At first glance, kale doesn't have much going for it. It's a headless brassica, one in a group known as Old World cabbages that medieval serfs cooked to a mush and downed for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Mature kale has tough, gray-green leaves and, if you're not careful, it can gain King Kong-like girth and terrorize your garden. Northern Europeans go for it in a big way, but seven out of ten Americans surveyed would rather eat live flies than kale.
Myself, I'd always been ambivalent about kale - after all, it's nutritious, it's interchangeable with other hearty greens in recipes and, well, it's nutritious. I do like it tossed in a hot skillet with garlic and sesame seeds, especially when it's the frost-sweetened stuff that shows up at market stands in fall. But generally I have viewed kale the way I viewed the Green Bay Packers of the 1980s: you support the team, but you're not exactly excited about it.
Recently, though, I made kale crisps, the snack that took top honors in this year's Food for Thought Recipe Contest. Winner Jessica Weiss of Oregon, Wis. demonstrated the method for these easy-to-make morsels of oven-crisped (not deep-fried) kale a couple of weeks ago, at the REAP Food for Thought Festival. And I've been making them ever since. Kale crisps are like potato chips, only better. They are salty, spicy and feather-light. They are good for you. They are the Brett Favre of recipes, the dish that made me fall hard for the team, er, kale.
I like the crisps best when they're warm, although they are mightily good at any temperature. They'll lose some crunchiness after an hour or two (especially on a rainy day) - but most likely you will have eaten them all by then, anyway. If you want to store them, keep them in an airtight container; they can be reheated very briefly in a hot oven to revive the crunch.
Recipe by Jessica Weiss, Oregon, Wisconsin
1 bunch kale, cleaned and dried in a cotton towel
about 2 tablespoons olive oil
cayenne pepper (optional)
Heat oven to 425-450 degrees. Cut stems from the kale stalks (you can save the stems for another use, like a stir-fry or a quick nibble). Tear leaves into 2- to 3-inch-size pieces and place them in a large bowl. Drizzle in the olive oil, then toss the kale with your hands until all of it is lightly covered with the oil. Spread kale out on one or two large baking sheets. Don't pile them up; keep them in one layer. Sprinkle with salt to taste. Sprinkle lightly with cayenne pepper (if you want them spicy). Bake until kale is nice and crispy, 10-15 minutes. (If you bake these in a convection oven, they will cook much faster.) You will hear it hissing and popping while it is cooking. Don't worry; this is normal. Remove from oven, transfer kale crisps to a bowl, and enjoy. Makes four or more servings.