Eggplant steps up to create a meat-free way to enjoy a BLT
We love bacon. Like, we love bacon, a lot. We grew up in a home where bacon was not really something that was featured prominently. Breakfast was usually an egg fried in olive oil with a side of feta, some Greek yogourt (before it was all the rage), or toast topped with tomato and feta. Bacon, when we had it, was usually enjoyed at a friend’s house, or after begging our parents to buy some when we tagged along at the grocery store. Our love of bacon has allowed up to come up with neat ways to incorporate it into our own cooking, like when we used it to wrap up dates and feta. These bite-sized mezes are so great they even had our parents wondering why they never thought to cook with bacon themselves. Really!?
Despite our love for the fatty, salty, and pretty unhealthy traditional bacon, we also recognize that moderation is key. So, often when we crave bacon, we turn to this alternative: bacon made of eggplant. Seriously! Now, before you turn your nose at the idea, or switch to another food blog, deciding that we have lost our marbles (and all credibility), let’s clarify a few things. First, no, eggplant bacon will never taste entirely like real bacon (hence the italics). Second, you will not fool anyone into thinking that they are eating meat. Third, it takes a bit more time and preparation to make this alternative of vegan bacon than the
traditional real variety. But, fourth, this is actually pretty delicious! And whereas you might limit yourself to a few rashers of bacon when making a traditional BLT sandwich, here you can pile on the bacon and feel pretty good about doing so.
The idea behind this eggplant bacon came to us several years ago when reading a cookbook by the very amazing Isa Chandra Moskowitz in her book Appetite For Reduction. At the time we were exploring the world of vegan cuisine, in part to find new and exciting ways to help with our long and extended periods of Orthodox lent, but also to discover some meatless menu ideas, in general. There is a recipe for eggplant bacon in this book, which we have adapted and changed over the years to suit our tastes (although the original is pretty darn good too).
Tamari sauce is similar, but not the same, as soy sauce. Although both are by-products of fermented soybeans, tamari sauce is traditionally a by-product of miso paste. Although they may appear similar in colour, and have flavours which are somewhat comparable, tamari sauce tends to be less salty and more balanced. Finally, tamari sauce usually contains little to no wheat, whereas soy sauce contains wheat. We have made this eggplant bacon with both soy sauce and tamari sauce, and much prefer the latter, which is how we have presented the recipe. Having said that, if tamari sauce is too difficult to find, use the soy sauce.
Another key ingredient for this eggplant bacon is the liquid smoke. Liquid smoke is a water-soluble liquid used to flavour food. It is used as a substitute for cooking with wood smoke while retaining a similar flavour and is generally made by concentrating the smoke from wood. You can find many varieties of liquid smoke, depending upon the wood used to make it. The variety of wood used is not really that important but try to find liquid smoke that does not have any additives. Although there have been some reports of the cancer-causing properties of liquid smoke, reading this article from the McGill Office of Science and Society by Dr. Joe Schwarcz should put your mind at ease. Plus, it’s a really interesting read!
If you would like to keep this sandwich vegan, then you can substitute the mayonnaise we use for a vegan mayonnaise spread. This is usually quite easy to find in any health food store, or the natural food section of most major grocers.
The type of bread is also pretty flexible; we tend to like the flavour of dark or pumpernickel bread in this sandwich, but you can definitely switch it up. Because tamari sauce is usually gluten free (check the label to be certain), if gluten is a concern for you, using a gluten free bread makes this sandwich perfect for your needs.
Mia Kouppa: Eggplant BLT sandwich
- 1 large or 1 medium sized eggplant
- Cooking spray
- 2 tablespoons tamari sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
- 1 medium tomato
- 2 lettuce leaves
- 1 tablespoon mayonnaise (or a vegan mayonnaise substitute)
- 2 slices dark bread
- Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
- To prepare the eggplant bacon, cut the stem end and the base end off of the eggplant. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise, and then continue to slice each half into slices which are about 1/8 of an inch thick. It is useful to have a very sharp knife or a very sharp mandolin to do this. Do not worry if each slice is not perfectly equal in thickness; the variation will add texture to your bacon.
- Place your eggplant slices on a parchment lined cookie sheet, being careful not to have them overlap. Give them a quick spray with the cooking spray and place them in the middle rack of your oven for about 7 – 8 minutes.
- Remove the baking pan from the oven and flip the eggplant slices over. If you see that there are some slices that have already started to brown significantly, remove them from the cookie sheet and set aside. Spray the remaining eggplant slices with a little more more cooking spray and return to the oven for another 2 – 3 minutes.
- Remove your pan of eggplant slices; you should find them brown, somewhat caramelized, slightly burnt in some places. There should be variation in colour and texture in your eggplant slices. Set them aside on a plate to cool and then reduce the heat of your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In a small bowl mix together the tamari sauce with the liquid smoke. Dip your cooled eggplant slices into this mixture and then place them back on the baking tray. Bake in the middle rack of your 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 3 – 5 minutes.
- Remove the eggplant bacon from the baking tray and allow to cool on a cooling rack.
- Meanwhile, assemble your sandwich.
- Toast your bread until the desired doneness. Spread the mayonnaise on one side of each slice of bread. Begin to layer your sandwich with tomato slices, lettuce and the eggplant bacon. Enjoy.