Veggie Food for Nerdy People



When you go out for pizza and you don’t eat meat, you’re rolling the dice: What vegetables will they have that can go on your pizza?


When you go out for pizza and you don’t eat meat, you’re rolling the dice: What vegetables will they have that can go on your pizza?

If the pizza place you’re eating at is more on the gourmet side, they might have some good pepperoncinis, basil, roasted garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, or wild mushrooms. Other places, you may not be so lucky. I’m talking to you, thick slices of out-of-season beefsteak tomato. And strings of raw onion that slide off into your mouth like a worm. Or white button mushrooms whose only exposure to heat was in the oven with the pizza. Even a good toppings can go wrong—who wants a whole artichoke heart quarter weighing down their slice?

The point is, when compared to the meats, the vegetables are always just a little lackluster: almost never pre-cooked or seasoned, they end up with a raw crunch and less flavor. Meanwhile, the meat toppings are things like dry-cured sausage with smoky flavor and a burst of salty fat, fennel-laden Italian sausage, all perfectly crisp, tender, and decadent on top of a pie. It’s enough to make a veggie-lover cry into their soggy, undercooked vegetables.

Truthfully, their meat substitutes in grocery stores and veggie pizza joints are often lackluster in the flavor and texture department, delivering hit-or-miss flavor and a texture that’s, well, the texture of seitan and TVP. Which isn’t always bad…it just can’t possibly be the only way, can it? After testing many lousy logs of homemade seitan meats, I determined that there is another way: it’s to revisit an ingredient that was there all along, and transform it into pepperoni, the iconic pizza meat of old.

What characteristics do we need our pepperoni to have? Crispy around the edges and tender in the middle, a touch of heat with a good dose of pepper and a burst of salty oil, classic pepperoni spice profile, and a deep, rich umami note. The best way to bring us the one-two punch of meaty texture and umami is to base our pepperoni with mushrooms, famed far and wide for both a meaty texture and lots of umami flavor. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt from Serious Eats wrote the definitive recipe on mushroom bacon, which got me thinking: would it be that far of a jump to go from bacon to pepperoni? It turns out that mushrooms can play both.

What mushrooms work best? Really, any mushroom can be used for the job as long as you get a decently sized slice, but my preference is the king oyster. These massive, tube-shaped mushrooms have stems with a long, vertical grain. This makes them perfect for a salami, because once we slice it into rounds and apply some heat, we will have a very tender and meaty texture. They’re a little more difficult to find and on the pricey side in your everyday grocery store, so I usually make a trip to an Asian market for a much better price.


Slice the mushrooms crosswise, about 1/8th of an inch, excluding the woody end bit at the bottom. A mandoline slicer with a cut-resistant glove makes this pretty quick work.


When I make mushroom bacon I don’t typically marinade them as is popular with many veggie bacons. However, in the case of pepperoni, a key flavor is red wine, which gives us a good marinade base. With the addition of soy sauce, balsamic, maple syrup, liquid smoke, fresh garlic, and Spanish smoked paprika, we can go a long way to imparting the traditional pepperoni flavor to our mushroom slices.

Pep flip

Traditional pepperoni is a dry-cured uncooked sausage. However, in the case of mushrooms, an application of heat is the best way to remove unwanted excess moisture. If you want a more dehydrated pepperoni without browning, you can keep your oven temperature under 300 degrees and your pepperoni will be more suited for a charcuterie or salumi board. However, I like crisp and browned bits on my mushrooms for more intense flavor, so 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes gave me the results I wanted. Since they’ll also be cooked atop my pizza, I decided to go more in the 25 minute range to ensure I wouldn’t lose some of the tenderness and end up with little bits of pepperoni charcoal.

Spice mix

At this point our mushrooms are tasty, but not quite pepperoni. I decided to add a dry mix of toasted and crushed fennel and anise, some garlic and onion powder, and a little extra Spanish smoked paprika to lend a redder hue.

Plated pepperoni

If you make these significantly in advance of your pizzamaking, I’m going to warn you: it will be very hard to keep yourself from eating these out of hand. They’re that good.

Where can you put these? A delicious sandwich, scattered over a lasagna, on a cracker, on a board of other vegan charcuterie or salumi….

pep pizza

Or on pizza. Finally, a deliciously seasoned vegetable topping bursting with flavor and lending crisp and tender texture. No raw, watery vegetables in sight.