If there’s one ubiquitous food for children these days, it’s potato crisps – grownups give them to kids at parties, as a treat, as a snack or sometimes just because. If you don’t want your children to eat the fat and other unhealthy ingredients of processed food, you can make try something straight from the garden, something light, crispy, salty, but packed with vitamins. Take, for example, kale crisps.
Kale remains one of our hardiest crops, perhaps closest to the original seaside crop that gave rise to the whole cabbage family, from which gardeners bred cruciferous vegetables for their bus (Brussels sprouts), their heads (cabbage and bok choi), their roots (kohlrabi) and their flowers (broccoli, cauliflower).
One of the most nutritious of vegetables overall, 100 grams carries 50 calories but has 308 per cent of the day’s needed Vitamin A, 200 per cent of the needed Vitamin C and 1021 per cent of one’s daily needs of Vitamin K. It has high levels of calcium, iron, manganese and potassium.
Kale is also useful for when it appears; it can be grown and eaten year-round in our climate, but is especially productive when greens are needed, in the fall and winter. It’s even good fodder for the animals; the Irish Farmers’ Journal reported a couple of years ago that more growers turned to kale as a feed crop, one that could be grazed from October until March and yields eight to 12 tonnes of dry matter per acre.
Kale can be sown from April to June – we put ours in small seed trays and keep them inside, and put them in the ground four to six weeks after they germinate. They need well-fertilised soil with a great deal of manure or compost added, but also need it to drain well. They are less prone to disease than the more heavily inbred cabbage varieties, but still shouldn’t be put in a bed where you have had cruciferous vegetables in the previous few years.
To make kale into crisps, first snap some of the leaves off kale and bring it inside, remove the centre ribs and chop each leaf into several pieces. Wash them and let them dry – this will be the longest part, as they have to be completely dry to crisp up properly. I find it best to spin them and let them sit a few hours on a rack.
Pre-heat an oven to 150 degrees C. Put the kale in a dry bowl, drizzle a bit of olive oil over it and toss the kale until a thin layer of oil is coating everything. Line a baking tray with tinfoil and spread the kale over it in a layer one kale-piece deep.
The real trick is to let them bake for just the right amount of time – a minute too little and they come out limp and soggy, a minute too long and they blacken and burn. I put mine in for 15 minutes, but that will depend on your oven and the type of kale you use. Start checking at 10 minutes, and wing it from there.
When you take them out of the oven, sprinkle them with salt or – if you want to cut down on salt, as I did, with a spice mix of powdered vegetable stock, lemon zest, cayenne and pepper.
You can cook kale in many other ways. We often put it in bean soup – first we take dried beans and leave them in water for a day or two, and then boil them in water for an hour until the liquid is thick and reduced and the beans soft all the way through. While that’s boiling I dice and sautee a few onions in a pot, stir in other vegetables in season like celery, carrots, turnips, swedes, potatoes – all diced and then sautéed until slightly soft – and then add heaping quantities of washed and chopped kale. Finally, I add the beans and let them all cook together, until they are soft without being overcooked
My favourite is probably the sweet-and-sour kale we make in our house. First lightly oil a pan and peel and dice a large onion. Toss the onion bits in and sautee them until they are yellow. Wash and chop about as much kale as will fit in a small pot – it will cook down, and the amounts don’t have to be precise --- and toss it in as well. Add a pinch of salt and stir frequently to make sure nothing sticks to the metal.
After the kale has shrunk and gone soft, drizzle it with several tablespoons of cider vinegar, and a tablespoon of honey, and stir it in. I like to add a bit of concentrated stock and cayenne pepper, or you can use balsamic vinegar to make it sweeter. These are general recipe outlines, of course -- see what formula you like best.