Danger: Kale Chips Cooking

During a recent visit to my godparents’ house and a lovely meal of ham sandwiches, I noticed but avoided the ham’s table companion: green clumps in white bowls at either end of the table. Mom informed me that the clumps were kale chips and encouraged me to try one. I did, intrigued by their crispy nature, and found the way they crunched and then melted in my mouth very satisfying and their spicy seasoning to almost hide the fact that the “chips” were kale. I devoured quite a bit more kale in this form, and, proud of myself for eating kale at all, I asked my godmother for her recipe so I could try them out myself.

She baked her kale in the oven for about 15 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, but she warned that the leaves need to be watched because they can get crispy (and then burnt) quickly. She put them in the oven after coating them lightly with olive oil and seasoning. The recipes I found online (http://steamykitchen.com/6926-crispy-kale-recipe.html and http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/melissa-darabian/crispy-kale-chips-recipe/index.html) directed me in much the same way, although one recommended seasoning with salt after the kale was out of the oven, and both recommended lower oven temperatures.

A few days ago I prepared some kale leaves for a test run, reasoning that I would need to fiddle with various oven temperatures and cooking lengths. The preparation was simple: it’s easy to tear the leaves from the stalk of the kale plant, and a salad spinner is one of the most enjoyable kitchen tools to use. I was tempted to taste a few raw kale leaves, and I must say I doubted the success of the final product if this was to be my material. But last night I finally removed the kale leaves from the fridge and laid them upon a baking sheet. One recipe recommended putting parchment paper on the pan first, but Mom suggested wax paper because it was similar to parchment paper and cheaper.

I spread olive oil on the wax paper and used a spray can of the same to coat the leaves, then salted them and put all of it into the oven at 350 degrees. After about seven minutes I heard Mom say from the kitchen, “Is this supposed to happen?” and looked up from the computer to see the kitchen filling with smoke. While my parents and I rushed to the open oven to discover the source of the smoke, my brothers seized the opportunity to test out what they had been told about smoke rising. My brothers exclaimed excitedly from their positions on the floor that “the oxygen really is down here!”, and the cause of the smoke continued to be a mystery until Dad proclaimed, “Oh! Wax paper isn’t supposed to go in the oven!”

Mom asserted that she was fairly sure wax paper is allowed in the oven, and I checked the wax paper box. It read, “Wax paper is ‘microwaveable’. Do not expose wax paper to open flame or to heating elements such as toaster or conventional ovens”. Don’t ask me why “microwaveable” was in quotation marks; it makes me a little doubtful of the box’s directions in general, but the smoke issuing from our oven seemed enough evidence to confirm that wax paper was the culprit. The baking sheet was promptly taken outside and the house aired out. I polled my parents on whether the half-baked kale leaves could be salvaged and baked through. Mom argued against it, but Dad said, “They won’t kill you! They just won’t taste good.” Although his advice was practical, I think its second clause ruled out pretty completely any future for those first brave kale leaves.

A second attempt was made, this time with the kale resting on a Silpat mat (http://silpat.com/), which can safely be used in conventional ovens. I cooked the kale for 10 minutes and found the larger pieces to be somewhat soggy at their bases and the little ones to be too brown, tasting a bit burnt. Dad suggested sorting the pieces, so in my next attempt I cooked only larger pieces for 11 minutes instead of 10, at 350 degrees. I salted them after removing them from the oven. Unfortunately, most ended up too brown, and with too little salt.

So, kale chips are a work in progress. Dad suggests opening them up a bit so that they cook more evenly, and I plan to get in touch with my godmother for more tips on how hers came out so delectably. One thing I can say is that I don’t mind how many trial runs it takes for success: kale chips are an easy-to-prepare, guilt-free, healthy snack. And all the little kale victims of my failed attempts get eaten right up anyway, regardless of browned edges and smoky kitchens.

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