I was scared to try these the first time I was given some. I was at a barter event; a nice man was interested in something I had to offer, probably jam or pickles, and had kale chips to share. They had some yellow coating on them that looked like cheese– or maybe like cheez, as in puff, doodle, spread. I could have asked questions… but I didn’t. Why go to barters if you’re not willing to try new things? I traded for a quart-sized bag of the kale chips with yellow coating, which went into a cupboard as soon as I got home, unopened.
As I looked through the cupboard for a snack one day, I found the kale chips and decided to give them a try. They were light as air, crisp to the point of almost disintegrating on your tongue, and with a savory, slightly salty flavor that reminded me of fresh air-popped corn, or tortilla chips. So delicious! Why had I waited so long to try? The powder on them tasted like cheese, somewhere between parmesan and sharp cheddar, but I knew it wasn’t. I learned it was nutritional yeast… and I had no idea what that was, or if I wanted to eat it. After some research, I learned that it is a deactivated natural yeast, meaning no leavening abilities, grown on molasses. Because it’s close in nature to a mushroom, it has the wonderful umami properties that trick our taste buds into thinking “cheese”. Nutritional yeast is a vegan-friendly substitute for cheesy, savory flavors in anything from soups to sauces to snacks like my kale chips, and it’s good for you! Sometimes called “nooch”, it is rich in B vitamins, selenium, folic acid, zinc and protein. Eat one of these kale chips with your eyes closed and it might be hard to tell the difference between it and a snack flavored with that bright orange powder that stains your fingers; they remind me of broccoli cheddar soup, of white cheddar popcorn and sometimes, sometimes, I swear I get a hint of bacon. Maybe it’s just the saltiness, but I’ll take it.
If I’m not careful, a batch of these baked kale chips can be a one-sitting snack. Just like buttery popcorn, crunchy chips, salty pretzels, they taste so good I can eat mindlessly. I suppose, considering the ingredients, that wouldn’t be the worst thing… But I like to have some for another day. Crispy, slightly salty, and with that hint-of-cheese taste from the nutritional yeast, they are legitimate snack heaven. And, it feels like a such bonus to have a healthy treat that helps me eat more dark, leafy greens! Nutritional yeast is showing up in more and more stores– I was able to find it in bulk in my regular grocery store for $10/lb., meaning this recipe used $.80 worth– so there will be many more of these wonderful kale chips in my future. In additional to a snack, they are great as a crouton-like topping to soup or chili. I even sneak them into sandwiches for a chip-like crunch factor. Isn’t it so nice to find a satisfying treat with so many good qualities? Tasty, inexpensive, portable– what more could I ask for? Happy snacking!
“Cheesy” Baked Kale Chips
- 1 bunch of curly kale, red or green (about 8 cups)
- 2 T. olive oil
- 1/2 c. nutritional yeast
- 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper, preferably freshly ground
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
Start by preparing the kale: you’ll want to remove the stems from each leaf and tear the greens into chip-sized pieces. I use my hands to tear the leaves, but of course you can use a sharp knife instead. Discard the stems, or save them for another use. Wash the leaves carefully and thoroughly and then spin or pat dry. Place the clean, dry leaves in a large bowl.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment or foil. Drizzle the olive oil over the washed kale and use your hands to massage it into the greens. You are making sure to coat each leaf thoroughly with oil, and also starting to wilt or soften the kale. Add the nutritional yeast, salt, pepper and cayenne, if using. Use your hands or a spoon to mix gently but thoroughly. Divide the seasoned kale between your two pans in single, flat layers. Pour any nutritional yeast remaining in the bowl over the top of the leaves. Bake for 45 mins., then rotate the pans 180 degrees and move the top pan to the lower rack and vice versa. Bake for another 45 mins.
At this point, assess whether the kale chips are dry and crisp. If they still look or feel wet, continue baking in increments of 15 mins. You can remove chips that are done from the pan to prevent over-baking, but it’s not strictly necessary. You’re really just drying them out, so you aren’t much concerned with burning. When the chips are done, allow them to cool on the pan at room temperature before transferring to tightly-closed containers to store. The kale chips keep indefinitely at room temperature.