While we’re all on coronavirus lockdown, many of my friends have been spending their time at home baking and posting pictures of the sweet treats on social media (including my co-swooner, who’s been sprinkling her magic fairy dust over at Sugar Nerd). “Stress baking” is a thing, and it’s bringing comfort to people in this time of isolation and uncertainty. But while I have a major sweet tooth, I’ve been finding my own comfort in baking a simple, savory snack.
There are several vegetarians in my family, some bordering on vegan, so whenever we have a get-together, there are always meat alternatives on the table: Tofurky or Field Roast at Thanksgiving and Christmas, Smart Dogs and Boca Burgers on the 4th of July, and plant-based sausages and bacon for Easter and Mother’s Day brunch. Nobody makes a habit of eating these regularly, because they are often made with highly-processed ingredients, particularly one brand of fake bacon (aka “facon”) that has an ingredient list as long as my arm, including artificial flavors and colors—but real egg whites, making it unsuitable for vegans.
A few years ago, I saw a recipe for vegan bacon online that had only FOUR all-natural ingredients: soy sauce, maple syrup, liquid smoke, and large flake coconut (also called coconut chips). I immediately saw the logic of this lineup—salty, sweet, smoky, crunchy, and umami—but it took me until just recently to finally try it out.
There are so many things in life that fail to meet expectations, that Kirsti’s and my highest compliment is to say something is “not disappointing.” Well, coconut bacon is NOT disappointing. To use a friend’s favorite phrase, it’s “stupid good”—as in, so good that I ate most of the first batch in a single day and made myself sick, only to do the exact same thing with the second batch! Stoopid. But GOOD. It smells and tastes the most like real bacon of any other version I’ve tried.
Even if you’re not a vegetarian or vegan, this recipe is ridiculously easy and virtually guilt-free: no nitrites, pan full of grease, or piggies-in-peril. The soy sauce is high in sodium, but as long as you don’t eat an entire batch in one day (ahem), you should be alright. Pulse some in a food processor to make vegetarian bacon bits for sprinkling on salads, baked potatoes, and pizza. Enjoy it whole at breakfast, in a BLT (with vegan mayo), on a maple bar, or in any one of the many ways by which bacon has blown up foodies’ feeds in recent years.
If you’re stuck on store-bought “facon” and haven’t tried this incredibly realistic bake-on, you’re gonna fake it…’til you bake it.
VEGAN COCONUT BACON*
4 Tbsp. soy sauce or tamari [I used the low-sodium version]
2 Tbsp. liquid smoke
1 Tbsp. water
2 Tbsp. maple syrup
2½ cups unsweetened, large coconut flakes
Preheat oven to 350˚F. Whisk all wet ingredients together in a large bowl. Stir in the coconut and mix well to ensure even coating.
Spread the coconut in an even layer on a large parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes, then stir. Bake another 8 to10 minutes, keeping a very close eye on the coconut in the last few minutes. This stuff will go from not-quite done to completely burnt very fast! Remove from oven when the coconut flakes on the outer edges of the pan are becoming a deep dark brown, but not black.
Place baking sheet on a cooling rack. The coconut will continue to crisp as it cools. Coconut bacon will keep 1 to 2 weeks in an airtight, plastic container, but will become less crisp the longer you store it.
*When I found this recipe online years ago, I copied and pasted it into a Word document on my computer without making note of the source. While preparing this post, I was unable to locate the exact recipe, even when doing a Boolean search for some of the specific phrases. I am presenting it here verbatim in the hope that someone will recognize the recipe and I can give the original source its due.