Shatteringly Crisp Kale with Sea Salt and Red Chile

Even if you only try this recipe for the novelty of shatteringly crisp kale that falls apart into a thousand pieces in your mouth, it’ll be worth it. This kale is such a far cry from the traditional soul-food pots of kale or other greens simmered until tender (a.k.a mushy). These crunchy, salty leaves feel more like very thin potato chips in the mouth. They are a fun healthy snack (and a way to get some leafy greens into your diet) but would also be a nice accompaniment to any especially soft dish, like a long-simmered stew of meat or beans.

I’ve had crispy fried kale, a single leaf presented as a crunchy garnish atop silky fish, but I never made it in my own kitchen. I hate deep-frying at home; the oil always winds up spattering just enough to give the floor a sticky coat and my ridiculously designed ventilation system (microwave with vents over the stove) means that the interior of my microwave winds up dripping with oil droplets. Besides, why negate the fact that kale is so freaking good for you by dousing it in oil?

This roasting method calls for an entire bunch of kale and only a tablespoon of olive oil. As for the salt, If you’ve got flaky sea salt, use it. If you have kosher salt, that will work well too. If you only have regular table salt, well, fix that! Regular table salt, with its super-fine crystals and slightly off taste, just won’t do here. (Do a salt taste-test and you’ll see what I mean.)

I haven’t tried any other greens yet but I’d be thrilled if any of you can report back on the success of chard, mustard greens, turnip greens, or any other of the “tough” greens that can likely stand up to this treatment. When my local farm stand returns from winter hiatus with bunches of “spicy Asian greens”, whose varied and esoteric names always escape me, this is going to be my first recipe to try.

I chose to heat my kale with a sprinkling of red chile flakes, but the possibilities are numerous–you might try sesame seeds, a post-cooking shaving of parmesan, or perhaps even Indian spices like cracked mustard seed, curry powder, or garam masala. Or just stick with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Let me know if you try any seasonings that work well!

Crispy Kale with Sea Salt and Red Chile
Shatteringly crisp slow-roasted kale warmed with a touch of chile heat. The texture alone makes this recipe worth trying. Adapted from Jacques Pepin’s TV Show “More Fast Food My Way”.

Serves 3-4 as a snack or side dish.

1 bunch kale
1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt, to taste (or substitute kosher salt)
dried red chile flakes

Heat oven to 250F.

Pull kale leaves from the tough main stems. Discard stems. Wash leaves and spin dry. Turn leaves out onto a kitchen towel and blot dry–any moisture will keep kale from getting crispy.

Toss leaves with olive oil, salt, and chile flakes. The kale will shrink when it cooks; go a little easy on the salt.

Spread in an even layer on a baking rack set over a baking sheet. (See picture.)

Bake for 20 minutes or until crispy. Some pieces on the edges may get crispy before those in the middle–just pull them off the sheets and put the pan back in the oven for a few minutes to finish.

Serve immediately. Stored kale will lose its crispy texture.


Raspberry-Almond Tart for your Valentine

It’s February and not exactly berry season, but I need my fix. Costco is the dealer with my drug of choice — delectably deep pink raspberries, big and sweet.

They’re from Mexico and surely ate up a ton of fossil fuel to get here, but I just don’t care today. No one can care about everything every day. They are plump, cheap, and I’ve officially declared Tart Week in my house.

It started with a lemon tart, with a filling that was a dud, but a crust that was exceptional. Unsatisfied and faced with these berries in the store, the solution became vividly clear, especially in the face of Valentine’s Day. What better way to have some vivid red color and a feeling of being spoiled than to make a tart with a luscious stack of raspberries?

Indeed, this tart stars raspberries, kept fresh, gorgeous, and glistening with only a light glaze. It’s a simple creation, very basic, but each part — the butter crust, the fluffy cream cheese filling scented with vanilla and almond, the sweet red berries — shines through with such clean, lovely flavors.  It’s sweet, but not cloyingly so, and not too rich or heavy feeling, despite the cream cheese.

Making a tart crust can seem intimidating but it’s actually very simple. Once you get one successful crust under your belt, you’ll never worry about it again. The key is to use very cold butter and pay close attention to how you pulse the dough mix in your food processor.

Follow the recipe carefully, err on the side of under-processing, and you’ll have an enviable crust. Luckily, Deb over at Smitten Kitchen, who adapted this crust from the famous baker Dorie Greenspan’s recipe, has written clear, detailed instructions.  The dough requires some time to rest before baking; you will probably want to make it a day ahead.  (And remember to soften your cream cheese too.)

For serving, all this tart needs is a little dollop of fresh whipped cream. And maybe a glass of champagne!

Raspberry-Almond Tart
A butter crust, fluffy, almond-scented cream cheese, and spectacular red raspberries make a standout tart. Top with a little freshly whipped cream.  Don’t buy that stuff in a can — it would be an insult to the fruit and your effort. If you can’t find sweet raspberries, substitute any good berry you can find (try Costco) and use a matching jam for the glaze. 

Makes one 9-inch tart

For the Tart Crust:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
9 Tbs. unsalted butter, very cold, cut into 1/2″ dice
1 egg
one 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom

Follow the crust instructions by Deb at Smitten Kitchen here.  Pay close attention when pulsing the mix in the food processor. Your final, granular dough mixture should look like my picture above.

Partially bake the crust — bake only 5 minutes after removing the foil.  Let cool slightly while you prepare the filling. 

For the cream cheese filling:
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 egg
1 Tbs. all-purpose flour

Oven at 350F.

In the bowl of an electric mixture fitted with the paddle attachment: Beat together cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, almond extract, and egg until smooth and fluffy.  Add the flour and mix well.

Spread filling onto the par-baked tart crust. It’s OK if it’s still warm. Bake 20 minutes or until set, not wobbly, and starting to brown just a little. Cool the tart in its pan, on a rack.

For the Raspberries and Glaze:
3 cups (12 oz.) fresh raspberries, rinsed and patted dry
1/3 cup seedless raspberry jam

Arrange the berries on top of the cooled tart filling, tips up.

Heat the jam in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring, until it just melts and becomes smooth. Cool slightly. Use a pastry brush to lightly brush the berries with glaze. If your glaze is too thick to brush easily, add a little water to thin it out. You may not need all the glaze – you just want to give a light coating on the berries, not have a pool of glaze on top of the filling.

Remove the tart from the pan.  Store in the refrigerator.  Serve slices with a dollop of whipped cream.

For the Whipped Cream:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract, or to taste
1 Tbs. confectioner’s sugar, or to taste

In the bowl of an electric mixture fitted with the whisk attachment: Whip the cream on high speed until soft-peak stage.  Add the vanilla and sugar; continue to beat until stiff-peaks form.

(To determine peak stage: Lift the beater from the bowl, lifting some cream with it. If the lifting motion leaves a peak in the cream in the bowl but the peak tip bends over, you’re at soft-peak stage.  If the peak tip stands up straight and stiff, you’re at stiff-peak stage.)

Apple, Pomegranate, and Arugula Salad with Cider-Honey Vinaigrette

It’s so easy to get into a salad rut – lettuce, bell pepper, cucumber, tomato, bottled dressing. A salad like that is just fine, but not every day. It becomes a chore. At least it has in my house. I’m a cook and even I’m guilty of making the same salad a hundred times.

I bought a great salad cookbook for a Hanukkah gift, Catherine Walther’s Raising the Salad Bar. It turned out to be one of those gifts you just have to have for yourself–I promptly bought a second copy to keep. Walther’s goal is to get you out of the salad rut and into using far more varied ingredients like fruits, cheeses, grains, beans, and quick homemade dressings from various vinegars.

This salad comes almost straight from Walther’s pages; I’ve only made a few quantity adjustments and I didn’t have any arugula, so I picked bright green leaves from a spring mix and added black pepper to make up for the lack of arugula’s spiciness. I’m keeping arugula in the recipe, though, as it would have been even better.

If you’ve never opened a pomegranate, there is a great picture guide here. It seems like a lot of steps but it’s very quick. The ruby seeds, glistening like jewels on your plate, will be worth it. Pomegranates are expensive (mine was $2.99 at Whole Foods) but you only need one for several servings of salad.

When slicing apples, there’s no need for an apple corer.  Simply cut a very thin slice from the top and bottom of the apple.  With the apple upright on its newly flat bottom, cut the cheeks from the apple in four sections, leaving the core with squared edges, as pictured below.  The sections can then be laid flat on the board and easily sliced as thinly as needed.

A little salad trick: Serve beautiful salads on a plate, not in a bowl. The ingredients will spread out, be more visible, and be much more attractive. In this salad, the pomegranate seeds would become invisible in a giant salad bowl. Salads are also easier to eat this way because the heavier bits don’t sink to the bottom and you can easily load each forkful with a variety of flavors.

A unique salad can really set the tone for the rest of the meal, even if you’re just having another rotisserie chicken or spaghetti dinner. This is especially true if you’re having guests over. If you start with a unique, gorgeous salad and a glass of wine, everyone is already happy and the pressure is off.

Apple, Pomegranate, and Arugula Salad with Apple Cider-Honey Vinaigrette
Crispy apples and tart pomegranate seeds add serious crunch and flavor to peppery arugula. Tossed with a simple tart vinaigrette made from apple cider vinegar, honey, and olive oil. A final sprinkling of toasted almonds and goat cheese round out the flavors.

serves 4
adapted from Catherine Walther’s Raising the Salad Bar, 2007

1 apple (I used a Fuji), thinly sliced
6 to 7 cups arugula, washed and dried, large stems removed
1/3 cup pomegranate seeds
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
goat cheese, crumbled

for the vinaigrette:
2 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
1 ½ tsp. honey
6 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2 pinches kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper, optional

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients until emulsified. The mixture will turn from clear to cloudy. Adjust salt and pepper.

Seed the pomegranate. (Instructions here.)

Slice the apple. Toss the slices with a little of the dressing to keep them from discoloring.

Just before serving, toss the apples and arugula with just enough dressing to coat the leaves. Divide among four plates. Sprinkle each plate with pomegranate seeds, almonds, and crumbled goat cheese. Use the tip of your whisk to lightly drizzle with a little extra dressing if needed. Serve immediately.