14 Unusual Garnishes That Will Enhance Any Dish

Because in these days of #instafood and picture-perfect buddha bowls, a sprig of parsley or a tomato shaped like a flower just doesn’t cut the mustard. Nor does mustard, come to think of it. And if your new food goal is ‘eat a lot of vegetables’ (whose isn’t?), you’re going to need ways to make that glut look more exciting.

From easy pickles to sprinkles, drizzles and whole floral displays, the new generation of flavour-boosting flourishes do more than just look pretty on your plate. Here are the ones you need in your kitchen.

Radishes

Cool, crunchy, peppery and just so perfectly pink – radishes are having a renaissance, and not before time. Slice them as wafer-thin and strew like petals over anything green, for a Nigella-inspired food moment. Go on, strew.

Pink pickled turnips

Image via @laurenbravo

It’s not often you get to eat something this lurid without encountering a few e-numbers. Shocking pink thanks to the addition of beetroot slices (and a week or so of patience), pickled turnip has long been a feature on Lebanese tables. Fresh, crunchy and with a sour, garlicky hit that belies their pretty appearance, these pickles are a world away from rubbery dills and sugary chutney. They’re also, by a country mile, about the most exciting thing you can do with a turnip that doesn’t involve throwing them at a politician.

Make your own by pickling raw turnip in white vinegar and salt water with garlic, bay and beetroot (David Lebovitz has a good recipe). Serve in kebabs and wraps, as part of a mezze platter, or thinly sliced to pep up a salad. The future is bright. The future is pickles.

Sesame seeds

Open sesame! Sprinkle sesame! Carefully sweep sesame overspill off your kitchen worktop! A generous flurry of the teeny seeds is great for bringing crunch and nuttiness to salads, curries and stews – look out especially for the black and red varieties, which look delightful crusted on meat or tofu.

Pickled cucumber

Image via @tessward

Remember what we were saying about pickles? Here’s another variation – this time with a Scandi vibe, perfect for perching in curls on top of smørrebrød (open sandwiches to me and you), or adding a sliver of zingy green to salmon or smoked mackerel dishes.

The key to making pickled cucumbers look less like the sad ghost of a McDonalds gherkin and more like a pretty accoutrement is slicing them into ribbons, rather than rounds. Follow this recipe but use a peeler to create super-thin spirals.

Micro greens

They might sound dauntingly futuristic, but micro greens and micro herbs are just tiny salad. Petite plants. Baby shoots and leaves, cut when they’re new and have a more delicate texture but a more intense flavour. Remember cress, staple of the primary school science project? That’s a micro green.

There are far more exciting variants out there though, such as feathery micro fennel, punchy micro wasabi leaf or vibrant red amaranth. Buy them from your local greengrocer, get them online or have a go at growing your own. They only take a few days to sprout up on your windowsill, so they’re perfect for an impatient gardener. Or, you know, a child.

Pink pickled onion

Image via @bradmcdonald01

Anyone who has shovelled down Wahaca’s signature pork pilbil tacos will know the joy of pink onions. Softer, sweeter and spicier than pickled turnip, these are a whole different beast to those retro pickled onions you find on the chip shop counter – preserved in lime and sometimes orange juice, they’re coloured Barbie pink just by steeping red onion in the acidic marinade for a few hours. Here’s an easy recipe.

Pink onions are another versatile fridge favourite for your rice bowls and salads, but really come into their own in Mexican dishes. Pile them high now, find a Smint later.

Dukkah

An aromatic Egyptian blend of spices, nuts and seeds, dukkah is traditionally served as a dip for bread and oil. Blends vary from chef to chef and family to family, but you’ll often find sesame seeds, coriander seeds, cumin, salt, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, fennel seeds and peppercorns in the mix.

Translating as "to crush" or "to pound", dukkah needs elbow grease – or a good food processor – but it’ll work just as hard for you, bringing an exciting burst of nutty, warm flavour to anything you care to sprinkle it over. Roast veg, hummus, baked eggs, avocado and lamb in particular are all suckers for dukkah. Here’s how to make it.

Sprouted beans and sprouted seeds

Image via @tessward

Once you’ve conquered micro greens, graduate to sprouts. Crunchy white mung bean sprouts are the ones you’ll recognise from Chinese stir-fries, but more delicate, fibrous sprouts like alfalfa, adzuki beans and red beet look livelier and taste earthier. A bit like... well, earth. But they’re good in small quantities, promise.

Tahini

Tahini is for life, not just for hummus. Liberate the jar at the back of your cupboard by using it as a dressing on veg, meat, salads or even desserts; like a classier, slightly bitter peanut butter, the sesame paste will bring silky richness to even the dullest of meals. Loosen with a little yoghurt or oil for easier drizzling.

Edible flowers

Image via @lefooding

Like popping a jaunty hat on with a tracksuit, edible flowers have to power to make everything look a bit fancy. A bit Midsummer Night’s Dream. Some blooms are simply beautiful but others bring flavour to the table too, like peppery nasturtiums, citrusy hibiscus or headily perfumed lavender. Pansies are some of the prettiest and have a light, minty taste – probably what Titania would eat on her avo toast.

Buy them online if you’re too impatient to grow your own.

An egg

“If in doubt, put an egg on it” is basically the millennial food mantra, and why not. That gooey golden yolk becomes a sauce in itself, and laying an egg on top is one of the quickest ways to bring together an otherwise random pile of ingredients and turn it into a meal.

Skip the hassle of poaching and master the soft-boiled egg instead – simmer in boiling water for five to six minutes (depending on how set you like the yolk), leave to cool in cold water, peel, slice in half and perch triumphantly on top of your dish. Ooeuf.

Hot sauce

Image via @thefeedfeed

We reached peak sriracha about a year ago, when no food anywhere was safe from the requisite red zig-zag. Eggs. Noodles. Sandwiches. Porridge. Everything that wasn’t in Beyonce’s bag was squiggled across our lunch.

But luckily there’s a world of hot sauce beyond the ubiquitous Thai ketchup, and they all deserve the chance to be your main squeeze. Try sambal oelek, a chunky Southeast Asian chilli paste, sticky Korean gochujang, made from fermented soy beans, fruity Caribbean scotch bonnet, classic Mexican cholula or green pepper Tobasco to turn up the ‘warmth’ setting IRL.

Seaweed

Seaweed is the future, had you heard? Low-cal, loaded with nutrients and ridiculously plentiful on British shores, it’s right there on our doorstep and deserves a place at the table too.

Crispy dried nori sheets – the ones you’ll usually find wrapped around a sushi roll – make a great umami-rich garnish for all manner of eggs, fish, meat and veg dishes. Try them on a rice bowl or noodles, sliced into thin strips or chopped up finely as ‘seaweed confetti’. Or make life easier with ready-to-sprinkle seaweed which you can pick up from Asian grocery stores.

Cocoa nibs

Image via @26grains

Chocolate in its rawest form, these nubbly shards of fermented dried cacao bean are popping up more and more as a topping for your porridge, smoothie bowl or – why not – salad. Slightly bitter with a texture similar to coffee beans, they bring a satisfying crunch as well as looking swish. Which you can’t really say about Dairy Milk.


Comments

    "Edible Flowers...buy them online if you’re too impatient to grow your own."
    Which site(s)? Looking for one that ships to Adelaide, without having to get them by the pallet-load.

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