Asian Kale Chips

OliveKaleDEHYDRATOR VERSION

Kale and I first met through Francesca.  My dear old friend introduced me to this superveggie on one of her visits out to California.  Fast-forward about seven years and my new friend Tonya shares a generous amount of her kale chips with my family.  Crisped kale?  Tennyson, then two, devoured them.  A new world of drying foods opened to me.  I went on to play with recipes, and Tonya and her family loved my simplified Asian version of her chips.  If I were allowed to dry only one vegetable before exile to an island, it would be the king of greens, my kale.  The red, also called purple, is less stiff than the green and smells like roses.  You can dehydrate all kale, including the green lacinato.

These guys taste way better than they look.  Dittoes Jon.  The variations are endless.  Even the basic with just olive oil and sea salt are happily addictive.  The chips stand alone as a snack or can complement a meal.  Those who don’t dehydrate bake them too high.  Despite the license given by The Food Network and almost every cookbook out there, I try to heat oils at or under 250 degrees – which means longer oven time – because they go rancid when too hot.  Sometimes I take more liberty with rice bran oil that has a smoke point of 450.  Oils that are heated lend themselves readily to cholesterol production so I reserve them until the end just before serving, when possible.  Those who do dehydrate the chips, many raw foodists, usually don’t bake them at all and end up not killing unwanted invisible critters like parasites.

I clean the kale well in a vinegar soak at least 30 minutes.  Soaking is my secret to thorough vegetable cleaning, as opposed to just running them under water.  The bath dislodges sediments well.  This batch of scrubbed, rinsed kale was jam-packed into two large bowls 7.5″ wide, 3.5″ deep. If you don’t have a ruler on hand — each was wide enough to fit my face.

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Sesame oil (optional)
Vinegar 1 T (be careful w/ any liquid seasoning.  You don’t want the kale too wet because your aim is to dry it up, and soggy leaves will be hard to crisp).
Sorghum (or maple) syrup, 1 heaping T
Miso, 1/2 T
1 head of kale

I don’t strip all the stems out, just break off the end part that runs past the leaves.  Eating the stalk with the leaves makes for better balance in the body. A macrobiotic practice, and one espoused by Paul Pitchford of Healing With Whole Foods.

Sometimes I replace the oil with 1 T almond butter.  In its thickness, it gels and coats the marinade so nicely over the kale. Adjust sweetener and salt to taste, but because syrup and miso are so concentrated you want to watch intake.  I use just enough for a little zip to the palate.  Miso should be organic.  Soybeans are among the most genetically modified crop in the U.S.

Mix the sauce up, and divide and pour into the bowls.  Divvy up the leaves with the help of another bowl if they fall out in the coating.  Transfer kale onto oven trays or first onto parchment paper.

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230 degrees in oven, 45 minutes
Flip w/ tongs halfway
115 degrees in dehydrator, 3 hours or until the wilt is crisped away, depending on size of leaves and how wet they were.

When the leaves starts browning in the oven, they’re cooking.  Flip them, being careful not to let them burn.  You want to cook them just enough to kill microbes and seep in the flavor.  It is the dehydrator that will drain, even crystallize the sauce.

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OVEN-ONLY VERSION

You must put the leaves in the oven as dry as possible, avoiding flavorings like watery vinegar because it’ll sop up the leaves too much for the oven to dry them fully before scorching.  Pat and squeeze kale firmly with a clean towel.  Coat lightly with oil to help stave off premature browning and burning.  Can mix the oil first with some syrup or just a spritz of lemon.

Mediterranean
Coriander powder, 1/3 teaspoon or to taste
Oregano, 1/3 teaspoon or to taste
Fine sea salt, 1/3 teaspoon
Extra virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon

Coriander, my favorite spice, improves and fills out the flavor of just about anything.  It minimizes the need for salt.

Asian
Sesame oil instead of olive, and skip the oregano.
Flip every 30 minutes and rotate trays because the back of the oven is hotter than the front. Bake about one hour and 15 minutes, depending on your oven, and watch for the browning.
Enjoy!

Mapo Tofu

Originally a dish from the Szechuan province of China, tofu in a spicy chili bean sauce with meat and vegetables. Omit the meat to make it vegan or vegetarian.

Guests love this one (are probably relieved to find something looking normal on their plate in my home).  This version of Mapo Tofu is simpler than any from a restaurant, minus the trappings of sugar and MSG.  Serve over rice.

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Tofu 1 pack, 14 oz
Organic ground beef 1 lb
Vegetables of choice
Chopped onion ½ c (¾ c okay, onion lovers)
Garlic and ginger nice (Have omitted when short on time)
Sesame oil 1 ½ T optional just before serving

Sauce
Tomato paste, the secret to the kick in the dish. One 6 oz. can.
Organic miso 1 T
Hot red pepper paste 1/3 T
Organic tamari 1 T
Sea salt ½ t
Grain syrup or raw honey 1 T
Rice wine 1 T optional

4 servings

Brown the ground beef in a skillet or pot.  I use a deep skillet that works like a shallow pot.  Ground turkey is a fine alternative.  Add onion.  When the beef’s about halfway done, break up and flip, and add the tofu pieces cubed about 1/2”.

The sauce makes sense.  Tart, salty, spicy, and a bit sweet to pull those other flavors away from their extreme.  Prepare the sauce and stir into the tofu and meat so that they absorb it.  Adjust taste as desired. Add a spoonful or two of water if it looks like it could use it.  Toss in the garlic and ginger.

Texture Variation
Kuzu 2 T
Cool water 2 T

If you’d like to jell the sauce as it’s done at restaurants, add the kuzu mixture now and a little more water toward the end.  The sauce will thicken. It’s a fun touch but guests and husband have enjoyed the meal plenty without it.  Since rice accompanies the Mapo and there are more ingredients that I normally use in a sitting, I skip the kuzu starch for better digestion.  The final 5-7 min toss in the veggies.  Capitalize on the rich, appetizing dish this is and tuck in a lot of vegetables or ones you don’t eat regularly. I’ve used fennel and zucchini, this particular evening 12 white mushrooms and ½ cup radicchio with some chopped kale.  The red tofu just begs countercolors like green and white.  To balance the soft, round ones that cooked into the dish, I served on the side asparagus and green beans to provide length and crunch.

The dish adjusts its own chemistry.  The tomato helps break down the meat and increases iron absorption.  The tofu is a good cooling counterpart protein to the beef that is warming, both of which the vegetables harmonize.  The sweetness rounds out the zip while keeping in check the saltiness.