Saturday, March 17, 2012
The first potato chip I've ever tried as a child was homemade. One day my friend, who was a few years older, decided to make potato chips. She heated some oil in a small pot and I watched as tiny potato circles sizzled into crispy, crunchy goodness. She made them in small batches, two or three at a time, carefully supervising each one as it cooked to perfection. Sprinkled with sea salt, they were a perfect combination of salty and crispy, fresh and delicious. Somehow we ended up eating all of the chips as soon as they were done, so that by the time our parents came into the kitchen attracted by the smell and by an earlier promise of a tasty snack, all that was left was an empty plate with a few crumbs.
Though this experience was many years ago, I still remember the salty and starchy taste of the chips, the smell of the oil, which was sunflower, and the look of the tiny crispened sliver of the potato skin on each chip. Recently, as I was brainstorming for recipes, these smells and images emerged from some dusty cobwebbed corner of my memory. To make this snack even better, I decided to use a variety of different root vegetables. As a result, this post is about getting back to my roots in more ways than one.
Have you gotten in touch with your roots recently? If not, pull up a chair, grab a tea or a tart cherry martini, and let's get back to our roots. In this recipe I use red and gold beets, rutabaga and celery root. As a result, each tasty morsel stands out in both taste and color.
Beets are always a favorite around these parts. They taste earthy and buttery, and I've always loved the vivid burgundy color of red beets. The deep color of the roots seems to gush upward into their red stems, coursing outward through the blood-red capillaries and into the green, edible leaves.
Gold beets taste similarly to red beets, but I find their flavor to be more subtle. So if red beets are a bit too overwhelming for your palate, you just might become good friends with their golden cousins.
Rutabaga is an extremely flavorful root vegetable. Recently we've made a rutabaga, zucchini and leek soup as a spin on the classic potato and leek soup, which was absolutely delicious. As I've mentioned earlier, they are a cross between cabbage and turnip. Interestingly, rutabaga chips taste more like cooked cabbage than anything else. If you like cabbage, then you will love rutabaga chips.
Celery root is also intriguing. It is grotesque looking at its best, and it might frighten small children at its worst. If you're just getting to know this wonderful, flavorful root, start small. Their sizes range from a tennis ball to a monster just under the size of a soccer ball. I once got one that weighed eight pounds, and it was the smallest one in the store. This time I opted for something roughly the size of a baseball, which was much more manageable and a lot more flavorful. I lovingly call it Le Petit Monstre.
All of these root vegetables make delicious, healthy chips. In this recipe they are pan fried in canola oil. With essentially no trans fat, low in saturated fat, and rich in omega-3, canola oil can be really good for your heart. Its high smoking point makes it ideal for frying (another alternative would be peanut oil). You can add a sprinkle of sea salt once the chips are done, or have them as they are; they are delicious with or without seasoning.
Crispy Root Vegetable Chips
(Makes about 2 1/2 cups chips)
You will need:
1 tsp salt, plus more for seasoning
6-7 root vegetables (such as: rutabaga, gold beets, red beets, small celery root)
1. Wash, peel and thinly slice the root vegetables. For best results, the slices should be almost paper thin, about 1/16 inch. Sprinkle the slices with about 1 tsp salt, mix and let stand for 15 minutes to extract water. The less water they contain, the better they will fry. Then rinse, and pat dry thoroughly.
2. Pour enough canola oil into a tall-sided pan to cover the bottom surface; the oil should be about 1/4 inch deep. Heat the oil on medium heat to about 350ºF (the oil will be sufficiently hot when a test slice dropped into the oil sizzles satisfyingly). With tongs and working in batches, carefully place the slices in a single layer in the pan. Fry the chips until crisp, about 3 minutes per batch, flipping with tongs occasionally. The chips are ready when slightly darkened in color and they begin to resemble wilted petals. Remove with tongs immediately and let dry completely on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt to taste. Serve and enjoy.