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As a vegan of nearly a year bacon has come as a "great loss" and my collard greens have suffered for it greatly.

I have been experimenting with tvp bacon bits, vegan bacon strips (both frozen and refrigerated), tempeh, liquid smoke, soy sauce, butter, etc. to get something of the salty and fatty flavor/texture that I used to get with pork bacon but have yet to be successful.

Additionally I have tried boiling, slow cooking, sauteeing and a few other methods of cooking. The slow cooker seems to be the best, helping everything cook down as far as I want, but it does take a good while and does not get the animal fat infusion that I used to enjoy so much.

Suggestions for helping add some fat and texture to my way too healthy and way too mushy pot of vegan greens?

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I've never made collard greens myself, but have you tried mushrooms and extra salt? – Yamikuronue Jan 15 '13 at 17:29
@Yamikuronue: I have used salt to the point of making them inedible, haha. I have also tried mushrooms, and they may be the closest I've come texturally, but I still lose the fattiness of bacon. I want that kind of animal grease thing going (seems silly, doesn't it?), but can't get it with the 'shrooms. – colejkeene Jan 15 '13 at 17:34
@Sobachatina: Haha, I am very sure I want to be (an ethical) vegan. Casting aside my aversion to animal cruelty and the impact on the planet, maintaining a plant-based lifestyle helps me keep the 110# I've lost off. Generally I find it to be the easiest way to stay healthy, but there are foods I miss. I didn't quit eating meat/products because I don't like the taste. – colejkeene Jan 15 '13 at 17:38
Have you tried smoked salt? – spiceyokooko Jan 16 '13 at 0:03
I presume you've seen this?… I've seen recipes that use soy sauce instead of salt too. – Stefano Jan 16 '13 at 13:16
up vote 9 down vote accepted

As a vegetarian, I regularly try to compensate for the lack of meat in a normally meat-containing dish using a number of methods, though I feel none can truly replace the addition of meat perfectly. In my experience, duplicating the effects of the addition of meat to a dish requires considering individually the effects the addition would have.

First I'll address the fat added. Since the lard present in bacon is high in saturated fats, you can attempt to duplicate that using vegetable oils that are high in saturated fats, like hard margarine or palm oil. While I wouldn't normally advocate with using an oil specifically because it has higher saturated fat content (for health reasons), in this case it will likely help the quality of the finished greens. Consider using a smaller proportion of the more saturated fats by adding in a lighter/healthier oil, like canola or grapeseed, as a portion of the added fat. There is no single rule for getting the fat content of a dish like this right, and it's often a matter of taste.

The smokiness added by the bacon is also a consideration. While liquid smoke could work, the volatility of the product can contribute to the flavor getting poorly concentrated in the food. I have had good results with both smoked salt and smoked black pepper in concentrating smokiness in a dish, and I have found that adding either more near the end of cooking encourages the flavor to be retained more prominently.

For the savoriness added by the aminos in the pork, there is a wide variety of vegan options for its substitution. A good place to start, in my opinion, is to use a vegan not-meat bouillon (e.g. from Edward & Sons) as the base of the broth. The addition of nutritive yeast (and to a lesser extent mushrooms) can also help infuse the broth with umami, and is a common ingredient in vegan broth preparations. If desired, the addition of liquid aminos (e.g. Bragg's Liquid Aminos), and/or MSG can help further improve the savoriness of the greens.

For the texture added by the bacon itself your intuition of using TVP or vegan bacon is likely the way to go. While neither adds much flavor itself (vegan bacon being far more mellow in its baconiness), they are probably your best bet for duplicating a meaty texture.

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I would just like to add that kelp powder also has flavor enhancing compounds that can help to replace the amino acids missing from the pork. – SourDoh Jun 28 '13 at 21:35

Most of the varieties of a product called Bacon Salt (originally semi-local to my area, but I think now available nationally in the US and online) are vegan, and all, to my knowledge, are vegetarian.

I've used it in concert with various fats (olive oil, butter, neutral vegetable oils) to get fairly convincing result, usually adding it directly to the fat a short time before adding the greens if I'm using a slow braising green like collard greens. Just make sure you don't get the oil so hot that it burns the Bacon Salt. It does a nice job of infusing the smoky flavor into the oil that way.

Alternatively, you could go a different direction entirely and reset your expectations: I'm very fond of various Ethiopian preparations of collard greens, sometimes written as "Abesha Gomen", which may or may not use butter depending on the variation, but does use various spices. There are fairly reasonable recipes for that online if you search for either Abesha Gomen or Ethiopian Collard Greens.

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The normal approach we have tried has been salty, smokey, sweet. Salty and smokey has been done with smoked and kosher salts. the smokiness is aided by the addition best of not just a liquid smoke product, but earthy things like toasted sesame oil. A freshly ground shiitake powder can also be added.

The sweet is generally managed by adding maple syrup. This we normally cut with liquid aminos or vegan Worcester sauce and onion powder and nutritional yeast (less the latter, my partner dislikes it).

The most important technique element to apply would be to cook the tempeh strips, or whatever you're preparing, very low and very slow for at least thirty minutes. We typically use a cast iron skillet for the task as the reduction will continue needing attention. (obviously, add the greens after the tempeh or mushrooms are done cooking). You can also marinade and dehydrate portabella.

Dried mushrooms are bound to work best for a crisp texture, and will likely provide a better counter to the greens than mushy tempeh (which are well suited to A tofu scramble). We have generally been disappointed by both pre-packaged vegan bacon substitutes as well as any TVP 'bits' approaches as the first doesn't cook up or modify well to achieve flavor, and the latter just don't hold up at all. The fatty lip and mouth feel will be boosted by adding a final bit of toasted sesame and a better amount of a mild oil at the end.

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We aren't huge fans of nutritional yeast either, but I have yet to add maple syrup to my collards- will do that in the next batch for sure. With @Stefano's comment with the "make mushrooms taste like bacon" method I may just hit my mark! Thanks! – colejkeene Jan 16 '13 at 13:56
@Nico as a last ditch, Bacos are vegan, tho I wouldn't really say they taste like bacon, or food – mfg Jan 16 '13 at 14:57

Coconut oil. As OmniaFacial mentioned about solid fats, a good tasting raw coconut carries all the the spices well and softens up the collards brillantly.

Dried onion is also somehow more compatible than fresh with collards, IMHO.

Secret weapons: coiander seed or root and either a bit of yeast extract instead of soy sauce or Braggs (very high umami); or a few drops dark sesame oil with tiny bit prickly ash oil and a dribble of black vinegar for an Asian Fusian kick.

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I was watching Diners, Driveins and Dives the other day (yes he's annoying, but some of the dishes are interesting), and one of the chefs had smoked coconut as a bacon replacement -- he shaved it thin, put it on a wire rack, then put it in his smoker. It was lightly browned by the time it came out. So cocnut could give you the texture, fatty, sweet, and smokey. – Joe Jan 2 '14 at 1:38
oooh, I gotta try that! – Pat Sommer Jan 3 '14 at 2:38

Toasted pumpkin seeds are to my mind the perfect solution + a bit of salt, paprika. You'll have a very similar crispy, caramelized fat taste that makes bacon so tasty.

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I really like how this web page at the inimitable describes the spirit of experimentation that lead to his version of a "vegan bacon" - in short, the flavor comes from the salt and sugar that some others have already mentioned, and smoked paprika. I was sufficiently intrigued that (as a "true bacon" eater) I tried it out over a salad last Christmas and I can wholeheartedly recommend it. The flavor is awesome - pretty close to bacon but it definitely has some awesomeness that's all its own. Texture is spot on, too.

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Try J&D foods bacon salt...its vegan! Bacon Salt

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