Genius Recipes

For Smitten Kitchen's Genius Popcorn, Add ... a Pound of Greens?

Oh hey, Super Bowl, Oscar parties, and snowday movie marathons.

January 22, 2020

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.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I am not going to make kale chips so I can grind them up and put them on popcorn. You will not be able to convince me that that is not a waste of time. Garlic powder, nutritional yeast, BUTTER, salt, honey, olive oil and Dijon mustard... there are so many delicious things to put on popcorn without turning your oven. ”
— daisybrain

“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.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]—thank you to Food52er Nicole Platte for this one!

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From our new podcast network, The Genius Recipe Tapes is lifelong Genius hunter Kristen Miglore’s 10-year-strong column in audio form, featuring all the uncut gems from the weekly column and video series. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts so you don’t miss out.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • SallyHuebscher
  • Jenny
  • Aviva Goldfarb
    Aviva Goldfarb
  • cmignac
  • daisybrain
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. 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."


SallyHuebscher June 24, 2021
I'm going to try this, but yesterday I watched you grate dried mushrooms over - well everything - and I think dried mushrooms would be amazing with popcorn!
Jenny January 29, 2020
Why microwave bags...the novelty factor in sales and packaging. My Mother always popped corn in a pan, until Jiffy Pop came out with a stove top aluminum pan with everything in it. Big "woo-woo" factor in watching it swell up like a launching hot air balloon as the corn cooked. Then came microwaves, another "woo-woo". Now I am back to buying corn in a jar and popping in a pan...cheaper and less packaging. Everything old becomes new again.
Aviva G. January 27, 2020
I love this genius idea--I have all sorts of popcorn hacks--one of my favorite healthy ones is to sprinkle NanoSalad veggie flakes right on popcorn so I boost my produce intake while enjoying one of my favorite snacks.
cmignac January 26, 2020
Soooo, not that kale or greens EVER go bad at my house (aka lose their crispness/go limp) but it seems this might be a perfect solution vs. tossing them in the compost bin?
Kristen M. January 27, 2020
Yes, EXACTLY. The ones that are looking a little deflated are perfect.
Jenny January 25, 2020
OMG!!! I had forgotten how much fun it is to make and eat popcorn...and it is even WW points friendly! After viewing this video, I ran out and bought a jar of corn. Popping in a glass lid pan is sooo cool. Since I had no kale, I added dulse seaweed flakes...and sea salt...and fresh ground black pepper...and garlic powder. Yum, a great little savory snack. I'm thinking Zatar would be great and maybe a dill/lemon zest/something mix.
Kristen M. January 27, 2020
Making popcorn *is* so fun—I'm genuinely confused about why we outsourced it to microwave bags? And love all of this!
CObotanist April 15, 2021
Plus commercial microwave pop corn is not good for your health 😿
daisybrain January 24, 2020
If I made kale chips like that I'd think they were disgusting too. Oil, salt, garlic, curry powder, cayenne etc... Really it is the only way I can get kale into my kid and the tray is consumed in minutes. On the other side... I am not going to make kale chips so I can grind them up and put them on popcorn. You will not be able to convince me that that is not a waste of time. Garlic powder, nutritional yeast, BUTTER, salt, honey, olive oil and Dijon mustard... there are so many delicious things to put on popcorn without turning your oven.
Kristen M. January 27, 2020
Glad kale chips are working for you! This popcorn is definitely worth it, if you do ever find yourself with extras.
ellicia January 24, 2020
You can do this with dried jalapenos too. Just be careful and let the dust settle down in your grinder before you open it or your sinuses will hate you. This is really good on scrambled eggs.
Kristen M. January 27, 2020
Love this—thank you for the sinus disclaimer too!
judy R. January 22, 2020
Sub nutritional yeast and make this vegan!
Kristen M. January 23, 2020
Oh yum.
Woofgang January 22, 2020
If you don't want oil on the pan (and I have no issue with it either way, but the chefs commented on it) why not use parchment paper or a silpad? Seems like fun way to eat popcorn and get your greens in! And with the flavored oil and grated cheese, doubt you'd taste much of the kale anyway.
Kristen M. January 23, 2020
Sure, those would work, too! The flavor of the kale does come through, but in a really harmonious way with the other ingredients—similar to if they were in a pasta dish together.
TinaSMay January 22, 2020
Not sure I would try this, as I love kale, kale salads, lasagna with kale, sauteed kale, etc. I also successfully made delicious kale chips with lime. I am a purist when it comes to popcorn; I actually like to taste the corn.
Kristen M. January 23, 2020
I hear you—I love kale, too, in its many forms. This one was a fun surprise for me.
Carol E. January 22, 2020
To quote the famous New Yorker cartoon, "I say it's spinach and I say the hell with it!'
Kristen M. January 23, 2020
Anna January 22, 2020
That's so clever!
Kristen M. January 23, 2020
I agree—and so good!