There are many delicious ways to bring smokiness to vegetarian dishes and, in my opinion, adding fake vegan bacon isn't one of them. Instead, try one of the following:
• Grill some of your ingredients. Vegetables such as peppers, eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, onions hold up really well on the grill. Tofu, and tempeh benefit, too, from a short time on the grill, as well as mushrooms.
• You can also invest in a home smoker or, on a smaller scale, turn your wok into a smoker (this CHOW video shows you how.)
• If you're not vegan, add smoked cheese, such as smoked Gouda.
• Chipotle chili peppers add a wonderful smokey notes. They are available in cans, usually packed in adobo sauce, and in a dried powder form. Smoked paprika is a great substitute if you don't want the heat from the chills.
• Liquid Smoke is another easy ingredient, although it is somewhat controversial as its safety is in debate. Liquid Smoke is basically the condensation from the steam from smoking wood, which is captured and cooled, and turned into a liquid. The controversy is around whether the degree of cancer-causing compounds normally found in wood char is at a safe level in Liquid Smoke. Some claim it is so small, it is not a risk, while others refuse to use it.
SALT AND FAT
But, as previously stated, smokiness isn't the only thing bacon adds to a dish. If you are leaving bacon out of a recipe to make it vegetarian/vegan/kosher, be sure you have plenty of salt and fat as well as one of the substitutes mentioned above. There is no hard and fast rule for this, just use your tastebuds and adjust accordingly. Parmesan cheese is a good vegetarian addition, as it provides the fat and the salt as well as lots of umami, which bacon also has in spades.
Finally, the other element bacon offers is texture, that delicious combination of crunch and chew that's hard to duplicate. One thing you can do is an old hippie trick: Sauté finely crumbled tempeh in a fair amount of coconut oil until the tempeh is brown and starting to crisp. Remove from the heat and let cook slightly, then splash in a little soy sauce. There should be enough residual heat from the pan that the soy sauce starts to bubble up and is quickly absorbed by the tempeh. A pinch or two of smoked paprika, added after the soy has been absorbed, will bring some smoke flavor and voila! You have vegan bacon bits!
Another trick I often use for smokiness, fat, salt and texture, is to sauté rough breadcrumbs in olive oil and butter until they start to brown. Then I add salt and smoked paprika, giving everything a final stir and removing it from the heat. I scatter these across the top of mac'n'cheese, vegetable gratins and other casseroles. They're also delicious on a salad. Just be sure to tear your bread into small, wispy chunks so that some areas crisp up and brown while the other absorb the fat and you'll end up with that unbeatable combination of crispy and chewy, fatty, smokey and salty. Drool.
What are your favorite ways of adding the peculiarly fatty, salty, addictive smokiness of bacon... without the bacon?
Related: Vegetarian (Except for Bacon)
It's Reader Request Week at The Kitchn! This post was requested by JOYOFKOSHER.
(Image: Dana Velden)