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Posted at 4:00 PM ET, 02/22/2011

Staff Favorites: Next-gen kale chips

By Bonnie S. Benwick

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Elizabeth Petty's spicy kale chips are a thing of beauty. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

Kale chips are having a moment.

Granted, it’s not a cupcake-size one. The vitamin-packed snack is long beloved by vegetarians, nutritionists and farmers who dispense recipes with their weekly Community-Supported Agriculture shares.

Lately, the healthful alternative to what’s in bags on the snack aisle has gotten decent play: See Kim O’Donnel (“The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook,” her USA Today column) and “Hungry Girl” Lisa Lillien, who gushed over the chips’ attractive calorie count on a recent episode of her Cooking Channel series.

The leaves crisp up nicely in the oven, especially when tossed first with olive oil, salt and pepper. To me, kale chips taste vaguely vegetal at best; they do deliver crunch that can divert a midafternoon trip to the vending machine.

Washington caterer Elizabeth Petty has upped the game. Her kale chips are lovely to look at, as you can see in the accompanying photos, and, more importantly, taste like pimento cheese chaat. I’m hooked. They have a sly heat. This is green (and coral-colored) food I can’t get enough of.

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You'll eat the crumbs, too. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

Petty, a raw-food enthusiast that my former colleague Jane Black wrote about in July 2010, has been making kale chips since last spring. She and her catering chef spent considerable time tweaking the recipe.

“It’s a compilation of different recipes I’ve found,” she says, “but lemon is our unique ingredient. The acidity makes the coating mixture much more complex.” They hit on a good rendition about four months back, and now Petty puts complementary bowls on the table at her raw-food dinners.

Petty got the best back-handed compliment of her career at a recent benefit for the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance held at the Ritz Carlton downtown. Chef-restaurateur Michel Richard cruised by her raw-food sample table and declared a cheeky “Vive la carne!”

“He was kidding to others, pointing at our food and saying “ 'Don’t eat there!' ” Petty says. “It was the best advertisement we could get.”

A bit later, she sent a bag of her spicy kale chips to his table. The next day, Richard sent a chef to Petty’s L Street NW business to pick up 10 bags of them. Apparently he’s hooked, too.

Petty gave him the recipe, which she’s happy to share. Problem is, I haven’t been able to make chips just like hers – so far. (This may be the first time I’ve endorsed a recipe I can’t faithfully replicate.) The flavor’s there: The coating is a mixture of soaked raw chestnuts, lots of red bell pepper, water, nutritional yeast (lends a cheesy flavor and Vitamin B12), that lemon juice, jalapeno pepper, plus sea salt and a little cayenne pepper.

She's careful to point out that nutritional yeast is not a raw food, but figures its healthful benefits are worth the inclusion.

Her Vita-Mix blender turns all that into a creamy paste; my Waring can’t. It makes enough coating for a ton of kale; luckily, the chips can last for up to a month and the flavoring can be refrigerated for up to four days – also a plus, because while Petty has multiple food dehydrators, I’ve got just one.

My chips have a slightly chunkier coating. But they taste great. Petty recommends making the chips several times with slight variations to find the way you like best. I tested the recipe in regular and convection ovens, for those of you who don’t have a dehydrator. The chips don’t look as nice and get a little too papery. Petty prefers using dino kale when she can get it, having made the chips with several kinds of kale. The dino leaves create spiky thin shapes when dried. I think I like them better as well.

If you don’t want to go to the trouble, of course, you can stop in at Elizabeth’s Gone Raw at Elizabeth’s on L, 1341 L St. NW, from 9 to 5, and buy a bag (two ounces, $8).

Or 10 of them.

Elizabeth Petty's Kale Chips
Makes about 20 cups

The original recipe calls for a food dehydrator; a basic one with four trays can cost $40 to $60. The kale chips will retain most of their color if you use the appliance; the green makes a nice contrast with the spicy, orange-colored coating. The chips can be oven-baked as well; they won't look quite as nice but will taste just as good. (See alternative directions below.)

MAKE AHEAD: The cashews need to be soaked for at least 2 hours before using. The coating mixture can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days. The kale chips can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature for up to 1 month.

Adapted from caterer Elizabeth Petty, of Elizabeth's Gone Raw in downtown Washington.

1 pound raw unsalted cashews
Water, plus 1 1/2 cups for the coating mixture
5 medium red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and coarsely chopped
2/3 cup nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons sea salt
Freshly squeezed juice from 4 or 5 lemons (2/3 cup)
1 medium jalapeno pepper, stemmed, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
Leaves from 48 stems curly kale, rinsed and patted as dry as possible

Place the cashews in a container and cover with cool water. Let sit for at least 2 hours, or until most or all of the water has been absorbed.

Drain the cashews (as needed) and place half of them in a blender, along with half of the red bell peppers, 1/3 cup of nutritional yeast, 1 cup of water, 1 tablespoon of the sea salt, half of the lemon juice, half of the jalapeno pepper and half of the cayenne pepper. Puree to form a loose paste, as smooth and incorporated as possible; transfer to a very large mixing bowl. Repeat with the remaining amounts of those ingredients (and the remaining 1/2 cup of water) and transfer to a gallon-size resealable plastic food storage bag; seal and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Working in batches, tear the kale leaves into different-size pieces, letting them fall into the first bowl of coating mixture. Work the mixture into the leaves very well. Once you have used all of the coating, transfer the remaining (uncoated) kale leaves to gallon-size resealable plastic food storage bags and refrigerate for up to 1 week.

Arrange the coated kale leaves in the trays of a food dehydrator, flattening the leaves slightly.

Set the dehydrator at 115 degrees. Dry the kale leaves overnight (10 to 12 hours) or until the desired level of crispness is achieved.

(Alternatively, preheat the oven to 225 degrees. Spread the kale chips on 2 or 3 large rimmed baking sheets, preferably lined with silicone liners. Bake for 1 hour or until crisp, rotating the pans top to bottom and front to back as needed, then turn off the oven and let the chips dry in the oven overnight.)

Serve right away or store in airtight containers for up to 1 week.

Within 2 days, repeat the process with the remaining coating mixture and kale leaves.

By Bonnie S. Benwick  | February 22, 2011; 4:00 PM ET
Categories:  Recipes, Staff Favorites  | Tags:  Bonnie S. Benwick, Staff Favorites, recipes  
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