I was a little slow to the Kale Train, I think. The only kale I’d ever seen or heard of prior to a year or so ago was Curly Kale, the green kind sold in supermarkets that looks a little like brain coral and gets chopped up very fine and stirred into Irish Champ. Or at least, that’s the only thing I knew to do with it.
But kale comes in plenty of other varieties, and the one that was most revelatory to me was Tuscan Kale, also called lacinato kale or dinosaur kale. Flat and deep green with a giant kale-like rib up the middle, Tuscan kale begs to be made into chips. You can eat it any other way you like – sauteed into other dishes, or as a side, or my personal favorite, as with all bitter greens, prepared in any way, shape or form with bacon – but kale chips are really the perfect venue for this particular kind of kale to shine. They’re quick, they’re easy to make, they keep for a good week if you can actually keep them around that long, and best of all:
My toddler loves them. Ask any parent what they do to make their kids eat their veggies, and you’ll get various purees and promises and smothered in cheese and snuck into brownies, but my answer always is: Kale Chips. On those days where he refuses everything, throws even fruit and generic O’s I bought because they were organic and it turns out they’re chock full of sugar, he’ll eat kale chips. And for that, I love kale.
Look for dark, deep green leaves, ranging almost to a blackish-green in color, with a pale thick rib up the center. The leaves look like they’re almost flat, though they do curl a bit at the edges, but up close you’ll see that the surface of the leaf rises and falls with the veins, like rolling hills. Leaves can be smallish (4-6 inches), but usually range much larger than that, as much as a foot or two in length from stem to top. Most recipes will tell you to remove the rib from all kale before eating, but we often don’t. I usually get rid of the really tough splinter-y looking part at the bottom, but the rest can usually be sliced up small and tossed into whatever you’re putting the kale in. Kale chips, however, are the exception to my lazy/cheap tendencies: lose the rib. If you do plan on using the stem, be sure and scrub it with your thumb when washing – dirt tends to stick to the thicker part of the rib.
It seems like everyone has a recipe for kale chips out there, from Martha Stewart to Epicurious to Smitten Kitchen and thousands of other sites in between, but after making them week after week, I’ve discovered a few hints:
- Lower temp is better. I’ve seen 250, 275, 300 and 350 on different sites, and in my experience, anything over 300 ends up tasting burnt, even if they don’t look it. Use an oven thermometer if you have an old gas contraption like mine, because the first time I made them, I made the 350 version, but it was pre-thermometer, so it turns out it may even have been more like 400. That first batch was definitely burnt. Subsequent attempts have taught me to dry them out rather than roast them.
- Don’t use canola oil. We don’t use canola oil for anything anymore, but when we first tried kale chips, we did and we did. They were awful. Canola can get a strange fishy taste to it (I read why once but I forget now) and it definitely came through on something as delicate and spare as kale chips. If you like seaweed snacks, give the canola a try. Otherwise, go for olive. (Side note: I’m curious what sunflower seed oil would taste like – since nutty flavors go so well with bitter greens, I imagine it might be quite nice. Anyone tried it?)
- Spice it up. As much as I try to eat greens at every dinner, I have to be honest: I don’t love them. Hence the predominance of bacon in all my favorite bitter greens recipes. Kale chips according to most recipes consist of olive oil, salt and kale. And guess what? They end up tasting like kale. Crispy kale, sure. Salty like a snack? You betcha. Kale? Yup. I prefer mine with garlic powder, but I’ve done them with garlic, ginger and a dash of soy in with the olive oil for an Asian-inspired version that were quite nice as well, and I imagine if you were someone that could handle spicy foods, some cayenne pepper or chili powder could be really interesting. Definitely put something on there. Weirdly, as an FYI, garlic and parmesan? Not as good as I thought it would be. It wasn’t BAD, they just taste better with straight garlic.
So my version in a nutshell:
1 bunch Tuscan kale
spices of choice (garlic powder is my go-to)
Preheat oven to 275 or 300 – I usually just turn it on to somewhere in between.
Remove the rib from each leaf by flipping the leaf upside down and slicing on either side of it. I often ignore this advice when cooking with kale, but with chips, you do not want it there. Baby leaves or thinner rib near the top can be left alone if you’re feeling lazy, but you really want all leaf for these.
Slice the kale leaves into relatively uniform pieces. You’ll have a few super skinny ones that were next to the rib and maybe some giant flat ones from the bigger leaves – that’s okay, you just want to try and get everything to be finished cooking at the same time.
Put all the kale leaves in a ziploc bag or bowl. Add spices, and olive oil enough to coat – don’t be too stingy here, but don’t drown them. I often go as much as a whole tablespoon, but I eyeball it – start with a little and if that’s not enough, add more. They’re very flexible, but too much oil will make them begin to wilt.
Toss around the ziploc to coat the leaves, or toss gently with your hands if they’re in a bowl – do use your hands for the bowl. Utensils tend to rip them to shreds.
On a large cookie sheet (I usually end up needing 2), lay down parchment paper or aluminum foil – this is not necessary, but it makes cleanup a breeze. Spread out the leaves so nothing’s overlapping; but you can get them quite close to each other, like a game of Healthy Tetris. Bake about 20 minutes or until crispy. If they start to turn brown, your oven may be too hot or you’ve baked too long – they’re still edible, but they will taste more bitter.
Remove from the oven, and slip the parchment or foil off the pan with the leaves still on it onto a table, counter, or rack to cool. Voila! Clean cookie sheet and you don’t have to burn your fingers transferring leaf by leaf to a rack. They’ll keep up to about a week in a jar or ziploc bag. They don’t look pretty, but they sure taste awesome.
*Special Note for people with toddlers and/or people that are stronger than you think you are: You will accidentally crumble half of them into bits when you absentmindedly grab for one. Save the bits! They’re great hidden in a quick quesadilla or shaken into any pasta dish to get some quick extra greens that, at that point, just taste like garlic salt.
Looking for how to prepare Tuscan Kale? Just like Frilly Purple Kale –