Simply put, a crunchy coating makes any dish — from fresh veggies and tempeh, to chicken and salmon — indulgent.

“A good outer crust to your food is incredibly satisfying, giving it bite, and a flavour bomb by bringing in creative ingredients, herbs, and spices,” says Franklin Becker, a celebrity chef, the CEO and chef of F. Becker Hospitality, and the author of Good Fat Cooking. “Your dish becomes much more interesting with each mouthful.”

And according to Becker, the options are plenty for building that blissful eating experience in healthy ways — and you don’t even need heavy breading, a deep fryer, or an air fryer. Here’s the lowdown on how to cook up better-for-you crunchy food.

Give It a Wrap

“I really love Vietnamese rice paper as a crispy blanket for meat, veggies, or fish,” says Becker. “Soften the paper with water so it’s pliable, then wrap your food as if you’re putting it into a sleeping bag. Panfry on all sides, and you’ll wind up with a gloriously crispy, snappy shell.”

Coat It In Spices

“A combination of nuts, seeds, and spices called dukkah — like hazelnuts, sesame seeds, cumin, coriander, and chili powder — adds rich, complex flavour and a different style of coating,” says Becker. Buy it pre-made or mix your own blend with whatever you have on hand to create supremely crunchy food. “I use a sesame seed version to give texture and depth to carrots,” he says. “I roast the carrots first, then sprinkle on the dukkah. It’s also outstanding on smoked salmon.”

Turn to Rice

Pruthak is flattened rice, and pori or mandakki is puffed rice. Both make a sublimely airy, flaky coating for chicken, fish fillets, or veggies with surface space like zucchini and eggplant, says Becker. “Rub your main course with oil, press the rice to form a thin layer, and bake,” he says.

Think Out of the Box

“Instant potatoes — yes, from a box — make for a fast, easy, super-crunchy coating on meat or fish. Just coat and panfry — done and delicious,” says Becker.

Finish with Mushroom Dust

“Dried mushrooms add umami and earthiness and bring in extra texture,” says Becker. “Pulse the mushrooms in a grinder, then simply dust your dish as a delicate but powerfully flavourful finishing touch.”

Go with a Grain

Puffed quinoa is a great sub for breadcrumbs to create satisfying, crunchy food, says Becker. “Set up three bowls: ground puffed quinoa, raw scrambled eggs, and puffed quinoa. Plunge chicken, fish, or veggies into the ground puffed quinoa, then the egg, then the puffed quinoa, and sear or bake. You’ll get that nutty, toasty flavour and a really satisfying crunch.”

To give make your crust a bit more sophisticated, Becker recommends adding herbs to the puffed quinoa, rice, or instant potatoes. Experiment with different flavour pairings or try one of Becker’s favourite blends for ultra-crunchy food: mint and cliantro; parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme; and basil, oregano, and nepitella.

Give Your Casseroles a Top Coat

Parsnips, sweet potatoes, and yuca add caramelised sweetness and some beautiful architecture to a casserole, says Becker. Using a mandoline, slice super thin, then arrange on your dish like shingles on a roof, and bake until brown with some snap.

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