Texture. Without it, food would be totally 2-D. Even if a dish’s flavors are exquisite, if it’s all one uniform texture, it will still be lacking. Texture gives depth, intrigue and excitement, something to keep our minds engaged and curious as we explore the foods in front of us.
We’re currently obsessed with different techniques, methods, and ingredients to ramp up texture in home cooking. Sometimes, it’s just the smallest touch that takes a dish from “whatevs” to “WOWZA”. Learning how to incorporate those textural touches is like cracking a secret code; once you’ve learned it, you start approaching cooking in a whole new light.
The best part? It doesn’t require anything complicated or fussy to make your texture game tight. If you take just a little time and effort to stock your pantry with a handful of helpful ingredients, you’ll stay ready to rock every recipe. Think of these texture-maximizing ingredients as glitter that you can sprinkle on anything that needs a little something extra!
Toasting nuts releases their abundant oils. This gives the nuts themselves a lovely texture — crisp on the outside, slightly yielding on the inside — and flavor. Each time a bite of something soft is interrupted by the pleasant crunch, you’re getting that sizzle of texture magic. Plus, nuts, seeds, and legumes are full of nutrients and proteins — it’s amazing what plants can do!
Some combos we crave:
- Harissa-glazed carrots with pistachios
- Pasta with peas, artichokes and pine nuts
- Marinated mushrooms with shaved fennel and hazelnuts
- Pan-seared asparagus with macadamia nuts
To toast nuts, place them on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven. Different types of nuts toast at different rates, so keep an eye on them! Nuts can go from a Long Beach-ready tan to burnt-to-a-crisp in seconds. Once they cool, chop them roughly with a chef’s knife, or put them in a plastic bag and gently crush them with a rolling pin. Toasted nuts will keep in a sealed container for up to one week.
For a more subtle crunch, seeds are your tiny secret weapon. There are so many kinds of seeds out there; sesame seeds are great (especially sprinkled on a veggie or beef stir fry), but there is a wild world of seeds out there to explore! Here are some fun ones:
Mustard seeds lend little pops of subtle mustard flavor. Toast them in oil and swirl that into Indian soups and curries. Or dry toast them and add them to creamy dressings for potato or cucumber salads.
Nigella seeds look a bit like black sesame seeds but are actually harvested from a flowering plant related to fennel. They’re commonly used in Indian, Middle Eastern, and North African cuisines, beloved for their savory, onion-y crunch. Add them to the top of homemade bread or biscuits before baking; as a garnish for lentil or grain salads; or in braised meat dishes.
Pumpkin seeds (also known as pepitas) have great flavor and lots of fiber. They are amazing when lightly toasted and sprinkled on yogurt, salads, tacos, or creamy soups, or combined with roasted butternut squash, goat cheese, and ZENB Elbows Pasta.
This incredible salt is harvested from the town of Maldon in the United Kingdom. It’s prized by chefs for its pyramid-shaped crystals, which are large enough to see with the naked eye. Just a few flakes of Maldon completely transform scrambled eggs, avocado toast and other soft, creamy dishes, with beautiful salty flavor and a delicate crunch.
Maldon is best used as a finishing salt; if it’s incorporated into dishes while they cook, the salt dissolves and you miss out on the texture!
Pro tip: A wee hit of Maldon on top of warm chocolate chip cookies or freshly baked brownies is crazy-good.
Crispy Shallots & Garlic
You can find tins of packaged crispy shallots and garlic in most Asian markets. Or, if you don’t mind a bit of deep-frying action, you can make them at home. They add the loveliest texture to pasta dishes (like ZENB’s Pasta Agile with Brown Butter and Crispy Shallots), Asian-inspired veggie dishes, or as a killer condiment for BBQ pork or tofu sandwiches.
Yogurt/Sour Cream/Crème Fraîche and Their Non-Dairy Substitutes
Crunchy isn’t the only texture that enhances food. Sometimes a hit of soft and creamy is what you need to create balance and dimension. When a sauce or soup is lacking in body, a spoonful of dairy (or non-dairy alternative) works wonders. Yogurt, sour cream, and crème fraîche are all great candidates! Yogurt is tangy and contains less milk-fat; crème fraîche is more mild and quite rich; and sour cream is right in the middle.
Feeling inspired? Dive into our recipe collection for more creative, delicious recipes, and give us a follow on Instagram and Facebook! While you’re there, let us know: What are some of your favorite tricks for building texture in your home cooking?