Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.
Sometimes the real moments of genius in cooking come not from a plan well-executed, but from making good of the inedible mess in front of you.
Which explains how the best popcorn I’ve ever made—the recipe that drove the most repeat-clawfuls in a sitting till not even one half-popped kernel remained—came from a rather low moment in the kitchen for Deb Perelman, the founder of the endlessly popular blog-turned-home-cooking-empire, Smitten Kitchen. The mess, in this case, was kale chips.
“The first time I made kale chips, I thought I had done something wrong, or at least was being punished for some unobserved slight,” Perelman writes in her triumphant second cookbook, Smitten Kitchen Every Day. Too dry, too bitter, too flat. Decisively not a chip.
“So I did the only sensible thing and ground the chips into a powder, renamed it ‘kale dust’ so it would sound as magical as possible, and sprinkled it over freshly popped popcorn.”
Whether you share Deb’s mistrust of kale chips (or kale in general), know that great things can be achieved by bashing them up. In magic dust form, you get the deep flavor of toasted greens scattered across the snackable crunch of popcorn, plus a superfine texture and well-distributed salt.
Here, the dust commingles with other friends of kale you’ve seen in pastas and salads: olive oil, salt, pepper, funky aged cheese (in this case, Pecorino Romano)—all of which explains why Oprah referred to this recipe as cacio e pepe popcorn. In this case, cacio e pepe translates to cheese and pepper and oh, did we mention? An entire bunch of kale.
The effect is a little like the movie-theater Cheetos popcorn our Video Programming Director Ishita Singh tipped me off to—except, when you accidentally polish off a bowl, you’ve eaten close to a pound of greens (not Cheeto dust).
Deb points out that you could use kale chips from the store, but making them at home is much less of a project than I’d assumed. I was ready to plan for meticulously patting leaves dry and hours of dehydrating. These take 15 minutes at 300°F to parch to a crisp, and Deb even says you can leave some water clinging. No biggie.
At every step, Deb counsels and soothes, anticipating our worries like only someone who’s fielded 14 years of reader recipe questions can. In addition to the laidback non-squeegeeing of the kale, as we’re trying to smear a tablespoon of olive oil on two large baking sheets, she tells us, “The thinnest coat is just fine”—enough that the leaves don’t accidentally glue themselves there. And if we don’t have a mortar and pestle? A cocktail muddler in a bowl works, too.
Once you find yourself making this often as I have, you can dabble in a rainbow of other colorful, wholesome popcorn toppers—from spirulina to turmeric to tomato.
And if you end up with an inedible mess, you’ll know what to do.
The Genius Desserts cookbook is here! With more than 100 of the most beloved and talked-about desserts of our time (and the hidden gems soon to join their ranks) this book will make you a local legend, and a smarter baker to boot.
I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."