When I was a kid, Sunday was special because… bagels and lox. My mom would lay out plates of smoked nova salmon (from the belly of the fish), thinly sliced red onions, slightly thicker slices of ripe tomato, a bowl of cream cheese and a stick of butter, and we’d pile our plates high. T
The approved methodic our house was to start with toasted bagels or bialys, but good toasted bread (white or whole wheat, but not brioche) is a great substitute. (I’ve never found a good bagel or bialy in Switzerland that didn’t come out of my own oven, but there is plenty of terrific bread here.) Though it earned my mom’s frown, I would start by slathering butter on toast and then coating it with a layer of cream cheese, followed by red onions and tomatoes, and topped with a thick, gorgeous, shiny slice of salmon.
Red onions are key here. If you’ve got access to home-grown or heirloom tomatoes, they’re a nice substitute for the store-bought tomatoes that are too often hard, unripe, or tasteless. Fresh cream cheese is best, if you can access it, but Philadelphia (plain, classic) will do. There’s no need to use chive cream cheese if you have red onions, but if you’re a fan of garlic bagels and have to substitute bread instead, you can add a little pureed fresh garlic (or good garlic powder) to the cream cheese. If salmon is expensive in your region, it’s a lot better to buy a smaller amount of excellent salmon than a large amount of cheap, very salty salmon (unless that’s the way you like it). You’ll figure out your own balance of ingredients, but if you use just a little salmon, don’t slather too much cream cheese on the bread because it’ll dull the salmon’s flavor.
I’ve tried variations on this classic, but I haven’t found capers, pickles, or other condiments to improve the flavor or texture of the dish. For me, this is comfort food of the finest type and if I’m not careful, I can eat myself comatose. (Not a joke, actually, since I’m a diabetic.) Taken in moderation, it’s a great breakfast or lunch. Here in Switzerland, salmon from a variety of regions is often on sale at half price, and so I’ve taken to trying any on offer.
My family loves drink fresh orange juice alongside their Sunday bagels, or mimosas if they’re in the celebratory mood.
When I invite guests to my famous New Year’s Day brunch (sadly cancelled for the last 2 years because of the pandemic), I always lay out a tray for guests, with home-made bagels and bialys and all these ingredients. Preparation time is negligible (slicing time, plus however much time you want to spend making the platter look pretty). Alone or in company, this is a great small meal.