After going home for two weeks and buying all of my produce at local farmstands, I realized what I had been missing out on all summer by shopping at grocery stores. Not only is it great to support local farmers, but the food tastes exponentially better fresh off the farms, and it helps limit your carbon footprint by cutting down on the miles the food needs to travel to get to your fridge. Not to mention that you’ll know where your food comes from and, even if it’s not an organic farm, local farms are much less likely to use the extensive pesticides and chemicals that large scale commercial farms are using (or at least you can find out what they are using). Once I got back to Boston I immediately started searching for my best options for buying fresh local produce and decided on a weekly CSA box.
My cooking routine has gotten a little monotonous recently, so I decided I was going to use these boxes as my own personal “Chopped” challenge. It’s given me a fun way to switch things up and experiment with new recipes, so get ready for a lot of CSA box inspired blog posts in the near future! First up was eggplant “bacon” because something about summer and farm-fresh tomatoes has been giving me major BLT cravings that desperately needed to be remedied.
While I haven’t had bacon in over 5 years and the idea of most meats repulses me, there is still something alluring about the smell of sizzling bacon. Maybe it’s because I associate it with the smell of breakfast cooking on Christmas morning? Or maybe memories of bagel sandwiches from Bagel Buoy during high school? Something about it still draws me in, and it’s one of the few foods that I still miss since going vegan. But this eggplant bacon filled the house with a smoky delicious aroma that brought those memories flooding back, minus the animal cruelty, fat and cholesterol.
Eggplant is a food that I have always struggled to cook properly. Somehow it always either ends up too mushy, undercooked or burned, so I was a little nervous to see it in my CSA box. This recipe has drastically changed my view of it, and now I’m secretly hoping to see another eggplant in my box next Thursday, just so I can create more bacon-y goodness.The strips somehow ended up both crispy and slightly chewy, just like real bacon, and had that smoky, salty barbeque taste. A few slices of this bacon, paired with the fresh tomatoes and mizuna from my CSA box, a couple of slices of gluten-free bread and some Just Mayo and I had perfectly recreated a gluten-free, vegan version of a BLT.
- 1 medium eggplant
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 3 tbsp tamari (or soy sauce, if you’re ok with gluten)
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tbsp olive oil (plus more for brushing)
- 1 tsp liquid smoke
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/8 tsp chili powder
- Preheat oven to 425F.
- Remove the stem of the eggplant and quarter it lengthwise, making 4 even long, thin sections.
- Slice each piece of the eggplant lengthwise into thin strips. (*See note below* I used a mandolin, but this step can be done carefully by hand.)
- Arrange eggplant strips in a single layer on a paper towel and generously sprinkle with salt. Allow this to sit for at least 30 minutes. You’ll see the eggplant start to bead up with water. (The salt here helps to draw the water out of the eggplant, making it taste less bitter, and helping to prevent it from becoming soggy when cooking. – Clearly I’m putting my chemistry degree and my year working in an osmosis lab to good use here).
- After 30 minutes, rinse off the eggplant strips to remove the salt added in the previous step and allow the strips to dry on new paper towels.
- Brush each strip with olive oil, and arrange in a single layer on a well-greased pan (I used a silpat liner and it worked perfectly).
- Cook eggplant strips for 14 minutes, flipping half way through.
- Remove the strips from the oven and reduce the heat to 350F
- Allow the strips to cool while preparing the marinade.
- Prepare the marinade by combining balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, tamari, olive oil, liquid smoke, salt, paprika, black pepper and chili powder in a bowl.
- Line a cookie sheet with foil, and place a baking rack over it. (The foil is optional, but it certainly makes for an easier clean up).
- Dip each strip of eggplant in the marinade and place strips in a single layer on the baking rack.
- Bake at 350F for 12 more minutes, or until the strips are nice and crispy.(Cooking time will vary based on the thickness of your strips)
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
- Enjoy along side a tofu scramble, or a delicious BLT.
*When I first started prepping this recipe, I wasn’t exactly sure how thick I should cut the eggplant strips, so I cut half of the eggplant using the thick slice setting of the mandolin (1/4″) , and the other half using the thin slice setting (1/16″). I personally preferred the thinner sliced strips, because they better replicated the well-done extra crispy pieces of bacon that I used to claim at the breakfast table. The thicker slices were still delicious, just a little chewier, and more closely resembled the fattier, rare pieces of bacon that my brother always preferred.*