“Eggplant bacon.” The very words are enough to make me wrinkle up my nose in distaste. One, because I don’t agree with the basic concept of trying to make one food imitate another (I like veggie burgers as much as the next girl, but let’s be honest: they taste nothing like a beef burger), and two, because, well: eggplant is gross and bacon is BACON.
I wish I liked eggplant, I really do. Especially this year: it seems to be Eggplant Nirvana out there this growing season, and we have been getting 4 – 6 pounds of eggplant every week in the CSA. Big fat, sleekly purple teardrops, long, skinny Japanese eggplants, striped, pale purple & white ones: they only thing they seem to have in common is that they are all bigger than usual and they never. stop. coming. Although there are a couple of eggplant dishes that I like, including this baba ganoush, a la David Lebovitz, and this roasted tomato & eggplant soup from Martha, I’m not the biggest fan. It’s a combination of texture & the bitter flavor that hasn’t won me over, despite giving it the college try in a number of dishes over the years. And Tai hates eggplant almost as much as The Evil Weed: he’ll eat it, occasionally, but it can be like trying to cajole a 5 year-old to eat dinner (there’s a reason I don’t have kids).
Enter “eggplant bacon.” I was looking for shelf-stable ways to preserve this season’s ludicrous eggplant bounty, because having 20 lbs of chopped eggplant in the chest freezer that we are never going to eat didn’t seem like the best plan. And shelf-stable preserves, like antipasto and pickled eggplant, can be gifted to our eggplant-loving friends and I don’t have to suffer the guilt of tossing sad, brown eggplants onto the compost heap. But I’d already made two batches of each: I was looking for something a little different. I tossed myself on the mercy of the LK Facebook page, where several of you mentioned that you had dried eggplant successfully – mostly for use in winter recipes, to be sure, but at least one person mentioned marinating in ranch dressing prior to drying and eating as a snack (there are lots of good eggplant recipe & preserving ideas there, if you too are in Eggplantopia). So I decided to give eggplant bacon a try: not expecting anything remotely bacon-like, mind you, just thinking that adding the spicy, smoky, umami flavor of tamari, smoked paprika and cayenne to eggplant couldn’t be a bad thing. And? It wasn’t.
The drying solved a lot of my textural issues with eggplant: instead of being spongy or slimy, it was crisp, chewy; nothing remotely like bacon, but somewhere between dried apple and beef jerky. And the marinade definitely added spicy-smoky flavor: I can see where it could be a useful stand-in for the flavor of bacon in a vegetarian sandwich or wrap. But make no mistake: this still tastes like eggplant. Less gross eggplant, to be sure, because the flavor of the marinade comes through strongly: but I’m not sure “less gross” is a ringing recipe endorsement. However, if you like eggplant to begin with, you might well love this recipe: even I thought, when I tried it, “Hmm. It’s not so bad. I could maybe snack on this – if it didn’t taste quite so eggplant-y.” And I’m sure that one or more of my eggplant-loving friends will enjoy it. So, if you like eggplant, I say go for it: you’ll likely like this even more. But if you are looking for something to do with eggplant that doesn’t taste like eggplant, this isn’t it (I suggest the baba ganoush). If you are looking for something that tastes like bacon, well: I suggest bacon.
Adapted from Eggplant Bacon by Gena at Choosing Raw
- 1 and 1/2 lbs eggplant, rinsed, stem removed, and sliced to 1/4-inch in long strips
- 1/4 cup tamari (I use low-sodium)
- 1/4 cup vinegar (I used homemade peach skin vinegar)
- 1/4 cup maple syrup (or 2 tbsp maple syrup + 2 tbsp brown sugar or honey, if you run out of maple syrup)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tsp chili powder, BBQ rub, etc. (I used Southwest seasoning from Penzey’s)
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tsp salt (omit if using regular-sodium tamari)
- Arrange the eggplant in rows in a 9″ X 13″ baking dish. Combine the marinade ingredients in a small bowl; whisk to mix well. Pour over eggplant slices, turning those on the bottom so that all pieces are well coated. Marinate at room temperature for about 1 hour, then shake off excess marinade and arrange on trays in a dehydrator, pieces not touching, and dehydrate at 140 degrees F for approximately 12 – 16 hours, or until the slices are crisp.
Yields 1 scant quart dried eggplant slices (about 2 lbs would fill a quart jar without squashing the slices).
- The original recipe claims that, without a dehydrator, you can achieve the same thing by roasting in a 350 degree F oven for about 45 minutes; I’m skeptical of this claim, since I think it would take longer for eggplant to get truly crisp, and it seems unlikely that a short cooking time at high heat would dry the pieces out sufficiently for safe shelf storage. But you could try cooking for 4 – 8 hours in a low oven (as low as your oven will go), or try using the warming drawer.
- Obviously, marinade options are endless: this marinade did provide some of that salty-smoky-umami flavor that you may be looking for as a vegan option to bacon, but I think any thin marinade that you like will work.
In airtight containers, at cool room temperature for several months.