A simple Bagel and cream cheese is no bad thing at all. They really did sustain me during the early days of University. So for that reason, there is something about that combination that I now think is a fantastic starter to build any number of truly delicious sandwiches. Here are just 5 suggestions. They are all toasted bagels with cream cheese spread on both halves, with the exception of number 4, it just has it spread on the bottom half. I chose to use sesame seed bagels for each sandwich as they are my favourite but you can use any kind you’d like except the horrible cinnamon raison bagels that people seem to like.
I started off with the old reliable Classic Bagel. Smoked salmon, capers and cream cheese. I did put my own stamp on it by mixing some dill and lemon juice into the cream cheese before smearing it all over both sides of the bagel. Lettuce is mandatory in sandwiches too. It just gives lovely crunch that is hard to replace. And I tend to not feel so guilty about how unhealthy the rest of a sandwich’s ingredients can be if there is something green in there.
Second up was an amazing buffalo chicken bagel. You can use whatever kind of chicken you want, leftovers are perfect, but I went with skinless, boneless thighs. The dark meat tastes more like wing meat and you don’t need to mess about with bones. The meat is tossed in a little butter microwaved with Franks Red Hot Sauce and piled into the bagel onto some lettuce and topped with blue cheese to mimic the blue cheese dip that always comes with Buffalo wings.
Third was , I think, my favourite, my Greek Veggie Bagel. Cucumber, lettuce, red onion, cooled roasted red pepper, Kalamata olives, grilled halloumi and dill. Halloumi, if you’ve never had it, is a beautiful, salty ewes cheese that, weirdly, doesn’t melt. Instead it forms a light charred crust and takes on a fantastic toasty flavour. The pepper really aught to have come from a jar to make things easier. Just remember to buy the jar that says “Chargrilled” or “Flame-grilled”. Do not get the pickled ones. Be as sparing as you can with the onion too or you will taste it and smell of it all day.
Next was a fancy PB & J – Pear, Brie and Jambon Bagel, not the American staple Peanut butter and Jelly. When I first heard of this combination it was meant to be a punchline in the sitcom ‘Modern Family’. But then the food-obsessed wheels in my head started turning and I decided it to give it a go. The strawberry jam addition was down to a college buddy of mine. A few of us were hanging out in a friend’s house when someone brought out a wedge of brie and this friend asked if there was some strawberry jam to go with it. I thought he must have been high! Partly because this particular guy was rarely found not high but also because this sounded like the bizarre rantings of someone with the munchies. Once I had been persuaded that he was not tripping out of his mind, I gave it a go and I have to say that it is an incredible combination! I hoped the jam wouldn’t fight too much with the ham and pear in this bagel and it didn’t. The whole thing is a fantastic mix of sweet and savoury with pepperiness coming through from the rocket lettuce (arugula).
Finally was a bagel inspired by something I have only seen in America, the jalapeño popper. A jalapeño pepper stuffed with cream cheese and cheddar, wrapped in streaky bacon and deep fried. There is also a version that is smoked in the barbecue that is known by the disgusting acronym, ABT. You can google that yourself, if you like, but I wouldn’t recommend it. To get that smokiness though, I also added a little pinch of smoked paprika to both bagel halves after they were spread with cream cheese. Both halves were generously covered with grated, sharp, red cheddar and put under the grill or broiler for just long enough to melt the cheese but not gain any colour. Then just add some pickled jalapeńo slices and some crispy, smoked pancetta slices, more smokey flavour. I love this pancetta that I get in the supermarket. It’s sliced incredibly thinly sliced so they take no time at all to crisp up beautifully in the George Forman grill. Lettuce doesn’t belong in this bagel as it will wilt and sweat all over the sandwich so I think you should have it on the side.