Bitter Chocolate Mexican Zucchini Torte

Zucchini cake 1

I deliberately planted minimal zucchinis this year – initially just one of the light green Mexican (Cucurbita pepo) heirloom plants.  Since then I’ve put another two in for late season crops of another variety called Cocozelle – which produces stunningly striped fruit.

Interestingly the Mexican zucchinis are supposed to be heat tolerant and this summer’s heat wave with the mercury hitting 46 degrees on one day certainly showed it to be resilient.  The only issue stopping me growing this variety again is the small super fine spikes which are nettle thin and even made it through my garden hardy fingers.  Gloves are a good idea until they’re inside and you can scrub the spines off with a scourer in water.

Being a big fan of baking with beetroot, I’ve been looking at another way of stuffing some fibre into sweet dishes to slow down the sugar hitting our systems…yes basically any excuse to continue eating chocolate cake.

This recipe has a few differences due to ingredients I had on hand, namely the addition of Tasmanian wholemeal spelt flour which I used for half of the flour requirement.  I’ve also used a tad less sugar than similar recipes so if you’re baking for really sweet tastes you may wish to substitute the 70% cocoa chocolate with higher sugar varieties i.e. normal cooking chocolate (milk or dark)

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2 cups of grated zucchini

2 eggs

1/2 cup of milk

125g grass fed butter (at room temp)

1 1/4 cups of Plain flour

1 1/4 cups of wholemeal spelt flour (I used Callington Mill’s organic stoneground wholegrain spelt from Tasmania)

Salt – pinch

1/2 tsp dutch cinnamon

1 tsp baking powder

4 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1 vanilla bean (or tsp of extract)

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup 70% cocoa chocolate chopped


Usual cake stuff applies; sift your dry ingredients into a bowl and mix together.

Cream butter with the sugar in a large bowl add the eggs and beat.  Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the lovely insides with a sharp knife and add.  Mix in the milk and then add the dry ingredients.

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Finally add the two cups of zucchini and grated chocolate.

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I used a spring form 26cm round tin (torte in Italy is ‘torta’ which means a round cake so how could I use a square tin!?)

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Cook at 165 degrees C (fan forced) for 40-50 mins until springy and a knife comes out clean when carefully stabbed!

I finished it with a ganache of dark chocolate melted into cream.

Best served with Creme Fraiche

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Fried Green Tomatoes!

Fried Green Tomatoes

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This recipe has been inspired by a challenge reluctantly put forward by BayFM’s Karen Mason.  You see Kaz doesn’t like tomatoes.  She never has.  So I’ve stepped up to the crease and have accepted the challenge to create something containing tomatoes that Kaz can actually stomach.

Fried Green tomatoes_Kaz 1

I started off a little optimistically, by offering Kaz two home grown varieties; Green Zebra and Money Maker.  No sale on the Money Maker I’m afraid.  Just as well radio isn’t a visual medium, as there were some interesting facial expressions taking place in the studio.  While Green Zebra was received more warmly, there was still no way Ms Mason was going to make her way to the nursery any time soon to start growing her own.

Time to bring in the big guns – Southern American cuisine.  If anyone can make a vegetable tasty, it has to be the home of fried chicken ’n’ grits!

Fried Green Tomatoes

For this recipe I used Amish Paste tomatoes as they are a good size and are producing large quantities of fruit, hence I was happy to use a few ‘experimentally’.


4-5 green tomatoes sliced 5-8mm thick (1/4 inch)

I egg

Splash of milk

Oil for shallow frying

Plain flour





It’s a pretty standard battering process, but anytime you’re using hot oil it pays to get everything ready before starting the cooking.  Another great tip I’ll tell you for free is that you should try to keep one hand clean and dry.

Start by slicing your tomatoes quite thickly – another reason to choose larger tomatoes in the first place. Discard the ends and any blemishes.

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Place your sliced tomatoes in a bowl of plain flour.  This removes the moisture and helps provide a good surface for the egg and milk mix to stick to.

Mix a splash of milk and one large egg with a fork until combined.  Dunk your floury tomatoes into this mix until coated.

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Next comes the ‘dredge’  This basically a seasoned flour mixed with polenta.  You can also use breadcrumbs instead of the polenta or a mix of both!  Season pretty heavily with salt and pepper – I probably used a good teaspoon of salt.

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Coat your tomatoes well with the dredge before popping small batches into hot oil.  I used olive oil as coconut oil is too damn expensive to use in bulk and I no longer keep any vegetable/seed oil in the house.

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Many recipes from the U.S. suggested ‘ranch dressing’ which I assume is a ketchup-sweet mayonnaise dressing – not swapping your clothes for a cowboy suit.

I was actually surprised to find them really tangy, refreshing and a great late summer dish – perfect for the impatient amongst us who can’t wait for their tomatoes to ripen…

Oh, and Kaz loved them!

Fried Green tomatoes_Kaz 2

Not so boring broad beans!

Broad beans seem to be treated with far more respect in Europe where they’ve even made it into fairy tales…remember Jack and the beanstalk?  Yep, that was a broad bean stalk that took Jack up into the clouds.  There’s even a town in Germany that has the Broad Bean as its mascot!  I received this as a gift from a German brother and sister while operating a backpackers a few years ago. Yes, they take broad beans very seriously!

Well I’m here to fly the flag for these wonderful legumes as they’re easy to grow, give a huge yield like nothing else and if you know how to prepare them, are really tasty!

When and How to grow them

Broad beans will grow happily over winter and are best planted around now (almost May) through to the end of winter.  Peter Bennett, the author of the fantastic Australian Organic Gardening now in its 7th edition, is a big fan of later plantings as he argues the flowers won’t set into pods if the weather is too cold.  This year I’m placing a bet each way, so in addition to the crop I’ve already planted, I’ll plant another in a month or so.

As they’re part of the legume or bean and pea family, broad beans can be planted in a garden bed that’s previously had a heavy feeding crop such as broccoli, lettuce, asian greens etc.  While you won’t need to specifically add any organic fertiliser, it’s wise to add compost to the soil and in the case of broad beans sprinkle some potash and dolomite over the soil and work in prior to planting.  This is one crop that grow best when planted from seed – don’t bother getting seedlings as it will work out to be hideously expensive and you’ll struggle not to damage their large root structure removing them from the punett.

Sow in rows about 50cm apart with the seeds spaced about 10cm apart.  They’re huge seeds so make sure they’re sufficiently covered by soil (about 5cm).  Water well once covered and don’t worry about watering again until the seedlings have emerged (usually around 2 weeks).  These guys will get quite tall (sometimes well over a metre) so it’s important to support them from falling over, especially in the windy weather we get in spring.  A good strategy is to plant in small plots so you can support a group of them together.  Simply place stakes at each corner of the plot and loop pantyhose around the stakes so the broad beans are enclosed.  Avoid using string as it can damage the plants in strong winds.

This is a photo of last year’s crop about a month after planting.  Leaving enough space between rows allows you to easily weed using a dutch hoe so no back breaking work and the weeds become a green mulch.  These stakes will eventually provide support for the beans.

Cooking broad beans – one tip you can’t miss!

Before I get to the tip an important medical fact with broad beans is that they should never be eaten raw by anyone taking antidepressants that contain monoamine inhibitors…the results can be fatal!  Okay now the scary stuff is over the most important tip for making sure your broad beans never resemble those greyish looking horrors from our youth is to DOUBLE PEEL them.  How?  Well you simply take the beans out of their velvety pods and pop them into boiling water for 30 seconds.  Take them out and refresh in cold water until cool enough to handle.  You’ll find the beans have an outer skin that can be removed with a small cut from a paring knife or long fingernails if your fortunate enough to have them.  This will reveal a new, green bean within which I guarantee will change your life…well almost.  This light blanching will be enough cooking for young tender beans, they’ll just need rewarming when added to non-salad recipes.

Generally speaking broad beans are a fairly dense bit of veg, and if you simply serve up a bowl by themselves it’s kind of like trying to eat half a cabbage.  They are best when served with flavours that are going to cut through and enhance their veggie goodness.  So think of strong cheeses (romano, parmesan, feta), bacon, panchetta or chorizo and of course my favourite – organic butter and sea salt.

They work really well with pasta dishes and can liven up stodgy dishes where other greens simply wilt away.

One final recipe idea which I’ve stolen from Stephanie Alexander (which she stole from Stefano de Pieri and he probably stole from a little old Italian lady) is as follows:

As above, pod, blanch and peel your broad beans.

Crush them in a mortar with a pestle – if you don’t have one you can do small pulses in a food processor making sure you don’t overdo it – it’s not a dip.

Remove into a clean bowl and mix with a grated hard cheese such as pecorino

Give them a good glug of some of our great local olive oil (I’m using extra virgin Camilo from Teesdale)

Season with ground black pepper and sea salt

Serve on toasted or better still grilled sourdough (make it La Madre or Zeally Bay) which has had a clove of garlic rubbed onto it

My own addition is to add some marinated Meredith Goat Cheese just prior to serving it up – perfect if you want a light meal rather than an entree.

A perfect way to celebrate spring and enjoy a bruschetta type snack long before you’re first tomato has ripened!

Broccoli – like apple trees for giants.

Like it’s Brassica cousin kale, the bright colour in broccoli lets us know it’s filled with free radical fighting goodness.  Free radicals are not just a folk band based in Surrey England, they are very nasty little guys which is obvious if you have a powerful microscope and can see them up close.


Let’s just agree broccoli is good for you.  It helps to regulate blood pressure with its high amounts of magnesium and calcium, plus ample amounts of potassium help optimise your brain function – making me wonder why the term “Broccoli Brains” never really took off.

Growing broccoli can be amazing simple or equally frustrating depending on the season.  As seasoned gardeners know, life in our patch is seldom perfect.  Broccoli grows wonderfully quickly in warm weather and uses its water repellent leaves to direct every sprinkle of rain to its roots.  However, those warm days and nights also bring out white butterflies, who love to lay eggs on broccoli plants.  These eggs turn into green caterpillars which judging by their colour are probably also filled with free-radical fighting goodness.  Having accidentally eaten a few in my time I can confirm they test will test the gag reflex of Mick Dundee and are best removed before cooking…

Having seen the pest issues with broccoli when I’ve been growing it, I’d really recommend it’s one vegetable you only purchase organically – especially in summer.

My personal growing strategy it to grow all year around, but cover the crops from late spring through to late autumn with an appropriate barrier draped over hoops.

Otherwise you can spray using an organic based spray (or make your own by steeping crushed garlic in water overnight and straining into a spray bottle).  Other less toxic controls include Dipel power which is mixed with water and sprayed onto the foliage.  It’s an internal bacterial poison for caterpillars and will kill them in a few days of spraying.  This will need to be repeated for follow up infestations.

Soil preparation

LIke the rest of the brassica family, broccoli is quite a heavy feeder so make sure you choose rich, well draining soil which has been enriched with composted manure.  Sprinkle some pelletised manure over the surface after planting seedlings and water in well.  Liquid feed weekly with worm juice or a high nitrogen seaweed product.


I like the readily available ‘green dragon’ as it produces side shoots which are perfect for stir-fries.  It also gives you more reward for a plant that takes several months to produce over winter.  This year I’m going to try some purple sprouting broccoli which seems quite popular in the UK but less so here.  It looks amazing.

How to eat it.

My late autumn planted crop is producing beautiful heads now, so I’ve been trying to include it in a few different dishes.  I’ve also starting eating it raw with dip or pesto – just avoid the lower stems as they can be a bit stringy (use them for cooking).

Spanish broccoli and potato Tortilla

This is a great way to use left overs and I think the spanish idea of adding potatoes takes it to a place where frittatas fear to tread.


Cook in a heavy based pan with a generous lug of olive oil.  I use a cast iron pan so I can finish the tortilla in the oven.  NB: if you’re using raw potatoes, finely dice and add now too.

Gently cook the onion for a few minutes and then add your broccoli (one head of florets)  It’s best to pre-steam the broccoli or blanch it.  Even better would be using left overs from the day before.

Pop on lid to keep the moisture in and keep cooking on gentle heat.  I also add a splash of water if things are looking dry.  NB: If your broccoli isn’t pre-cooked this will take a lot longer.

I had some left over baked potatoes so I diced these and added them once the broccoli stems yielded to a sharp knife NB: you can use raw spuds, just dice them finely and add them with the onion at the start.  Just make sure they’re cooked – crunchy potatoes will ruin your day!

With a fork beat 6 or so eggs (depending on your pan size really) season and grate in a good handful of parmesan cheese

Making sure all the other ingredients are cooked, pour in your egg mixture

Let it cook on the bottom for another five or so minutes

Place the whole pan into a medium (180 C) oven for about 15 minutes to finish cooking.  Don’t do this if you’re pan has any plastic components on it!  And remember the handle is very hot – use an oven mitt!  

Alternatively you can flip the tortilla onto a plate (just make sure the top is not too runny first) flip it onto another plate and back in the pan so the former top is now in the bottom of the pan.  Well I’m confused but this guy makes it look pretty easy.


Unbeatable Beetroot!

Varieties and growing tips.

Two varieties that grow well in our cooler climate include Bulls Blood and Boltardy.  If you’re not one to usually grow from seed, try beetroot.  It’s a good vegetable to start with as the seeds are large and germination is quite reliable.  Several varieties are also available in a seed tape product helping you to get the spacing spot on.

Beetroot likes a pH of about 6.5.  Any higher than 7.0 and the soil alkalinity starts to prevent the uptake of boron which is essential for the edible root development.  Caution also needs to be taken with soils too high in nitrogen as you’ll end up with wonderful leafy growth but small beets!  Please don’t think this all has to be a complicated process, as once your garden is established it just becomes part of the natural flow.  Simply plant beetroot after a heavy feeding crop such as cabbage, lettuce or asian greens.  This way those previous crops will have taken up large amounts of the nitrogen in the soil.  Simply add some well rotted compost and water once established with a seaweed based liquid fertiliser.  If you’re starting in fresh soil, avoid adding large amounts of high nitrogen fertiliser such as poultry manures (especially pigeon) instead favouring compost, worm juice and liquid seaweed products.

The beetroot seeds themselves can lead to some confusion as they are actually a cluster of seeds all stuck together (kind of).  What you’ll find is that you’ll get several seedlings growing in the spot where you diligently only planted one seed.  Treat this as a gift from nature and when big enough to pinch with your finger, remove the weaker seedlings (leaving the most vigorous) and use them as a micro green in the kitchen.  If this backyard Darwinism isn’t your cup of tea, you can try replanting – but it’s very difficult not to damage the very fine taproot while they’re so young.  Nature can be cruel folks.

As the beetroot grow you’ll see the root become more visible.  This is actually pretty handy as you can see how big your beetroot are growing, so fight the urge to hill soil around them as you would with leeks etc.  Leaves can also be picked on younger beetroot and added to salads.  Just take a few from each plant as you don’t want to slow the growth by removing the plants’ energy source!

Beyond tinned beetroot (sigh)

While traveling in Eastern Europe a decade ago I was amazed at how much beetroot was used in local cuisines.  At Polish bar mleczny (direct translation is ‘milk bars’ – but more accurately described as vegetarian cafeterias) salads made from boiled grated beetroot and beetroot soup were staples.

The latter in Poland is called barszcz and I was reliably informed by a local that Polish ‘borscht’ recipes came from the Ukraine not Russia.  You know I’d never buy a Polish-made car, but I’m pretty sure no-one makes better soup.  The idea of sweating a few onions, adding some chopped beetroot and stock and creating a soup in an hour would be laughed at.  Even seemingly vegetarian soups such as barszcz start with pork of some sort, creating the stock in situ.  Always made the day before consuming there is plenty of time for flavour to develop depth.

Beetroot is also fantastic when simply grated raw.  I first tried this at Wholefoods Cafe in Geelong back in the 1990s where they added it as a standard to their salad sandwiches and awesome tofu burgers.  The Poles also make a cooked and grated beetroot condiment which when mixed with horseradish becomes “cwikla z chrzanem” – check out how to do that below.  It also goes wonderfully with the pierogi I made a little while back when discussing potatoes.


Another recipe that we collectively remain indebted to Stephanie Alexander for is chocolate and beetroot muffins.  I’ve modified the recipe slightly using olive oil instead of vegetable oil for nutritional reasons without noticing the taste coming through at all.  I mean chocolate and beetroot – what hope did the olive oil have?

Chocolate and Beetroot Muffins

60g organic butter, softened

1 large beetroot, peeled and grated (250g net)  A food processor makes this a whole lot easier

175g Plain Flour

1 tps baking powder

2 tbs organic cocoa

1 egg

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup local olive oil

1/4 castor sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar (well packed)

12 squares dark chocolate or milk with minimum 30% cocoa


1.    Pre-heat the oven to 180C and grease a 12 hole muffin tray.

2.    Sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa into a large mixing bowl and set aside.

3.    Lightly mix the eggs and milk together and set aside.

4.    In a bowl or mixer process the butter, oil and 2 types of sugar until nice and creamy. Gradually add the milk and egg mixture and process until combined.

5.    Add the wet batter to the flour mix and fold together. Stir in the beetroot, until well combined.

6.    Spoon the mixture evenly into the holes and press a square of chocolate well into the centre each muffin.

Cooking time is about 20minutes depending on your oven type.  The tops should be springy but the centre will remain a lot more moist than normal muffins due to the beetroot, so be careful not to mistake this for them being underdone.

Mr Potato Head


Given that potatoes have such an ubiquitous presence in cuisines all over the world it’s humbling to think they only made there way to England a few hundred years ago.  Like so many of our edibles, the wild version of our beloved spud originates in Peru and Bolivia.  Here it could be grown right up to the snow line, way beyond the realm of wheat and other staples.  Ireland enthusiastically planted potatoes in the 1700s, as a few acres could feed a family and their livestock.  This self sufficiency strategy worked a treat until in 1845 a fungal disease – potato blight – wiped the crops out and reduced the Irish population by 1.6 million people over the following decade.  A sobering warning that biodiversity relates to human cultivated plants – not just in nature…

The potato’s botanical name Solanum Tuberosum informs us that they’re part of the tomato, capsicum and eggplant family – something to keep in mind when rotating crops to avoid diseases building up in soil.  Of course if this surprises you, get ready to be completely blown away.  While hunting for some images for this article, I discovered a nursery in the U.S. that combines the potato and the tomato!  Imagine tomatoes in summer and harvesting your spuds in autumn!  I haven’t seen one of these in the flesh and will probably experiment a little later in the year at grafting them together Frankenstein like bwahahahaha.  In the mean time I’m left to ponder…is it a Pomato or a Topato?

Enough talk, lets get some dirt under our nails and learn how best to grow some of your very own spuds.  Potatoes are frost sensitive so if you sow them this weekend, the risk of frost will be drastically reduced by the time they start to produce foliage.  I’m describing the traditional hilling method as I’ve found it to give me the best yields year after year.   Potatoes like soil on the acidic side so ideally your pH should be around 6.0.  Being tubers, all of the potatoes grow underground so start by digging nice deep and wide trenches.

This helps to explain the old adage that growing potatoes as  a ‘pioneer’ crop helps to break up the soil for future cultivation.  As 80% of the potatoes grow above the original planting depth, I’m afraid it’s YOU that break the soil up, but a neat saying just the same. Here you can see I’ve already established one crop (on the left) which are approx 6 weeks old.  I’m planting new spuds so I have a continous supply all year.

Place your whole spuds (don’t cut them up – too much surface area for disease) in the bottom of the trench about 40cm apart and make your rows about 50cm apart.

Backfill over your potatoes with about 15cm of the soil previously removed.  And that’s about it!   Your spuds will start to shoot in a week or two depending on temperature and rainfall.  This time of year watering isn’t necessary however if you’re growing in the drier months give a good weekly soaking.  Continue to hill up the soil around the base of the plant which will encourage it to keep growing taller and providing more room below the surface for potatoes to grow.  This hilling will also stabilise your plants.

Your potatoes will be ready to harvest when the plant has matured and started to die off.  Depending on the time of year they may even flower.  Another cheeky technique is called ‘bandicooting’ where you sneakily dig down and take the odd spud from time to time.  In fact that was the inspiration for writing today’s article about potatoes.  I didn’t have enough spuds in the pantry for the below ‘pierogi’ recipe so I had to bandicoot a few even though the plant isn’t fully mature.  You’ll also find growing spuds in the no-dig method makes bandicooting even easier as you’re moving straw and compost, not soil.

How to make Pierogi.

Pierogi  can be loosely described as dumplings or ravioli.  While the shape is consistent the fillings vary and combinations include:  mushroom, pork and cabbage, cottage cheese and potato and even seasonal fruit.

The below recipe is ‘Pierogi Ruski’ or Russian Pierogi where the hero ingredient is of course, potatoes.  I’ve made these in Australia in Polish households and in Poland with only minor differences notable.  They are great at this time of the year when a rainy afternoon makes them an ideal comfort food to enjoy making and eating with friends.



1.2kg peeled potatoes, boiled and mashed or put through a ricer (desiree or dutch cream)

500g Polish mountain cottage cheese (available at european supermarkets e.g Foodworks or IGA in Bell Park, Geelong) Put this through the ricer too or grate.

1 medium onion finely diced

50g butter (for cooking onions)

Season well with salt and pepper


600g plain organic flour

1 egg

Warm water (traditionally I think this was held over from the boiled potato water)


I’ve never measured the amount of water but I’d guess at about 300ml and you add it slowly.  Although the ingredients are almost identical to pasta, the dough should be a bit softer.

With the wonders of the internet I figured it best to leave the method to an actual Pole!  Sure it’s in Polish, but you’re clever folks.  Enjoy!  Or as they say in Poland “Smacznego!”

All hail King Kale!

Well you can grow it in your very own garden at home – it’s called Kale and one cupful can do all the above plus more!


Maybe it was really kale in that tin?

Where’s it from?

Kale is a Mediterranean member of the brassica or cabbage family which dates back a couple of thousand years.  In fact it was a staple vegetable of the time as it proved frost hardy and could survive

much harsher winters than it’s origins would suggest.  In the Netherlands it’s known as ‘farmers’ cabbage’ with the main variety we see called Cavolo nero or ‘black cabbage’.  The dark blue and green leaves

are the first hint to the health inducing carotenoids contained within.  My fiance knew about kale before I did, as she used to be a florist and some varieties are stunningly ornamental.


How do you grow it?   

Like other cabbages, Kale is a hero winter vegetable that can be sown in Autumn and harvested a few months later.  Alternatively sowing established seedlings around now (early July) will ensure your enjoying

Kale well into spring.  I don’t bother growing it during the hot summer months as the white butterflies are too numerous to compete with, plus the leaves are sweeter when grown in the cooler seasons.  As with

cabbages, prepare the soil in advance with lots of compost and/or rotted manure.  They are heavy nitrogen feeders so top dressing with pigeon manure and liquid feeding during their growth will ensure success.

Pick the older outer leaves first (as you would with silverbeet) to keep the plant producing again and again.


Eating Kale

Kale is a little tougher than it’s cabbage cousins but don’ let this put you off.  I first learned of Kale from Stephanie Alexander as she described it as being the original addition to minestrone soup.  So it can be

cooked long and slow and still hold its shape and texture which is a bonus in many dishes.  It can be boiled (apparently if you drink the liquid afterwards you will, in fact live forever) or sautéed with butter or

olive oil and of course garlic.  Young leaves are great raw and will ensure you get all of the vitamin C as described above.  I find it to be a great addition to simple oil based pasta dishes that need something to cut through other rich flavours, where spinach simply doesn’t make the grade.  Same goes for risotto.  Below is  a recipe for Kale Chips and while I can’t guarantee they’ll take the place of your beloved salt and vinegar varieties,

they do feel a lot more grown up and taste awesome.



A good salad spinner full of tender young Kale leaves (use the rest for other dishes as they’ll be chewy rather than chippy!)

Olive oil, ghee, coconut oil or whatever you use for healthy frying

Sea salt or Murray River flaked salt


Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees using a fan setting if available

Soak the picked leaves in water to remove any bugs (especially in home grown or organically purchased)

Cut the leaves of the kale away from the stems and then chop into bite sized pieces

Spin in a salad spinner really well a couple of times (until it’s well and truly dizzy!)


Place in a clean dry bowl and drizzle with olive or your favourite oil


Mix thoroughly and place onto a baking tray (don’t sprinkle with salt just yet as it will bring out moisture and make the chips soggy)

Place in the pre-heated oven for 15-20 minutes checking they are crispy but not brown or still floppy


Sprinkle with salt and or sesame seeds and enjoy!