“I always use a combination of cumin, sweet paprika, garlic powder (not garlic salt, it’s way too synthetic tasting), kosher salt, white pepper, and a bit of sugar. OH MY GOD! And hot paprika! I recently bought some fresh hot paprika and I can’t believe how much depth of flavor it packs with the smokiness of paprika and the spiciness of cayenne!” My spice rant had gotten me so excited I almost skidded off the leather couch of the Pasadena tapas bar we were chatting in.
I looked at the wonder and awe (shock and horror) on the faces of my friends and quickly dialed it down. I hadn’t seen most of these people in over 5 years and hot paprika was definitely NOT the most interesting reunion topic.
Last weekend, Shannon and I flew out to Los Angeles for a marathon he was competing in. I hadn’t been back in three years, and then it was only for a weekend catering job. I had moved back to New York two years before that, after living in Los Angeles for a 16 year stretch.
16 years. Gadzooks.
It’s a city that holds a lot of powerful memories for me- both successes and failures. I was terrified of what I would discover on my return. But you know what I found?
Nothing has changed. Not a thing. The sky is still blue, the trees are still palm, the traffic is still standstill. I’m not going to trash LA, because it would be too easy. I could spend just as long trashing New York and New York is my favorite place on the planet. LA is LA, New York is New York. To equate them would be impossible. It’s like comparing apples to lawn chairs.
What I did realize was how much my old friends and I have changed. I couldn’t have told you why I needed to leave LA five years ago, other than that I did not feel like myself. There is a moment in everyone’s life when you realize that it’s ok to feel what you feel. It’s a groundbreaking flash in time when you stand up for who you really are – whether it’s leaving a job or ending a relationship or moving across country. And it’s not like everything automatically falls into place. It’s a struggle because life is a struggle. But you have stood up for yourself, you’ve invested some of you in you, knowing that the return would be huge.
I’ll tell you honestly, leading up to our trip I had been feeling sick of New York, like a total failure in my business (because it’s always so slow during the summer for me), and like a fat, old ball of confusion. But when I got off that plane in LA, I realized that I could still tap into the faith I had found in myself when I left. My friends have found themselves too. 5 year’s time can have absolutely no effect on a city, but on a person, it can change everything. They are brilliant and beautiful successes in business, art, and family.
I regret only that I don’t get to see them more.
And what was it that I was so excited to share with them? It was my seasoning mix for kale chips. Every one of my friends had made kale chips– I mean, it is LA after all- but they had all kept the seasoning pretty simple. I try to impart some surprising dash of flavor into everything I make and kale chips are no exception. The hot paprika excitement I was sharing was mindblowing to me because I had had some very old hot paprika sitting on my shelf for a long time and thought nothing of it. It was a real aha moment to buy some new paprika and taste the difference. I do have a tendency to buy spices in bulk because they are cheaper that way. I know now that this has impacted the flavor of a lot of the spices I don’t use that frequently. Most ground herbs and spices should be replaced every year (whole spices like cloves or cinnamon are good for 1-2 years). So my old spice suggestion? If you can find spices from a spice shop that are 5-7 ounces, they will be more economical than buying the 2 ounce bottles, but will stay more potent than the 14 ounce bottles.
I recommend tasting this seasoning mix to adjust to your own tastes. I like slightly sweet, spicy food so that’s what this mix is. If I were cooking for a party where I know they don’t like hot food, I would reduce the hot paprika and white mustard by half or more. Also, don’t feel obligated to use all the spice rub in one batch. The kale shouldn’t get overwhelmed by the seasoning, just uplifted.
Seasoned Kale Chips
1 bunch kale
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon hot paprika
Preheat an oven to 350°F . Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a baking mat.
With a knife or kitchen shears carefully remove the leaves from the thick stems and tear into bite size pieces. Wash and thoroughly dry kale with a salad spinner.
In a bowl, mix the spices together.
Toss the dry kale with the olive oil, gently massaging it in. Sprinkle half (or less according to taste) of the spice rub over the kale and gently massage again.
Bake until the edges brown but are not burnt, 20- 25 minutes, or until kale is crisp.
Lightly dust kale chips with other half of seasoning mix. Let cool before eating.
Alison Wonderland Tucker is a chef and caterer who lives and works in New York City. She writes about her love of food and life as a chef on her blog A Wonderland of Words.