Bacon-wrapped water chestnuts are my family’s go-to appetizer for holidays, parties, and get-togethers of all kinds. However, with cutting down on meat, I was looking for a fun way to upgrade my favorite quick and easy app to be vegetarian. For game day this year, I’m excited to share these Vegan Carrot “Bacon” Wrapped Water Chestnuts with all my friends — meat eating or not.
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The basic concept of these is super easy, and I didn’t want to mess with that. I treated the water chestnuts exactly the same as I would in a bacon version, by shaking them up with some brown sugar. The challenge was in getting carrots to fill the role of bacon.
I bought a big bag of carrots so that I could experiment with some cooking methods and flavors. My goal was not for the carrots to trick anyone, but instead to create a new appetizer with carrots in place of the bacon.
Bacon brings a few different elements to the dish that I wanted to achieve with the carrots: smokiness, fat, and umami. I tried a few different marinades before finding one that I believe really works, playing around ingredients like smoked paprika, soy, miso, liquid smoke, sweeteners, and different oils. I think the one I landed on strikes the balance I was seeking.
I think this veggie version is just as delicious and addicting as the bacon one. But don’t take my word for it. Make up a big batch of these and serve at that big football game that’s coming up! Looking for something to serve for a bigger crowd? Try my vegetarian nacho formula.
Vegan Carrot "Bacon" Wrapped Water Chestnuts
- 12 Water Chestnuts
- 1 Tbsp Brown Sugar
- 1-2 Carrots, wide carrots work best here
- 2 Tbsp Soy Sauce
- 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
- 2 tsp Maple Syrup
- a few dashes Liquid Smoke
- 1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
- 1/2 tsp Red Wine Vinegar
- 1/4 tsp Smoked Paprika
- 2 Tbsp Vegetable Oil, for frying
- Open the can of water chestnuts and drain the liquid. In a small bowl, place the water chestnuts and brown sugar, and stir to combine. Place in the fridge and let sit while you prepare the other ingredients.
- Halve the carrots lengthwise, and then cut into long thin strips carefully using a vegetable peeler or mandoline. In a small bowl, stir together the rest of the ingredients (except the oil for frying).
- Pour half the sauce in a flat dish, and lay the carrot strips in it. Cover the carrots with the remainder of the sauce. Cover and let marinate for 20 minutes to and hour at room temperature, or up to overnight in the fridge.
- In a large frying pan, heat the vegetable oil over medium high heat until it shimmers or a drop of water sizzles immediately. Meanwhile, wrap each water chestnut in a carrot strip and seal from the side using a toothpick.
- Once the oil is hot, carefully place the wrapped water chestnuts in the pan, and fry 2-3 minutes per side (use tongs to flip) until the carrots are darkened and crispy.
- Remove from the pan onto a paper towel lined plate. Let cool 1-2 minutes, and then serve immediately.
- There are multiple ways to cut the carrots into thin strips. I found it to be easiest to use a vegetable peeler, working slowly, cutting toward myself for better control of the angle. When the peeler would start to catch, I would saw it back and forth gently. You may find a mandoline or a T-peeler a little easier for you.
- Make ahead tip: You can marinate the carrots and water chestnuts overnight if needed, in the fridge, and then fry just before serving. To travel, you can reheat these in the microwave for about 30 seconds, but they will lose some crispiness.
- Make these gluten free: Use a gluten-free soy sauce.