(THE WASHINGTON POST) - I’ve heard people say bacon is the one meat product vegetarians or vegans miss the most (if they have ever had it to miss, that is). And I get that: Bacon’s salt, smoke, fat and in some cases sugar seem to fire up our brain’s pleasure centers. So it makes sense that vegan cooks have come up with so many ways to make plant-based “bacon”.
I’ve made versions with shiitake mushrooms and with large coconut flakes, and I’ve seen but haven’t yet tried recipes using carrots, eggplant, tempeh, tofu and more. The basic idea: Slice your base ingredient as thinly as possible (if needed), toss it in a marinade that typically includes tamari or soya sauce, maple syrup, liquid smoke and perhaps smoked paprika, and bake.
I didn’t think anything could get better than coconut flakes, since their high fat content mimics that of bacon, and I love the taste of coconut, but they have one drawback — their size. You can’t make “strips” out of coconut flakes. Same issue with shiitake. Even long vegetables such as carrots and eggplant produce irregular strips when you run them across a mandoline. And how thinly could you possibly slice tofu? When I saw a recipe using rice paper, I immediately bookmarked it. Would the lack of flavour in the rice-paper wrappers — the same ones you use to make fresh spring rolls — help the “bacon” taste more purely of smoke, salt, sugar and fat? Would the fact that they’re already paper thin help them get super-crisp in the oven?
Yes and yes.
It’s not the easiest or quickest technique. You have to cut the rice paper with a very sharp knife or scissors to reduce the chances it will shatter, and the process of dipping the strips in water then coating them in marinade is time-consuming and messy. Even more important, you have to watch them carefully to avoid burning, which takes the taste from perfect to, well, a little acrid. But they bubble up in the oven, mimicking the look of bacon.
And the texture. Before I could even make a BLT (should that be BLT or RPLT?), I snuck one piece, and then another. Just like I used to do with you-know-what.
8 to 10 servings (makes about 40 pieces)
MAKE AHEAD: The roasted strips can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
Adapted from “Food Is the Solution: What to Eat to Save the World — 80+ Recipes for a Greener Planet and a Healthier You,” by Matthew Prescott (Flatiron Books, 2018).
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 Tbs low-sodium tamari
1 tsp maple syrup
1 tsp liquid smoke
¼ cup nutritional yeast
2 tsp Spanish smoked paprika (sweet or hot)
1 tsp granulated garlic (garlic powder)
1 tsp onion powder
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
10 sheets spring-roll rice-paper wrappers
1. Preheat the oven to 200 deg C. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.
2. Whisk together the oil, tamari, maple syrup, liquid smoke, nutritional yeast, smoked paprika, granulated garlic, onion powder and black pepper in a shallow baking dish until well incorporated. This is your marinade.
3. Use a very sharp knife or kitchen shears to cut all the rice paper wrappers into long, 2.5cm-wide strips. This is a little tricky, and your sheets may crack (especially if your knife isn’t sharp), but it doesn’t matter if the strips are ragged or if you end up with some half-pieces.
4. Set up a large workspace with the marinade, the baking sheets and a wide bowl or pie plate of room-temperature water.
5. Pair 2 rice-paper strips of roughly the same shape and size, holding them together. Dip them briefly in the water, which should cause them to lightly stick together. Squeegee the excess water off them with your fingers.
6. Dip the doubled strip through the marinade, gently, coating front and back. Let the excess drip off, then place on a baking sheet. Repeat until all the strips and have been dipped (using a brush as needed as you get to the end of the marinade). Line them up on the sheets as close as possible without overlapping.
7. Roast (middle rack) the strips until they bubble and curl in spots and start to feel crisp on the edges, 8 to 10 minutes. Be careful: They can quickly go from crispy to burnt. (If you want them a little chewier, take them out a minute earlier.)
Eat warm, or transfer the slices to a wire rack to cool before storing.