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Sometime during the course of my childhood, my family acquired the tradition of eating strata for Christmas morning breakfast along with cold leftover meatballs from the night before (sliced and piled on toast—it’s a good way to eat meatballs). My mother got the strata recipe from a book group friend of hers, so the original recipe was probably from Ina Garten or someone similar. Anyway, we claimed it as our own, and for unknown reasons we always called it a frittata instead of a strata, which meant that for years I thought frittatas had bread in them (they don’t). Frittata or strata, it's very non-seasonal at Christmas time, filled as it is with tangles of sautéed summer squash and bell peppers. But it’s also very good, and nicely rich with cubes of cream cheese and caramelized onions.
My husband’s family, on the other hand, has a tradition of eating bagels with cream cheese and lox for Christmas morning breakfast. I like to goad my husband on by telling him that this is weird and inadequately festive, but secretly I love it because, well, a good bagel with cream cheese and lox is pretty hard to beat; I pretty much never eat bagels any other way.
This year we are making the party come to us—the prerogative of anyone with a young child—and I thought I’d experiment with combining the two breakfast traditions by making a strata with bagels, cream cheese, and salmon. Who says you can’t have it all?
The unique texture of bagels makes this a very sturdy strata, which is nice and hearty, but you can also use regular bread if you prefer a softer, eggier texture. From there, eggs, cream cheese, and salmon were really all made specifically for each other. Capers and dill—if you wish to use them—brighten things up. You could add in some sautéed vegetables beyond the onion too, if you want. We’re in new tradition territory—we can do whatever we like!
1 tablespoon butter
1 red onion, thinly sliced
5 cups cubed stale bagels
8 ounces thinly sliced lox or crumbled smoked salmon
2 tablespoons capers (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped dill (optional)
8 ounces cream cheese, cut into half-inch cubes (as much as it's possible to
cut cream cheese into cubes)
8 large eggs
2 cups half and half
1 teaspoon each salt and ground pepper
Photos by Emily Vikre