Let’s be honest. When you’re cooking good cheap food, you can run into textural problems. The staples–pasta, beans, soup, scrambled eggs–share a certain softness that can lead you to down a whole meal without ever having engaged in a proper chew.
Maybe you, like me, want to crunch on something in order to feel like you’ve eaten.
Maybe you, like me, are obsessed with a category of garnish I call crunchies. All I’m saying is: don’t fry up tortilla strips in front of me, because I will eat the whole bowl before they reach the tortilla soup. If you’ve already got the chili simmering or the soup stewing, making crunchies will add just one baking sheet or frying pan to the array of dishes, so if you’re looking for an attainable extra that’ll turn a humble dinner into a fantastic meal, grab a loaf of bread or a package of pita, and get crisping.
**Five Easy Ways to Satisfy the Crunch Craving**
Homemade Bread Crumbs
Use whatever loaf you have hanging around–even the heel end of something in the fridge. Cube, then grind it coarsely in a food processor. Film a skillet with olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring often, until golden and crispy. Add salt for flavor, and maybe a little minced garlic or dried thyme if you like, at the end. To be honest, I usually drizzle on more olive oil midway through, so the crumbs are stupidly rich. When crisp, transfer the breadcrumbs to a bowl so they don’t burn, or crack eggs right on top (!) and fry ’em up.
Crunch with: Roasted Brussels Sprout Salad with Maple Vinaigrette; Fusilli with Squash, Chard, Walnuts, and Pangritata
Panko, Japanese-style bread crumbs most often seen coating tempura, are a better pantry staple than typical dried bread crumbs, which are too fine to use for crunchies. Panko’s airy flakes have crunch right out of the package, but I like to crisp them up a little more by browning in a bit of olive oil before using as a topping.
Crunch with: Deconstructed Eggplant Parm; Mac ‘n Cheese
We’ve all seen pre-made croutons and probably ordered Caesar salads simply for the pleasure of that shattering crunch. At home, you can go more rustic but equally indulgent–and with the same goal, of making boring lettuce more palatable. Cube old bread or tear it into roughly shaped pieces. Then crisp in a pan with olive oil or butter, as for homemade bread crumbs, or toss with oil, spread on a baking sheet, and toast in a 400°F oven until crisp, tossing once, around 10 minutes. I like to throw croutons on my salad when they’re still warm.
Crunch with: The Best Salad Ever
Once, my friends made tortilla soup while staying with us for the weekend. As fast as they fried up the strips, I ate them from the paper towels where they were draining, revealing my true crunch obsession. To make, heat about a 1/2 inch of oil in a heavy pan over medium-high heat. Cut corn tortillas in half, then into strips. Add to the oil and fry, flipping once, for about 1 minute, until crisp. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels and sprinkle immediately with coarse salt (so it sticks). You can also toss with oil and toast in a 400°F oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until browned.
Crunch with: Vegetarian Tortilla Soup; Chili Con Carne
Make these just as you’d make tortilla strips–fried in a bit of oil, then sprinkled with salt–or in the oven. Only, pair them with Middle Eastern dishes instead of Mexican. Also: maybe melt a little salty cheese on top?
Crunch with: Muhammara; Curried Lentil Soup