My previous, pricier Portland neighborhood was quite walkable. I could set out on foot and find nearly anything: groceries, cocktails, Pad Thai, antiques, coffee; it was all right there. What I could not find was a good bagel. The best I could do was a “bagel place” that had cute t-shirts and very mediocre bagels, though fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately), their veggie cream cheese was excellent—so excellent that I kept returning to order the schmear on another decidedly crappy bagel. But those days are over.
I now live much further south and much further east, and that particular meal is just not worth the drive. Luckily, it is very easy to make great veggie cream cheese in the comfort of my own kitchen, and it’s a fantastic way to use up the last few fistfuls of whatever vegetables I have hanging out in my fridge. (It’s also a good way to start my day on an ever so slightly sanctimonious note; behold, I am eating vegetables with my breakfast.)
You’ll need at least 1/3 cup of roughly chopped vegetables per 8-ounce block of cream cheese, but you can bump it up to half a cup—or even 3/4 a cup—if you like more texture in your spread. Some raw vegetables are okay, but veggies that have been softened—either by heat, salt, acid, of knife work—will best blend into the cream. This morning I made a schmear with roasted rainbow carrots, a few air fried shishitos, and a couple of fresh scallions. It was the perfect combination of sweet, fresh, and spicy (as I lucked out and got a hot shishito in the mix). I plan to make another one with some pickled shallots.
In addition to the vegetables, you’ll be better off if you season your schmear a little. Salt works, but this spread works best with a hint of umami. You can use a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce to add some deep, dank saltiness, or a small scoop of Marmite if you’re vegetarian. In either case, you just want to add enough to tint the cream cheese the lightest of beiges—the flavor should complement, but not obscure, the vegetables.