So there I was at the co-op the other day and there they were: two bunches of lacinato kale, a couple of days old, leaves drooping like the willow does; sitting in a dim corner as a divorcee waiting for the final judgement might; ignored as elderly women at the bus stops often are, their wisdom and years of experience sought by no one. Aside from cosmetics, however, there wasn't anything really wrong with them; the stems were firm, the bunches generously sized, and there was no mush or rot whatsoever. The fact remained however that they were no longer as young and attractive as the new batch that was being put out, and therefore no longer desirable.
I actually felt sorry for them, if it's possible to feel sorry for kale, of all things, and took them home with me; it didn't seem right for them not to fulfill their intended purpose. The philosophical question, "If the kale had a choice in it's own fate, would it rather have been composted and returned to the earth whence it came, than ending up in my hungry maw?" is one I'll leave for another time.
Less unselfishly I also wondered, would slightly past-it's-prime kale be just as good as kale chips as a very fresh and sprightly bunch? Happily for me at least, and everyone else who snacked on them, the answer was "yes"; which means from now on I won't be so prone to shove aside yesterday's kale in a mad dash for today's pretty young things.
Kale chips have been a party and snack staple in my house since I first saw Cathy Elton's recipe back in September 2010. Now they've gone mainstream (sort of ); you can find them packaged, as you would potato chips, at Fiddleheads and other "health food" grocery stores. I admit I haven't tried the store-bought version and I ought to just for comparison's sake, but I don't feel compelled to do so either because the homemade version is so good. Like potato chips, they are ridiculously addictive; but unlike potato chips, they are easy to make in an "if I can do it, you can too" sort of way. They do however require a little time and attention on your part to keep them from burning, as they crisp within minutes. Most recipes use the oven, as I prefer; but they can be just as easily done on your outdoor grill, (which I claim as my invention until your attorney tells me otherwise); or even in a dehydrator.
Of the two varieties of kale that we carry regularly at the co-op, I prefer lacinato to curly kale (red, green or purple); the broad and relatively flat leaves of lacinato are much easier to work with and provide a perfect platform for the seasonings, whereas I find that curly kale tends to fall to pieces at the ruffled edges.
Spicy Kale Chips
1 bunch lacinato or russian kale
2-4 T extra-virgin olive oil or good-quality vegetable oil, plus extra to coat baking sheets
sea salt, finely ground, and black pepper, to taste
1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder, or a few drops of tabasco sauce/ hot pepper sauce to taste
Preheat oven to 325 degree (F); arrange 2 oven racks in the center of the oven, but allow some air space between for proper heat distribution and circulation. Lightly coat 2-3 large baking sheets with oil (omit this step if using nonstick sheets) and set aside.
If the kale has been rinsed, shake well and allow to air-dry, until it's at least dry to the touch. (A slight amount of moisture as it adds a bit of chewiness to the finished chips, which I like; but other folks I've spoken with prefer to their kale to be bone-dry at the start.) Tear the leaves in large pieces from the stems, and put in a generously-sized bowl, such as an enlarged "salad" bowl. Coat with the olive oil by turning with a spoon and/or with your hands, "massaging" individual pieces* until all are well coated. It's not necessary to be 100% coated, however; driving yourself crazy is not the goal here.
Sprinkle the seasonings over the leaves and give another few turns to distribute evenly. Place the kale pieces on the baking sheets in batches; if necessary, uncurl the pieces so they lay flat on the pan. Load up your trays as long as the leaves don't overlap; place the baking sheets on the racks in the oven, and bake for approximately 7-10 minutes, checking frequently at that point. To determine doneness, push individual pieces of kale across the tray; if a piece slides easily on the tray and is stiff rather than soft or limp, it's done. If the leaves crumble to pieces at the first touch or are mostly brown in color they are overbaked; check a minute or two earlier next time.
Remove individual chips from the baking sheet to a plate, bowl or airtight container as they are ready; return the rest to the oven as necessary. Continue as above with the rest of the kale in batches. You can pile the just-baked chips as high as you like; they cool so quickly that new layers don't cause the earlier ones to loose their crispness (as happens when you layer your waffles just off the iron.) Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container for at least a week - assuming they last that long. They do store successfully and retain their crispness, although when I've made them they are usually gobbled up on the spot.
*Some amount of rubbing with your hands is necessary IMO to thoroughly coat the leaves, so obviously this is not the recipe for those of you who don't like to get your hands dirty. If that sort of thing does bother you, however, you might want to consider leaving the kitchen to someone else and pursue less messy hobbies, such as knitting. Or nuclear fusion. Just a thought.
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Text and photos copyright 2011-2013 Janice Janostak unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.