As summer wanes, we're launched into prime tomato season. I have a confession to make: when I went veg, I rarely balked at my choice. Vegetables were often enough, and when they weren't, the sporadic veggie burger splurge would fill a hole in my comfort foodie soul. But inevitably, Iowa harvest would hit, and the smell of BLT's wafting from family kitchens made me sniffle. Mmmmm. The smell of bacon. Let's admit it: if it weren't for the inconvenient killing involved, not to mention it's nutritional and environmental profile, bacon would be the perfect comfort food. It's slightly crunchy and yet sometimes chewy, hearty, salty, smoky, and slightly sweet. It's amazing sandwiched between tomatoes and sourdough, and deeply satisfying.
There was something I missed about it. Then I went to a little veggie cafe we sometimes haunt when we're in Omaha. And I fell in love. Ordering the Tempeh (Bacon) Lettuce and Tomato sandwich made my mouth water. It also filled me with slight twinges of possible preemptive disappointment. Then it arrived. With each crunchy, savory bite I began to sound more like Meg Ryan in that movie from the 80's. On our bi-annual trips to Omaha I would swoon back to the cafe for their TLT, and if I missed it, it felt like the trip was lacking. Then one day it dawned on me: maybe I could make my own tempeh bacon. I knew that in some supermarkets in bigger cities they sold a pre-made tempeh bacon product, but even if it were available to me, I wanted to know how to do it my own. This would enable me to ensure that I would feel good about the ingredients, save money, and give me another awesome skill to add to my growing bad ass vegan repertoire. Yeah, I said it. Learning to cook all counterculture deserves a few moments of narcissism here and there, am I right?
After trying out a few different recipes, I've tweaked the ones I loved and have landed permanently on this incredibly simple approach. It's perfect. I hope it rocks your tomato-infused world this fall.
- 1 package tempeh, sliced length-wise into thin strips (approiximately 1/4 inch thick).
- 2 teaspoons Liquid Smoke
- 1 tablespoon Maple Syrup
- 1/4 cup Tamari
- Water, to cover (approximately 1 cup)
- After slicing your tempeh into strips, place it into a steamer basket. Steam until slightly tender but still intact. If you over steam it, it will begin to crumble, so be cautious. But know that if you over-due it, it's not the end of the world. Your sandwich will just be a little messier than usual. Steam for approximately 8 minutes.
- While tempeh is steaming, prep your marinade. This means mixing your liquid ingredients and stirring well. Pour marinade into a shallow pan or casserole dish.
- Gently and carefully remove your tempeh strips from the steamer basket and place them into your marinade. Cover and let sit 1 hour.
- Heat a good high heat oil (I like grape seed) over medium-high heat for approximately 2 minutes.
- Pan fry your tempeh strips until they're crispy, flipping every couple of minutes.
- Toast your bread and slice up tomatoes and avocado. Spread your favorite veganaise onto warm toasted bread and pile with your sliced toppings and lettuce.
- Savor and enjoy.
Happy harvest, herbivores! There's a terrific video below from Colleen Patrick-Goudrea of Compassionate Cooks, to get you started.
*Note: Obviously, if you have a gluten intolerance you can still TLT it with gluten free bread. Can't have soy? No problem! Substitute eggplant strips for the tempeh and substitute a reduced mushroom broth for the tamari. In addition to using your tempeh bacon on sandwiches, you can stuff tomatoes, peppers, or mushrooms with it, or crumble and sprinkle over salads. Cheers!
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.