What's for Dinner: Sugarcoat It

Lean on sweetness to amp up your dinner's flavor

Not feeling inspired by your usual dishes? Here's what's for dinner.

It's no secret that sweet and savory flavors can work magic together. Salted caramel has already swept the nation, and you'd be hard-pressed these days to find a chocolate chip cookie without a sprinkling of sea salt. But when you add a bit of sugar to an ordinary savory dish, especially one with a spicy kick, all parties involved take on a whole new life. See for yourself with these recipes for Vietnamese brûléed chicken and sweet-and-sour peppers, plus a saffron-olive oil cake for dessert.

① Main Course: Brûléed Chicken Breast, Vietnamese Style

The chicken is sprinkled with sugar and broiled to give it a crisp, sweet coating, but ample fish sauce, garlic and diced chile keep it from becoming a chicken-flavored candy bar. If you're on a tight schedule, skip the long marinating time and just go heavier on the sauce.

② Side Dish: Sweet-and-Sour Peppers with Basil

Sugar and vinegar—the two main ingredients in commonplace condiments like ketchup, barbecue sauce and tare, a thickened sweet soy sauce—are often found in tandem. The addictive flavor of these bell peppers will have you proclaiming sugar and vinegar to be the new peanut butter and jelly.

③ Dessert: Saffron-Olive Oil Cake

Chefs have been toying with savory desserts of late, seen in flavor combinations like chocolate and sesame. This loaf cake takes a hint from your last aioli with strands of saffron and a whole cup of olive oil. But not to worry, sugar lovers: Candied pistachios and an orange juice glaze keep it sweet enough to taste like dessert.