Category Archives: spread

Where Bagel Rules & Smoked Fish Lures

I would also add ‘when’ to the title, since yesterday was an International No Diet Day – a perfect occasion to follow my tummy travelogue guide and go wild. Ditching the spring diet for these wonderful 24 hours, I opted for something extremely haute and decadent… Montreal-New York inspired, I went out and bought a pack of the iconic bagels, a chunk of hot smoked salmon, a pack of Philadelphia cream cheese, few condiments and veggies to go with, and, finally, a nice piece of smoked sturgeon. Please don’t boo me on that, I know sturgeon is not a sustainable fish anymore (or ever?) unless it’s farmed, but it is my true weakness, so I guess I will continue this vicious experience as long as this fish is available and within the reach, at least once a year (or next week, may be?). To make the experience even more sinful, I bought a bottle of nice rose. When back home, I have turned some of the hot smoked salmon into a cream cheese spread to smear on a bagel before putting a slice of this unique, clean, earthy aristocratic treat with no equivalent to the taste or texture. A quick combo of an authentic bagel, homemade crazy delicious smoked salmon spread and a slice of smoked sturgeon, layered with red onion, tomato, lettuce and capers is a killer. And with everything smoked on an upsurge this year, let’s get some smoke in here, shall we? 
There are two places or origin of the classic Jewish (now all-American) bagel: Montreal and New York (NYC). There has never been a real ‘game of thrones’ between the two. Each is very good in its own way up to the fact that more and more Montreal-style bagel places are popping up in the U.S. and vice versa.  Both are authentic, hand-rolled, boiled in a vat and carefully baked by a bagel master craftsmen.  And both remind me of Once Upon a Time in America, considering New York and Montreal’s gastronomic past and historic connection. Curiously, most of the bagel shops in other North American cities manage to keep the authentic bagel barren intact failing to reproduce the exact taste of an authentic bagel unless they import New York or Montreal’s exact recipes (secretly passed from generation to generation) or bagel bakers. 
NYC bagels are bigger, thicker, saltier and easier to chew. Montreal’s bagels are thinner, slightly sweet, with (I find) better crust to crumb ratio and less or no salt. They store better staying soft and easy to cut even after a few days of travel. I am talking about Montreal’s Fairmount Bagelsbaked in the wood-fire oven, which I am a long-time admirer of. Sorry, can’t compare them with another famous St-Viateur Bagel since the shop is closed any time I’m trying to pass by, although both are selling like hotcakes and there is usually a line of 10-20 people to get in Fairmount Bagel (see below image). I do hope to get the secret Fairmount bagel recipe one day so we can make this French Canadian classic at home. If you happen to know it, please share it with me.

As a huge culinary adventurer, I like to go on the local food treasure hunt wherever I travel. When visiting NYC, you would most likely find me in one of those hole in the walls sampling local specialties or in one of the Jewish deli specialized in smoked fish and bagels. It feel like I have an unfinished business with New York unless I can have one or two sturgeon, lox or nova bagels each time I’m there. Like anything else about NYC, the selection of quality specialty food from all over the world would always be unmatched and would roar and scream appealing to your five senses. Check the ballyhoo video of Louis C.K. and Parker Posey’s chowhound session at Russ & Daughters, for example.

Images © Russ & Daughters, Travel & Leisure

Anthony Bourdain once mentioned about the place: Russ & Daughters occupies that rear and tiny place on the mountaintop reserved for those who are not just the oldest and the last – but also the best.  So true, but there are so many other places where you can get wasted on a great smoked fish bagels in NYC: Murray’s BagelsZuckers Bagels, Ess-a-Bagel, Bagel Oasis, Bagel Holejust to name a few.

Photo © Phburka via Wikimedi

Some great bagel shops go (like H&H Bagels on Broadway), other come, and a legendary bagel and smoked fish continue to be NYC landmarks. Naturally, a real smoked fish bagel sampling orgy comes at a price, so most of the time I just buy a few bagel sandwiches to-go and head some place nice where I can enjoy the breathtaking NYC skyline while eating my smoked fish bagel in silence and peace, thinking: ‘this is how we do it…’ and savoring every bit of it.

Photos © Natalie Schweiger
Here is the deal. If you are a populace like me, and you are not in NYC; or you are there but you are not one of those poorgeois people flooding the Manhattan or Brooklyn these days casually paying whooping $70.00 plus per kilo; and/OR you have already shortened your daily budget by paying $20.00 for one smoked sturgeon bagel at Russ & Daughters (tips included), I suggest you take it easy. When back home (Montreal in this case), check the nearest Metro (call first) or Russian/Jewish deli store for a smoked sturgeon. A famous Montreal’s sea food store La Mer (image below) would be another bet sometimes. I still manage to come across one for around $36.00/kg, which means for $6-8.00 you get half a pound. And that amount, my friends, is enough to make 2-3 giant top notch quality smoked sturgeon bagels you can feast on with your best friend (or by yourself) for a price of the McDonald’s meal. Not so bad during the time of massive economic woe, hah? Oddly enough (and further to sustainability issues) there is currently no deli in Montreal serving smoked sturgeon bagel as opposed to NYC. I do acknowledge that by disclosing the spots where I buy it I am risking to not ever find a smoked sturgeon again in Montreal, but perhaps it’s my inner voice whispering:It’s time to let go and switch to the grass and dandelions my dear… I am actually eating them right now while writing this post.

OK, if finding smoked sturgeon sounds like an unnecessary or elusive quest to you, hot smoked salmon, mackerel, white fish, trout (all of them perfect to make a spread) and smoked carp (swap for the sturgeon) make great choices to assemble a similar bagel. Montreal’s La Bouchanerie, ADAR and in-store smoking shops are supplying a great variety of maple wood smoked fish to each and every big grocery daily, so there will be no scarce.

One of the secrets to assemble an all-star smoked fish sandwich is to enhance the cream cheese spread base with an actual smoked fish, an extra smokiness (via smoked paprika), greens and turn it fluffy.  Use it as a dip to go with bagel chips, crackers and veggies. An economic and tasty appetizer with which you can stretch a piece of smoked fish to feed the party of 20 people. Equally, and if on a strict budget, you can use a regular cooked or canned salmon and a spoon of liquid smoke mix to replace the smoked salmon in this dip.  

The spread is also excellent in Smoked Fish tortillas or in Flaked Smoked Fish Pasta with Greens, which I might post next.
What was the day about again? No Diet – which is all about self-awareness and acceptance? I won’t lie, I wholeheartedly embraced it steeping myself in a traditional local lore of bagels and smoked fish and skipping the gym. Despite feeling a few pounds heavier, I nailed that selfie to remind me that we live only once so there is no shame in indulging in what you like. I went to sleep happy imagining all the people ditching their diets, accepting themselves and becoming happy for a day, a week, a year… forever… making the world a better place. I’m afraid though if this wish would manifest my face would not fit in selfie anymore, so I guess I’m good for now. Cheers!



Basic Smoked Fish Spread or Dip
1/3 cup (4 oz) hot smoked salmon (or whitefish, or mackerel), deboned if necessary, flaked
1 cup (8 oz) Philadelphia cream cheese
½ cup sour cream, or plain Greek yogurt
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tbsp chives, minced
1 tsp horseradish, white or red
1/3 tsp smoked paprika
1/3 tsp sea salt
¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
Mix all the ingredients with fork or in a food processor until smooth. Chill and spread on bagels, or serve with bagel chips or with crackers and crudités. The spread can also be used as in fried smoked salmon tortillas and in smoked salmon pasta.

Assembling All-Star Bagel
1 bagel, halved horizontally
1 tbsp smoked fish spread (see above recipe)
1 tsp capers
2-3 slices hot smoked sturgeon or cold smoked salmon
1 tomato slice
1 onion slice
1 lettuce leaf
Crudités on a side
Spread toasted bagel halves with cream cheese. Sprinkle one half with capers. Top with a few slices of smoked sturgeon or smoked salmon. Garnish tops with tomato, onion and lettuce. Close with another half and serve with crudités.

Nifty Herbed Lentil Avocado Spread

A quick and luscious herbed lentil avocado spread is yet another proof how delectable and versatile a meatless dish can be, specifically, towards the end of Lent.  A cross between hummus and guacamole, packed with herbal flavors and good-for-you ingredients, this speedy little thing really belongs to the party table, as it combines with number of ingredients.
Spring has finally sprung in Montreal breaking the ice on St. Lawrence, flooding the streets with melting snow and filling the air with singing birds. The other day I went National Geographic in our backyard to capture some of that spring renewal commotion, which might seem usual, but feels so refreshing to look at, after a long working day in the stone cold city. Especially after a few of those herbed spread nibbles.  
I have been starving for some new vegetarian ideas for a while now, so at some point I decided to ditch the cookbooks and just check what I have left in my pantry and fridge for an instant catch and there a can of lentils and few avocados got my attention. With a bit of lemon juice, tahini (sesame paste), olive oil, garlic, cumin and chili and a lot of fresh herbs, a nifty spread was born within less than 10 minutes.  Call it a spread or a dip – it’s all good –not only on the baguette slices (in this case, Easter Cypriot bread we baked last Tuesday which will follow shortly), but with many other things including eggs. Little quail eggs with running yolk pair fantastically with it. 
A few tablespoons of it mixed with hard-boiled egg yolks and a pinch of smoked paprika deliver smart and tasty twist on a known party pleaser: the devilled eggs. Although not as sophisticated as porcini stuffed eggs they still make a great party offering (during Easter times included) and variety.
Smear the spread on crostini topping them with thinly sliced radish, cucumber or zucchini for a crunch, or use the spread in a sandwich instead of mayo. Garnish a bowl of steamed rice with it.

Finally, my most recent application of this spread was to add a few tablespoons of it to the 10-minutes vegetable stir-fry (carrots, cabbage, broccoli, mini corn and fresh bean sprouts) at the very end of cooking. Why not? Lentils go perfect with veggies as do olive oil, herbs, tahini and lemon, while avocado (the nature’s butter) is adding a smooth soft touch to the dish.  

And that’s how I kept it simple (my 2014 credo) and used my herbed lentil avocado spread within 24 hours. If you prefer, swap lentils for canned beans or chickpeas and your spread will be as delicious. Add avocado flesh, tahini, olive oil, garlic, spices and salt … some hot sauce for an extra zesty taste if wish be. 
Few short pulses and viola: enjoy your spread!     
One year ago:   Knockout Lamb Chops;
Yields: party of 6 to 12 people depending on appetite.
2 avocados flesh, scooped out
1 can (19 oz) lentils, drained, OR beans, OR chickpeas
2 tbsp tahini (sesame paste)
1 clove of garlic
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil, a bit more for drizzling
1 small bunch of fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro, basil, oregano, etc.), coarsely chopped
Pinch of ground cumin
Pinch of ground chili (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
Fine sea salt to taste
For serving: assorted bread, crackers, tortilla chips, crudités
Scoop the avocado flesh into a food processor. Add the lentils, lemon juice, tahini, garlic, olive oil, herbs, spices, salt and pepper. Puree until smooth. If necessary add a bit more olive oil to reach the right consistency. Transfer the spread to bowls, drizzle with olive oil and serve with bread, chips and crudités.