Photo courtesy of Nina Barnett
My love affair with kale actually began in the winter when, desperate for a fresh vegetable I began searching for something in season. When we began to thaw out admittedly my head was turned by the fresh younger spring vegetables, and I nearly forgot about the deep green leafy goodness I had been putting in my winter soups until one week my CSA box said “one pound baby kale.”
Um, how interesting. What does one do with baby kale? I asked the all-knowing conduit of helpful hints, recipes and if nothing else good suggestions – Google. The search results mostly suggested I put it into salads but then came recipes for braised baby kale – which basically sounded like tossing the little guys in some olive oil then baking them.
The first week I tried the salads approach, which went quite well and it added a little zing to the other organic baby greens from my CSA box. The next week I got another batch of these babies and decided to try baking them into kale chips. Not really knowing what I was doing I liberally added olive oil and salt, spread them out on a baking sheet and put them into a very hot (about 400 degree) oven. I wasn’t sure how long they needed to cook so I committed the mortal sin of oven use (I’m not a very good baker) and kept opening the oven to check on them (thus screwing up my temperature).
At first they didn’t seem to do much, other than perhaps sweat a little in the heat. A little longer in the oven they got limp but kept their nice bright green color. I tried flipping some of them, but they just turned into a pile of mush. So I left the rest alone and decided to let them sit a bit longer in the hot oven. Like the Shrinky-Dinks of my childhood, they soon collapsed into tiny, flat, crispy, if a bit overdone chips. Well, I’m being kind, because that first batch really was burnt, but the oil and the salt made them nearly edible (because who doesn’t like salt and fat?) For my next batch I had more patience and less varying of my oven temperature. I didn’t leave them in nearly as long and turned down the heat. These came out green, crispy beautiful little leaves on the ends of delicate stems. Lacking that burnt taste, they were very hard to stop eating. I served my baby kale chips at a brunch I hosted in my garden later that day. They were, by far the most popular item on the menu.
A few weeks later we got, what I kindly referred to as “adolescent” kale. Gone were the cute baby sprigs with long stems and short leaves, instead there were awkward pieces of various shapes and sizes. This kale was gangly, prone to acne, had a sullen attitude and began noticing boys (or girls) – in other words I had teenagers on my hands. When I tried to cook these up the variations showed. Some pieces cooked well and were crispy, others stayed mushy and oily. Others just burnt. So my kale was growing up and I was learning.
Because kale was so plentiful in my weekly CSA share and the chips were going over so well (I often made them for my boyfriend or for other dinner guests as an appetizer) I really started to get the knack for it. Even when summer finally arrived (we were having a cold wet summer in NYC) and it was too hot to use to oven, I switched over to the toaster oven to bake my kale chips. I began adding freshly cracked pepper (a favorite of my boyfriend) and even began roasting other greens – beet tops, kohlrabi tops and swiss chard all got olive oil baths tossed with salt and cooked until flat and crispy.
Overall this has been a lot of fun to experiment with. The results have varied from chips that are a light airy crunch that feel like nothing in your mouth, to salty soggy green goodness that you don’t want to stop eating. I usually serve them alone, but sometimes add them to salads This week’s CSA share included dinosaur kale (pictured above) which will be a first for me. The weather has gotten cooler so I’m considering starting my oven again and trying to roast the long strips of kale. I don’t know how it will turn out, but I never do.