Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Ain’t nuthin’ like the real thing: in pursuit of ‘Fakin’ Bacon’

It sounded like a good idea: making “imitation” bacon from marinated roasted mushrooms. But what that led to was, well, another experience altogether.

I’m going to tell you right off the bat that I prepared, cooked and ate banana peels — yes, banana peels — in my search for The Perfect Non-Meat Bacon.

I’m also going to tell you that it was pretty terrible and I will not be doing that again. Ever.

Maybe some of you are strict vegans or have health or dietary restrictions that prohibit you from eating real bacon. If that’s the case, perhaps these recipes will be helpful. But if those considerations don’t apply to you, I’d say stick with the real thing in moderation. Learn from my experience. Without having to eat banana peels yourself.

Of the three versions I tried, the “bacon” made with rice paper was the most successful. The process was fairly easy, the flavor was tasty and the finished strips were crispy and a little — just a little — irresistible.

vegetarian bacon made with mushrooms
Mushrooms as bacon weren’t bad but lacked the proper mouthfeel.

The mushroom version tasted good too, but were I to make it again, I’d play around with the flavorings. It didn’t taste like or have the mouthfeel of bacon but would work in or with an omelet, in a sandwich or as a side dish.

Really, the recipe is just mushrooms sautéed slowly until they’re dry and almost-but-not-quite crispy, and the marinade imparts a bacon-like flavor. It’s easy to burn them, though, so do be careful.

And the banana peel “bacon?” Well … it tasted like bananas. I don’t care what all those vegan food bloggers say — it tastes like bananas. And it was difficult (read: impossible) for me to get over the fact that I was eating banana peels. BANANA PEELS!

Some of those bloggers touted the fact that “people in other countries have been eating banana peels for years.” What countries, I wondered? Japan has developed a banana with a thin, edible peel; supposedly India includes unpeeled bananas in some recipes (none that I’ve heard of or found).

Scientists say they’re full of nutrients, and that may be so, but I’ve been doing fine these many years without incorporating banana peels into my diet, thank you very much. On another note, watering houseplants with water that you’ve soaked a banana peel in does give plants an added nutrient boost.

Liquid smoke is available through Amazon México and at some large chain grocery stores. A good barbecue sauce can be substituted, but it won’t be quite the same. (Note: Sriracha doesn’t work; it has a decidedly non-smoky flavor.)

Rice Paper “Bacon”

By far the best! Crispy, flavorful and the most like real bacon. The marinade flavorings can be adjusted easily to suit your tastes.

  • 2 Tbsp. sesame oil
  • 2 Tbsp. reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tsp. maple syrup
  • 1½ tsp. miso paste, if available
  • 1 tsp. liquid smoke, if available OR substitute 1 Tbsp. BBQ sauce
  • ½ tsp. ground paprika
  • ½ tsp. black pepper
  • 2 sheets rice paper

Preheat oven to 400 F. Cover a baking sheet with parchment.

In a shallow bowl, whisk sesame oil, soy sauce, maple syrup, miso, liquid smoke or BBQ sauce, paprika and pepper.

Stack two pieces of rice paper and using scissors, carefully cut into bacon-sized strips. Dip each two-strip slice into the soy mixture for a few seconds; they will soften immediately and stick together. Place on the parchment-covered baking sheet.

rice paper bacon
Rice paper yielded the most convincing version — a nice smoky flavor and an irresistible crispiness.

Bake, turning once, until strips are dry, 5–8 minutes. Watch carefully that they don’t burn.

Remove from oven and serve. They will be crispy, crunchy and kind of irresistible.

Mushroom Bacon

Any kind of mushroom will work; each will have a slightly different flavor. These do not get crisp but have a bacon-y flavor.

  • 1½ Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1½ Tbsp. soy sauce
  • ½ Tbsp. maple or agave syrup
  • ½ tsp. liquid smoke, if available, OR substitute 1 Tbsp. BBQ sauce
  • 8 oz. mushrooms, sliced

In a bowl, mix olive oil, soy sauce, maple syrup and liquid smoke/BBQ sauce. Add sliced mushrooms; gently toss to evenly coat mushrooms.

Fried Method: Heat a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add mushrooms and any leftover marinade. You want mushrooms to be in a single layer on bottom of the pan.

Sauté 5–10 minutes without stirring, flipping once when they’re golden on the bottom. Transfer to a paper towel-covered plate for a minute; serve warm.

Baked Method: Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Spread mushroom slices in a single layer on prepared baking sheet, adding any leftover marinade. Bake 18–25 minutes until dark golden and reduced in size. Cool for a minute; serve warm.

Banana Peel Bacon

Numerous vegan cooking blogs touted this as “quite delicious” with a “subtle hint of banana taste.” I beg to differ.

  • 2 very ripe banana peels
  • 3 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. maple syrup
  • ½ tsp. smoked paprika
  • ½ tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp. light oil (or more if needed)
banana peel fake bacon
These may look like the real deal, but don’t be fooled!

Note: Be sure bananas are very ripe but not bruised; spotted all over are the best. “The riper the banana the better the flavor.”

Remove peels from bananas; tear into 4 strips per banana. Using a spoon, scrape off the soft white pulp from the peel pieces using a spoon. Cut off stem ends.

Mix soy sauce, maple syrup, paprika and garlic powder together in a flat bowl big enough for peels to lay in. Add peels and turn to cover. Marinate for at least 15 minutes or up to two hours. (They will look like bacon, but don’t be fooled!)

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add peels. Fry 2–3 minutes per side until they bubble up a little and turn golden brown. Don’t overcook!

Remove from pan, drain on paper towels a few minutes and serve ASAP — they lose their crispness quickly.

Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expatsfeatured on CNBC and MarketWatch. She has lived in Mexico since 2006. You can find her on Instagram at @thejanetblaser.

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