Check it: roasted shiitake bacon! So savory and delicious, naturally vegan with wholesome seasonings, vegetarian BLT tacos are served in a warm corn tortilla with lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, and amazing, crispy shiitake bacon.
When I was a full-time vegetarian, I never got too excited about recipes that were “vegetarianized.” I never needed them, really, because a plant-strong diet is already right up my taste buds’ alley. Give me a vegetable-heavy, well-seasoned, lightly dressed salad, and I’m good to go (big salad made early in the week = leftovers = no fuss = even better). Top it with a fried or poached egg, and I’m one happy camper. A brown rice vegetable stir fry? Yes! Feeling down and bluesy? A big bowl of garlic buttered pasta with black pepper is comfort food at its best. Being a vegetarian was only a challenge in restaurants, and since I’m not a big fan of eating out anyway, it wasn’t all that much of a pain.
Now, if I ever were to go vegan, it would be a different story altogether, because without eggs, dairy, honey, etc., there’s an entire range of foods that you’d have to live without — including white condiments (like mayo and tartar sauce), cake frostings, etc. — if you’re not willing to do some creative (but usually no less delicious) ingredient substitutions.
I once stuck a big toe in the vegan waters to see what’s what, and that’s how I came across tempeh bacon. You can buy packaged fakin’ bacon, of course, but the homemade version is miles better. And, what’s nice about it is that there are no strange ingredient substitutions required for tempeh bacon. It’s not at all like subbing ground flax for eggs, or whipping up a tofu scramble (which, to this day, I still can’t wrap my tummy around, no matter how many veggies you put in it).
No, the basic flavor of bacon is easily reproduced from ingredients you probably have in your pantry right now: soy sauce, paprika, maple syrup, salt, maybe liquid smoke or balsamic vinegar. Nothing scary there at all. Tempeh is a blank slate, and absorbs everything like a sponge. The only issue with tempeh bacon is that it’s hard to get the texture right, if you’re a crispy bacon girl, like I was when I still ate bacon.
And that’s where shiitake mushrooms come in. I was minding my own business, browsing my FB feed one day, when a post from Rodale News caught my eye. They were sharing a vegetarian BLT recipe from Laurie David’s book, The Family Cooks (affiliate link), featuring not tempeh bacon, but shiitake bacon.
It was a forehead-slapping moment, for sure.
Roasted shiitakes with lots of savory, umami seasonings. Tempeh is awesome, but roasting shiitakes takes care of the texture problem — they actually crisp up without singeing — and, oh my goodness, roasted shiitakes with any kind of seasonings is really something. As in, nibble-them-straight-from-the-pan something. But with salty-meaty-slightly-sweet flavors … who needs the b-word*?
In fact, in my almost daily testings of this recipe last week (experimenting with other mushrooms — shiitakes are definitely the best — and tweaking the seasoning mix to my preference), I munched most of every recipe before they even had a chance to cool (and on taco photography day had to make a second batch because what I had left from the first batch wouldn’t fill one taco much less three). I crumbled the test leftovers on salads and pasta, tossed them into a frittata, and had more than one meal of today’s vegetarian BLT tacos. But mostly, I noshed from the pan, guilt-free because they’re shiitakes after all, perfectly roasted with tasty seasonings.
I debated what to call these tacos. Using the “B” in “BLT” seems a little like cheating. And, I added avocado, which sent me down the side streets of “BALT” and “BLAT” tacos (ugh). Then, “SALT tacos” was in the running for a short time (shiitake, avocado, lettuce, and tomato), but, ultimately, I had to come back around good ole “BLT.”
Whatever you call them, if you’re looking for a satisfying and healthy alternative to bacon, I hope you’ll try these vegetarian BLT tacos. They’re not only vegetarian, but also naturally vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, and nut-free.
And I can say from tireless testing that they make an awesome meal, even when pinched for time (and/or fresh corn tortillas): toss the four taco veggies into a quick salad with a simple lemon-olive oil dressing. Delicious.
Finally, I know Cinco de Mayo is an odd holiday for Americans to give a nod to (much less pour out our Mexican food obsessions all over the interwebs), but I think it is, at least, one heck of a good excuse to eat tacos all day long. Like food in bowls, there’s just something special about food in a taco shell, especially when it’s vegetarian BLT tacos.
*Dear Bacon Lovers: I know you really hate when plant-eating folk try to usurp your food mascot by calling things that clearly aren’t bacon bacon, but … no one has come up with a suitably catchy veggie name for the salty-mapley-smoky-umami flavors of bacon, so I’m afraid it still remains the best description. Please forgive. 🙂
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons tamari or soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika pimenton
- 1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- salt use smoked salt if you have it
- 8 ounces shiitake mushrooms sliced about 1/4" (discard stems)
- 12-15 cherry tomatoes chopped
- 1 avocado cubed or sliced (however you prefer it)
- 1 cup chopped romaine lettuce
- 6 to rtillas corn or flour, your choice
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 lime
Preheat oven to 350°F with the rack centered. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and spray with non-stick spray.
Whisk the olive oil, tamari, maple syrup, smoked paprika, and balsamic in a large mixing bowl until thoroughly combined. Add the shiitake slices, tossing thoroughly. If you don't mind getting handsy with your food, gently massage the marinade into the mushrooms (this will do a better job of coating them).
Spread the mushrooms in a single layer on the baking sheet. Season generously with salt. Roast the mushrooms for 45 minutes, flipping the slices after 20 minutes. At 35 minutes, stay close to the oven, keeping an eye on the mushrooms. They're finished when they're nice and dark but not charred.
Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes.
When the shiitake bacon is 15 minutes from finishing, begin heating the tortillas*, stashing them in a packet fashioned from foil.
Line or layer the warmed taco shells with lettuce, tomatoes, avocados, and the shiitake bacon strips. Before serving, sprinkle the cilantro over the tacos and add a squeeze of lime, and a little sour cream, if that's your thing.
*Heating corn tortillas can be tricky, since some brands of tortillas are drier than others (which can cause cracking). And keeping them all soft and pliable until the meal is served is even trickier. I most often use a large cast iron pan, and accept that there might be a few sacrificed to crackage. Flour tortillas are far easier to heat.