I almost feel silly writing a post titled “How to Bake the Perfect Kale Chips” because it sounds so simple, right? Wash kale. Toss kale in olive oil. Put kale on a baking sheet. Season. Bake. Mow down. However, if you’ve ever attempted to bake kale chips yourself, chances are you’ve ended up with a crap-batch at least once – and if you’re like me, you’ve sworn off of doing it again by chalking kale chips up to “just another kale fad” to make yourself feel better.
There is definitely a certain degree of care (and heck, patience!) that must go into turning vegetables and legumes into healthy, crispy treats. This is exactly why it’s so much easier to just grab that bag of chips in your pantry and crunch away with a mischievous grin on your face but hey – if I told you the care and patience was worth the end result, would you give this a go? Because not only are these crispy kale chips delicious, but they are so delicious that you won’t even make it to the couch; you’ll eat the entire tray while standing over the stove top as the tray cools. Therefor you’re snacking while standing as opposed to being sprawled out on the couch. Snacking while standing as opposed to snacking while laying down has to count for something, right? (I’m grasping at straws here, guys. Can you tell I’m one of those desperate snackers seeking justification in all the snacking I do?)
The first few times I made kale chips, the end results were on opposites ends of the spectrum: one batch turned into a tray of green slime (too much oil) while the other batch resembled the remnants of a burning newspaper pile (too much heat). Humiliated, I tried to pass it off as acceptable. “No these are fine, I love crispy. These will do, it’s no big deal.” And then after a few hours of coughing up black bits, I made an angry Facebook status about how dumb these “turning vegetables into delicious treats that’ll make you forget actual treats” fads were.
BUT LET’S TALK ABOUT HOW WRONG I WAS!
Kale chips, when prepared properly, are kind of a big deal. You can basically eat an entire batch of kale (and yes, I did) without hating yourself. You can season it however you’d like, but I like to keep is simple with kosher salt and ground black pepper.
First, let’s talk about the things you want to avoid because ultimately, these are the most important things to keep in mind and there are a whopping nine of them. Gosh, kale! You’re so high maintenance!
- Stems – Just chuck’em. Kale stems aren’t pleasant to eat in any way; the leaves are where it’s at.
- Small pieces – Kale shrinks as it bakes, so small pieces will shrink into nothingness and you’ll be left with what might be better off referred to as kale crumbs rather than kale chips. Tear your kale into nice large pieces.
- Wet kale – You’re obviously going to wash your kale, just make sure that you dry it well. Invite some absorbent paper towels to the party; pat and press until you’ve soaked up any and all moisture leaving the leaves dry to the touch. Any water left will steam the kale chips and you’ll end up with mushy kale – not what you’re looking for.
- Too much oil – Too much oil sounds like an obvious one, but what isn’t obvious is just how little “too much” can be. For one large baking tray of kale chips, I only use 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but the key is to get your hands in there and massage the oil into the kale. After a few tosses and rubs, you’ll see that the oil is distributed very nicely and evenly. The kale will have a slight oily glisten, but the leaves aren’t completely wet. This is definitely what you want.
- Wet dressings before baking – Just don’t do it. Yes, of course I’ve imaged what kale chips might taste like tossed in Sriracha sauce – I imagine that about everything before I make it. But any added moisture, besides the little amount of oil you’ve already used, is a recipe for disaster – the disaster being slimy kale. You can drizzle whatever you want on your kale after it’s been baked (sparingly, though) and right before you eat it.
- Too much seasoning – I love seasoning – especially salty seasonings – but it’s easy to over-do it with kale chips because it’s easy to forget how delicate kale is in chip form. Really, it becomes thinner than paper, so what seems like a fair amount of seasoning can become really overpowering in the end. The best way to avoid over-seasoning kale chips is to use half of the seasoning that you’re tempted to use. Fight that temptation – FIGHT IT. If you feel the chips aren’t seasoned enough in the end, you can simply add more.
- Over-lapping on the baking sheet – Over-lapping kale leaves will leave you with an uneven bake. You want your kale to cook and crisp up evenly, so you need to spread your kale out evenly. If you have to use two baking trays, then you have to use two baking trays. If you have to bake the kale in batches, so be it! It will be worth the wait in the end when you have crispy kale chips.
- High heat – In my early days of roasting vegetables, it wasn’t uncommon for me to smoke out the kitchen and set off the fire alarm. Oil + high heat, who would have thought, right? The best way to avoid this is to bake the kale chips at a low temp. Baking at 300° F for approx. 10-15 minutes (depending on your oven) has been perfect in my experiences thus far.
- Browned kale – I feel like with baking, I’m always looking for something to start “browning” as an indicator for it being ready (like the edges of cookies). This is not the case with kale. Kale can actually turn into a chip all while keeping it’s bright green color. Don’t base the readiness of your kale chips by eyeballing the color, because browned kale is nothing but overdone.
Unfortunately there is no TL;DR version of this. Actually, all of my failed kale chip attempts were because I skimmed the how-to’s, so hey – sometimes you have to take the time and actually read things in order to learn – again, that whole patience thing!