Growing up as part of an extended Jewish family, I can scarcely remember any special occasion at which bagels with cream cheese and lox weren’t part of the buffet table. The combination of yeasty, tangy, smoky and briny flavors melded into a comfort food that becomes a permanent fixture in a child’s sense memories.
How did the classic trio of bagels, cream cheese and lox come to be, and who invented it? No one really knows for sure, but it’s widely accepted that this combo is as American as apple pie. Lox, a type of smoked salmon, wasn’t a food tradition that was brought over from the old countries of Eastern Europe, but rather, became popular in Jewish immigrant communities around the turn of the 20th century. Smoked and salted fish—like the cheaper pickled herring—were desirable options before the age of good refrigeration, and fish, as we know, is pareve. And so the more expensive lox was reserved for special occasions or the once-a-week special Sunday breakfast.
There’s an expression—a “bagels-and-lox Jew,” which, according to Chabad, “has a positive connotation, for it highlights the fact that even assimilated Jews retain a connection to their Jewishness.” Bagels topped with cream cheese and lox, plus the optional capers, tomatoes and red onion slices became the Jewish response to the typical American (and very unkosher) Sunday breakfast of bacon and eggs.
Dipping back into the food rituals we grew up with gives our fragmented, hectic lives islands of comfort and order. For those of us who have gone vegan, our cravings compel us to find ways to recreate what we grew up with. For Sephardic Jews, revisiting traditional dishes is a cinch, since these Middle Eastern and Mediterranean-based cuisines have so many already vegan specialties, filled with grains, legumes, vegetables and fresh and dried fruits. But when vegan Ashkenazi Jews want to revisit old favorites, there’s a whole lot of adapting to do! And so, the blogosphere is replete with veganized matzah ball soup, challah, latkes and even meaty classics like cholent.
When I became a vegetarian in my teens, the last thing to go from my diet was fish. Savory baked tofu, vegan mayo, celery and scallion add up to a tuna salad substitute that’s delicious, if not uncanny. But a lox substitute seemed beyond imagining, so I just filed it into the category of things I’d never eat—or think about—again.
Fast forward a few years—okay, a few decades—and carrot lox has very much become a “thing” in the vegan repertoire. Like the originator of the bagels with cream cheese and lox combo, the first person who had the vision to look at a carrot and transform it into a convincing imitation of lox remains unknown. Despite some reasons to avoid it, an occasional rendezvous with Nova lox won’t kill anyone. But those of us of the strict vegan persuasion, as well as those who are allergic to seafood, will appreciate this alternative.
Many contemporary recipes for vegan lox involve a lot of steps, and in some cases, many days, to accomplish. This simplified version doesn’t even require a knife, let alone a mandoline slicer. It starts with wavy-cut carrots, which are the perfect size, shape and thickness to serve as a lox substitute. Smoky seasoning is the main flavor note here, and if you’d like to add a fishy flavor, nori seaweed (which you know from sushi) is given as an option.
Photo credit: Evan Atlas