How do you turn root vegetables into fake fish?
“I’m not an angry vegan,” says Michael Abramson, founder of YamChops, Canada’s first and only “vegetarian butcher.” In fact, though he’s avoided animal products for nearly 40 years, he’s also made a career out of using veggies to replicate the flavours and textures of meat. His College Street deli sells tuna-free tuna salad, fishless fish tacos and strips of bacon made out of coconut flesh. The weirdest item, though, may be Abramson’s vegetarian smoked salmon, which he fashions out of carrots. When he first got the idea for veggie lox, his wife Toni scoffed and said he was going too far. He went for it anyway, eventually perfecting a multistage process to totally transform the lowly root veg.
It all starts with large organic carrots (three and a half pounds worth for an entire tray of lox). “After we peel this dude, we tip and tail it,” says Michael Abramson, slicing the ends off a freshly peeled carrot.
He cuts each veg into chunks and then slices the chunks on a mandoline. “We want to get a half decent slice for the lox.”
Next, Abramson assembles a dry mix of brown sugar, smoked sea salt and cracked black pepper.
He sprinkles the mix over the sliced carrots, making sure every piece gets a coating, then leaves the carrots to marinate. “You can let that sit anywhere from a half an hour to overnight,” he says.
In the meantime, Abramson gets started on his dairy-free “sour cream” topping. He makes it with cashews, which he pre-soaks in water for four to eight hours, until they become gummy and “fat.”
Abramson rinses the nuts with water that’s been run through an alkalizer. “It’s like a really intense filter that changes the pH of the water to an alkaline level. It just tastes better,” says Jess Abramson, YamChops manager and Abramson’s daughter.
Next, Abramson pours the cashews into a Blixer (a turbo-powered blender) with apple cider vinegar, lemon juice and salt.
He blends the mix for about 45 seconds (until it looks a bit like beige frosting) and then refrigerates the gloopy “cream” for a few hours.
Now it’s back to the carrots. After a night in the dry mix, Abramson adds a wet component to the marinade. He combines a vegan egg substitute (“which gives it that thickness”) with about a third of a cup of water, lemon zest and a bit of olive oil. He whisks everything together until it’s the colour and consistency of lemon pancake batter, then pours it over the carrots, taking care to cover each slice.
The slices are fanned across a baking tray in overlapping rows, “to give it that smoked salmon look, if you will.”
The now flaccid carrots are covered in foil, sealed tightly and baked in the Combi (“a kicked up oven”) for about 20 minutes (a conventional oven would take almost double that time).
When the carrots come out of the oven, they’re a pallid orangey-pink. Abramson cuts out one-inch squares, places each one on a cracker and adds a dollop of cashew sour cream.
Capers and dill sprigs complete the illusion. Taste-wise, it’s also pretty convincing—the faux lox has the smoky, buttery flavour of smoked salmon without any of the fishiness, and the texture is great.
“We’ve fooled a lot of Jewish grandmas in our day,” says Abramson.