Vegan Eggplant Fake-Un [CYOB]

Crispy, smoky, a little salty and a little sweet, thinly sliced and dried eggplant is the vegan answer to America's bacon addiction.

Crispy, smoky, a little salty and a little sweet, thinly sliced and dried eggplant is the vegan answer to America’s bacon addiction.

Create Your Own Bite #28

1 Large Eggplant

2 Tablespoons Maple Grove Farms Sugar-Free Maple Syrup

2 Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar

2 Tablespoons Low-Sodium Soy Sauce

2 Teaspoons Olive or Canola Oil

1/2 Teaspoon Salt

1 Tablespoon Water

1 Tablespoon Smoked Paprika

1 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper

Estimated Calories: 50 Per Serving (Makes 4 Servings)

Since I first launched Little Word Bites, I have been slowly building the “test kitchen,” which my roommate jokingly calls my palace, with the generous help of friends and family. For Christmas, my cousin got me a screen-printed Little Word Bites apron, and my mother got me a new white plate set (that photographs much better than red and yellow plates).  My best friend donated a lovely set of mason jars and decorative serving dishes, and my father has treated me to a series of wonderful, extremely dangerous kitchen tools.

Last year, he gave me my first adult knife set, which I hadn’t had for more than ten minutes before I nearly took off the tip of my finger while mincing onions.

When I moved to Brooklyn, his house warming gift was a high-speed food processor, and to congratulate me on my job with Travel + Leisure, he took me to Williams & Sonoma to help me realize my dream of mandolin-sliced squash pastas and french-fry cut zucchini.

My first attempt at the mandolin was Eggplant Fake-Un – inspired by a delicious “Storybook Salad” from one of my favorite vegan bloggers, Nom Yourself. (Who has a cookbook coming out at the end of the month that I can’t wait to get my hands on). It seemed like a fun, delicious way to try out my new OXO mandolin.

My interpretation of the Nom Yourself Storybook Salad, with avocado and fresh torn romaine lettuce.

My interpretation of the Nom Yourself Storybook Salad, with avocado, eggplant “bacon” and fresh torn romaine lettuce.

Eggplant Fake-Un is the vegan answer to cured pork belly bacon, and the raw answer to Morningstar Bacon Strips.

A Little Note: My recipe is not raw. Smoked paprika isn’t raw, and my oven won’t cook lower than 175 degrees. Also not raw. However, if you have a dehydrator, you can hold the paprika and prepare this dish raw with very few recipe revisions! Check out The Vedge for her version of this recipe, and tips for using a dehydrator to achieve eggplant-bacon-perfection.

To start, prepare your marinade. Whisk together all ingredients, except the eggplant, in a large, shallow bowl.  Feel free to experiment with flavors and seasonings. Some people prefer using cumin, rather than cayenne, and some versions of this dish call for a pinch of black pepper. Tamari is a great substitute for soy, if you have that on hand.

Next, quarter your eggplant, and slide the sections through the mandolin making thin, 1/4-thick slices. (This sounds too thick, but as the moisture in the eggplant evaporates you will end up with paper thin slices, and you don’t want your “bacon” to burn!)

A Little Note: Some people prefer to cut off the eggplant’s rubbery skin, but I found it added to the “bacon” appearance of the eggplant once cooked. It contributes to the quintessential marble-effect we’ve all come to equate with America’s favorite pork product.

As I’m sure you all know, mandolins are extremely sharp. The most sharp. The sharpest. And even when they come with a hand guard, like the OXO, it can still be a tricky and dangerous device. Go slow, be careful, and do NOT rush the slicing process. In typical LWB fashion, I was futzing with the hand guard when my eggplant got stuck in the blade. While trying to remove it, I nicked my finger.

While I know you, my lovely readers, are much less clumsy than I, I still encourage you to be very alert when using a mandolin. It’s a miracle that I haven’t lost any fingers since launching LWB, but I have the burn marks and various blade-scars to prove that the pursuit of the culinary arts is truly a practice, not perfection. 

Using a mandolin to prepare uniform, thin slices of eggplant. An electric vegetable slicer will work too, or a good old-fashion chef's knife.

Using a mandolin to prepare uniform, thin slices of eggplant. An electric vegetable slicer will work too, or a good old-fashion chef’s knife.

Once you’ve safely prepared your eggplant, lay the slices on a greased or sprayed pan, and pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees. Brush the marinade onto each slice, and then turn, repeating on the other side. If you can prepare this dish ahead of time, I prefer to let the eggplant sit in the marinade overnight.  Simply brush the marinade on each individual slice and then store them in the fridge in a tupperware with the remaining marinade drizzled over the top, so that the flavors and color are deeply absorbed by the eggplant.

While many people prefer making "bacon" out of zucchini or squash, the eggplant makes the best aesthetic bacon around. Especially if you leave the skin on!

While many people prefer making “bacon” out of zucchini or squash, the eggplant makes the best aesthetic bacon around. Especially if you leave the skin on!

When each piece has been generously coated, you can still distribute the remaining marinade over the eggplant slices in the pan. Cook for an hour, and then turn the oven off and open the door. (This dish is ideal for cool fall nights, and not-so-good for sweltering, humid summer evenings – which is why I was thrilled to share it with you today, on the FIRST OF FALL). When the stove has cooled completely, repeat this process.

Each oven is different, and it’s here that you’ll need to figure out what works best for you and your culinary castle. After two hours in the oven and two, half-hour cooling periods, my Eggplant Fake-Un was crispy and complete!

This dish is extremely versatile. Serve the strips with a Fat Free Spinach and Kale dip as an entertaining appetizer, or chop it up for “Fake-Un Bits.”

I turned mine into a deconstructed BLT salad, with an avocado sauce drizzle. For a filling lunch-to-go, put a tablespoon or two of guacamole into a half of a Trader Joe’s Pocketfull of Fiber Wheat Pita (only 55 calories in half a pita and five fabulous grams of fiber) and add romaine, sliced cherry tomatoes, and strips of Eggplant Fake-Un. Add a kick by finishing your pita pocket with a drizzle of smoked barbecue sauce.

My vegan, healthy, high-fiber "BE-L-T." This Bacon-Eggplant Lettuce Tomato Pita Pocket is a great option for lunch or a light dinner.

My vegan, healthy, high-fiber “BE-L-T.” This Bacon-Eggplant Lettuce Tomato Pita Pocket is a great option for lunch or a light dinner.

Serve it with a soft poached egg for breakfast, or use it as a vegan alternative to a Prosciutto Caprese Salad, like the one I had for lunch.

Fresh basil leaves, thick-sliced heirloom tomato, melted cheddar and Fake-Un is a fun flavor rift on the classic Italian app.

Fresh basil leaves, thick-sliced heirloom tomato, melted cheddar and Fake-Un is a fun flavor rift on the classic Italian app. A Little Note: This is clearly the un-vegan use for bacon. Woops .

With the recipe for Eggplant Fake-Un in your recipe arsenal, you’ll always have a filling, healthy answer to that peculiar craving that can sometimes surface when you walk into a restaurant at brunch, and the undeniable smell of smoky bacon of stirs a desire for a chewy, salty, satisfying bite.

Until next time,

Melanie

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