Crunchy salad toppings, from salt and pepper Special K flakes (top left) to baked pita chips with za’tar (bottom right). Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige

“Crunch, Munch. What’s for Lunch?” is a book written by Janice Lobb, illustrated by Peter Utton, and published by Kingfisher in 2000 as part of the imprint’s “At Home With Science” series of children’s books. It provides simple but accurate text, illustrations and suggested activities that explore food science and what happens biologically when we eat.

The book looks at questions like what happens when bread rises, what makes a body hungry, why food goes off, and why all living things need water. It’s a great book for any child who has an interest in experimenting in the kitchen. I must say, though, that it doesn’t answer one very pressing question for me. Why do humans CRAVE crunchy, munchy foods?

According to a growing body of research on mindful eating – the practice of using all your physical and emotional senses to experience and enjoy the food choices you make – humans crave crunchy foods for several reasons. First, “crunchy” resonates as “fresh.” Just think of the difference in mouthfeel between a fresh leaf of Romaine lettuce and a wilted one. Crunchy foods can make humans feel satisfied because they tend to be high in fat (think potato chips) and protein (think munching on a handful of roasted almonds). Studies show that humans even enjoy the sound of crunching, which we associate with eating something delicious.

Got it. So that’s why I crave crunchy, munchy salads. Now how to satisfy that craving: I like salads all year long, but given the variety of freshly harvested vegetables, summer is the most obvious salad season. At the farmers market, you can find lettuces of all sorts, crisp green asparagus, peas and beans, and colorful radishes and bell peppers, making salads an easy meal. To make these summertime salads even more satisfying, though, I am always rummaging around the cupboards for things to add even more super-satisfying crunch to the bowl.

The bread drawer is the obvious place to look. Crisping up day-old bread in a frying pan with some olive oil to make croutons is commonplace. Stale pita bread can be baked to a crisp and become the foundation of Lebanese fattoush, a salad made from lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and fresh herbs in lemony dressing. Leftover cornbread can be brushed with butter and air-fried until crisp. And the last of the corn tortilla can be sliced into strips, fried in vegetable oil, and dusted with chili powder and salt.

But you can also look at the bits and bobs in the fridge for ingredients you can make into crunchy salad toppers. Toss the last cup of last night’s cooked quinoa or canned chickpeas with herbs and roast until crunchy. Thinly slice the last half of that shallot, red onion or leek and fry them in hot oil until crisp, salting them just after you transfer them from the oil to a flattened brown paper bag to drain.


And while cereal is usually just for breakfast, it too can top salads in a pinch. A not-too-sweet granola would work well in a salad that also includes strawberries, for example. And tossing neutral corn flakes with a bit of butter, lemon zest and herbs and slipping them into the air fryer for five minutes yields an interesting textural foil for a salad.

All of these make-do salad toppers are best eaten right after being crisped up. But most will hold their crunch for a day or two stored at room temperature in an airtight container.

Fattoush made with toasted pita bread, butter lettuce and cucumbers from Six River Farm, tomatoes from Backyard Farms and parsley and mint from Whatley Farm. Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige


I can make no cultural claims to this salad. But I have loved it since a Lebanese friend first served it to me almost 20 years ago.

Serves 4-6

2 medium pita pockets
Olive oil
Kosher salt
6 cups torn lettuce (Romaine hearts are traditional)
2 cups diced cucumbers
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
1 small bunch of parsley, chopped
1 small bunch of fresh mint, chopped
2 tablespoons sumac
⅓ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (or to taste)


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Separate each pita pocket into halves. Place them on a baking sheet, drizzle them with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake until golden, 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature.

Combine the lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, parsley, mint, sumac and ½ teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Right before serving, break the toasted pita into small bite-size pieces and sprinkle them over the salad.

Combine the lemon juice with 1/4 cup olive oil. Pour the dressing over the salad, toss well, and serve immediately.

Local foods advocate Christine Burns Rudalevige is the former editor of Edible Maine magazine and the author of “Green Plate Special,” both a column about eating sustainably in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her 2017 cookbook. She can be contacted at:

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