Shortly after becoming vegetarian I remember trying to make tempeh bacon, unsuccessfully. Looking back, I realize that my attempts proved unfruitful due to the fact that having never tried tempeh before, I was expecting the finished product to taste and feel exactly like the pork bacon I was used to eating previously. But when it turned out neither thin and crispy nor tasting like, well, “real bacon,” I decided I did not like tempeh bacon.
Now, more than a year later, my attitudes have done a complete one-eighty. Somewhere along the way I decided to give tempeh another try, incorporating it into spaghetti sauces or using it to make vegan taco meat. Recently, I tried a vegan breakfast burrito at a local restaurant, Four Cafe, adding in tempeh bacon. I was so impressed with the texture, which was nice and crispy, and the flavor which was smoky, salty and sweet. So after finally having a good experience with tempeh bacon, I knew that I could create something just as good in my own kitchen, this time with more informed expectations.
Having already learned more about preparing tempeh, I knew that the key was steaming it for about ten minutes prior to marinating or cooking it. This helps to decrease any bitterness and also helps it soak up any marinades or seasonings. I use my silicone vegetable steamer to steam the tempeh.
While the tempeh is steaming, I prepare the marinade. We need something smoky, sweet and salty to achieve the flavors that I mentioned earlier. Liquid smoke is an easy way to provide that first essential taste of bacon. If you don’t have this on your shelf already, it’s easy to find in most supermarkets and handy to have around for any other recipes that you might want a hint of smokiness. Split pea soup is a good example, since most recipes call for pork and the liquid smoke will help to give it some of that flavor when omitting the meat.
Saltiness is essential for recreating a bacon-y flavor. In addition to salt, tamari provides an added bold, rich flavor to the marinade. Another typical flavor of bacon is sweetness, which we can easily get from a variety of ingredients such as brown sugar, agave or my personal preference, maple syrup. One important thing to remember is to use real maple syrup and not the imitation stuff. Just look for a label that says 100% maple syrup and get either grade A or grade B.
You can pan-fry the tempeh bacon or bake it in the oven. Instructions for both below.
If you try this recipe, please let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.
- 1 8oz. package of tempeh*
- 1/3 cup tamari or soy sauce*
- 1/3 water
- 3 tablespoons real maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
- 1-2 tablespoons canola oil for frying
- Cut into long, thin slices.
- Steam the tempeh slices for 10 minutes.
- While the tempeh is steaming, prepare the marinade by combining the tamari, water, maple syrup and liquid smoke.
- After the tempeh is done steaming, remove from the pan. Place the slices in a flat dish and pour in the marinade, coating each slice well.
- Marinate at least 30 minutes, turning the slices and re-coating with the marinade occasionally.
- For a stronger flavor, marinate overnight.
- If frying, heat the canola oil in a pan and add the tempeh bacon slices, cooking for about 5 minutes on each side, or until crispy.
- If using the oven, bake at 400 degrees for 7-8 minutes on each side, or until crispy.
- Tempeh bacon can be used in any recipe that calls for bacon! Serve with tofu scramble or inside of a breakfast burrito. You can also make a tempeh BLT or crumble up it up on top of a salad.
- *Tempeh is made with soy, which is one of the top seven genetically modified foods with 93 percent of soy crops being genetically modified.” I recommend buying 100% organic soy products, which guarantees that it is non-GMO.