Here at Food52, it's no secret that we love breadcrumbs (and breadcrumb-like things). They deliver a salty, crunchy, umami-kick, plus they're cheap and a great way to use up stale bread slices or loaf heels. They're like croutons, but you get them in every bite. They're vegan (or at least they can be). They're infinitely customizable and a snap to make at home. And I cannot emphasize enough how much breadcrumbs, such a seemingly "meh" ingredient, will amp up your salads.
I have yet to meet a salad that did not take well to a heavy-handed addition of breadcrumbs. Use it in lieu of cheese, or alongside cheese. Use it to make a light salad seem a bit bulkier, more assertive. Use it to add texture and intrigue to some simply-dressed leaves. Use it to make your salads more interesting, more crave-able, more likely to be chosen by you for dinner in lieu of things like pasta and chili (not that there's anything wrong with those).
Of course, homemade breadcrumbs are ideal—that way, you have complete control over the size, toastiness, and seasoning—but Panko will do well in a pinch. Once you've procured (or produced) your breadcrumbs, the fun starts in earnest:
There are a few ways to turn your stale bread odds and ends into breadcrumbs. The easiest (and quickest) is to tear your bread into rough chunks and give it a whiz in the food processor. However, if you want a more low-tech approach you can also grate your bread, using larger holes for a chunkier crumb and smaller ones for a finer crumb. If you want something more akin to small croutons than actual breadcrumbs, you could also slice your bread into small pieces with a knife or tear it up by hand.
Toast your bread over the stove in a glug of olive oil or a pat of butter or, if you, prefer, spread them out on a sheet pan and toast them in the oven at 350°F.
Flavor your breadcrumbs with salt and pepper (duh), but you can also add chili flakes or powder, citrus zest, garlic, anchovies (melted into the oil), or finely-chopped woody herbs like thyme and sage.
After toasting your breadcrumbs, you can also add some grated cheese or a sprinkle of spices, such as cumin, dried mustard, or coriander.
If you need a jumping-off point, here are a few salads (and salad dressings) that would take nicely to a flurry of crispy, crunchy breadcrumbs:
How do you like to dress up/add bulk to your salads? Give us some inspiration in the comments section!