Confessional time: I have a serious, admiring friendcrush on basically every vegan I meet. Myths exist about their self-righteousness, but I’ve yet to encounter much. You see, for every obnoxious vegan, there are two equally obnoxious meat eaters who will condescend to them and snarl, “But bacon is sooooo good!” As if this is news.
It’s not news, of course. However! If, by some seriously crazy series of events, I ever had to give up animal products (or even–gasp–chose to on my own), the first thing I would want in a vegan kitchen is a stovetop smoker. I would ever-so-humbly recommend it to vegans. (Well, everyone else, too. But especially vegans who want more flavor, more options, more dimension.)
It would mean meals like this: hearty, wholesome, comforting but not heavy (unless you add cheese–do as your hearts desire). No processed, shady-ingredient-laden texturized soy protein weirdness. Soy “bacon” is kind of awful. Vegans are helping save the world and they deserve better, you know? We all deserve better. Let’s make more stuff like this: identifiable ingredients, deep with unapologetic, bold flavor. We are onto something great.
I’m a really, really recent mushroom convert. In fact, I’m probably not even converted yet; I’ve read the brochures and I’m… going to the meetings, if you will. Slowly and gently preparing them for myself from time to time, just to see what happens. What I’ve discovered in my adventures: shiitakes are a mushroom hater’s friend. They’re not very spongy or mushy–a chewier, more substantial ‘shroom, if you will. I’ve tried both dried/reconstituted and fresh, and enjoyed both. It’s an epiphany.
Basically, button mushrooms should be kicked out of the whole fungi kingdom for giving it such a bad rap. Get your stuff together, mushrooms. What a PR nightmare.
I realize that a stovetop smoker is not on most people’s list of must-have kitchen accessories, but I love mine, as stated above. Forever and always. Feel free to skip the smoking part of all this–or throw in a dash of Liquid Smoke if ya feel like cheating. I’ll just say this: if there was something out there that could make everything taste like bacon–naturally–would you want one?
These are no ordinary mushrooms. They glisten. They radiate woodsy, hearty alder smoke. They can build you a cabin in the woods and knit you a cardigan.
They also look–and smell–incredible atop a mountain of sauteeing, soon-to-be-caramelized onions.
Yeah. Just like that. Imagine what your magical bacon mushrooms, caramelized onions, sundried tomatoes, and a big splash of balsamic smells like…
…Then take that thought and put it on a bed of warm, soft, perfectly cooked, black-pepper-dotted polenta. Are you still with me? It’s okay if you’re not. I understand. I’ll see you here later this week? Yeah?
- Special equipment, if smoking the mushrooms: stovetop smoker and 1/4 cup smoking chips
- 1 cup polenta (medium-ground cornmeal)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 7 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms
- 1 large yellow onion, sliced thinly
- 3 ounces sundried tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- Fresh flat-leaf parsley, for topping
- To prepare the polenta, bring 5 cups of water to a boil and add a teaspoon of salt. Whisk the polenta in slowly and continue stirring until mixture thickens--2 to 3 minutes.
- Lower heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes or so, stirring often. Slowly add water, 1/2 cup at a time, if mixture becomes too thick (I did this twice). Cook until the grain is swollen and tastes cooked, not raw, then remove from heat, stir in a tablespoon of olive oil (more for a richer polenta if you're so inclined), and season with salt and pepper.
- Meanwhile, prepare the mushroom mixture.
- Clean and de-stem the mushrooms.
- If you're smoking them, prepare your stovetop smoker with 1/4 cup of wood chips of a mild variety (I used alder). Arrange mushroom caps on the grate, turn on the stove to medium and, when smoker begins to smoke, shut the lid and smoke for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and remove mushrooms from smoker.
- Slice mushroom caps into 1/2-inch pieces.
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat in a large, heavy-bottomed pan until shimmering, then add onions followed by the mushrooms and stir to combine.
- Lower heat to medium and continue cooking until both onions and mushrooms are golden brown and caramelized in spots, about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Stir in the sundried tomatoes and cook for a couple minutes more, until those are heated through.
- Add the balsamic vinegar, and the remaining tablespoon of olive oil if the mixture seems dry. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Divide polenta among four bowls and top with mushroom mixture and fresh parsley.
- (Note: if you aren't vegan... Seriously consider stirring in about, oh, 1/2 cup of gorgonzola or other delicious cheese when polenta is done. Plus more for sprinkling on top when you're done.)