Sometimes when I’m looking at a plate of food that just needs something I rummagearound the fridge, looking for a sauce, pickled vegetable, chutney, anything to get the dish to Technicolor.
But you needn’t always leave such “aha” moments for luck. Using a combination of pantry or refrigerator staples and a few items you make specifically for the purpose, you can take your dishes from boring to brilliant.
Whether you are stuck with a plain protein and starch or leftovers in need of an upgrade, these are some garnishes and additions to consider.
Pick one or several and have fun with them.
Or crispy or crackly, or whatever word you like, as long as it’s something that gives you a textural pop.
Snack mixes that include nuts, fruit and short threads of chickpea noodles.
Sauces are a little bit like your condiment passport. So, where do you want to go? Part of that depends on what you’re looking for.
If you want a combination of spice and sweetness, choose chutney or Mexican salsa.
A dill or mint yoghurt sauce adds a Mediterranean accent to grilled meat or a grain bowl. Ditto hummus if your taste leans more toward Spain, romesco, a smoky-pepper-and-tomato sauce that is at home on almost any protein or grain, or as a dip.
And don’t forget the trusty vinaigrette. Add fruits or herbs for a homemade version that pairs well with what you’re dressing. Vinaigrettes aren’t just for salad either. Use them as a dip, marinade or a drizzle for a soup in need of resuscitation.
Add an egg to leftover takeout rice along with some veggies and you’ve got fried rice. A crispy fried egg over roasted vegetables can be a light, seasonal meal.
A poached egg, runny yolk and all, can double as a sauce in your grain bowl. Hard-boiled eggs contribute heft to salads, sandwiches or tacos.
Pickled foods deliver a one-two-three-four punch of crunch, sweet, salt and spice. Use them to perk up a sandwich or plate of nachos.
Hot peppers, pickled onions, cucumber. Other pickled/fermented foods to consider: Olives, green beans, capers, sauerkraut and kimchi.
For straight-up heat that is more inconspicuous, grab the crushed red pepper flakes or hot pepper sauce, whether it’s runny, like Tabasco, or thicker, like Sriracha. If you want something funky and spicy with crunch, pull out the kimchi.
– Fruits, vegetables and herbs
One of my new go-to’s this summer has been blistered cherry tomatoes. You can do this in the broiler, but I’ve also charred mine in a skillet over medium-high heat with olive oil, salt and pepper.
Caramelized onions are classic for a reason – sweet, jammy and beautifully coloured, they add an instant feeling of luxury.
Roast potato skins with herbs and olive oil – or bacon fat if you have it – for a crispy, flavour-packed garnish.
A slab of melted brie over a plain piece of meat feels like a million-dollar improvement or mozzarella.
To add savoury depth, start grating some Parmigiano-Reggiano – finely shredding to melt into a dish and large, wide curls for textural and visual interest.
Briny feta is especially effective at bringing an assertive salty edge. Goat cheese works much the same way, except with a grassier flavour and creamier consistency. Don’t forget about blue cheese.
Creamy doesn’t have to mean dairy, though. Guacamole tops my list.
Another versatile choice, as is hummus or tahini, whether used on its own or mixed with herbs and spices.