It all started with the kale chip.
I fell in love the texture of the thick, green leaf made thin and so delicately crisp by baking that it felt almost flaky, with just enough thickness to impart a satisfying little crunch before nearly dissolving into salty-grassy goodness on the tongue.
And I wasn't alone: healthy-conscious eaters crowned the kale chip its unofficial sweetheart and suddenly they were available not just in health-food stores, but in mini-marts, airports and gas stations.
Which led me to ask: What else might we chip-up in a dehydrator or oven? And what other flavors might we add? My daughter's all-time favorite potato chip is BBQ flavored, so that became my mission — a baked veggie chip that mimicked the BBQ potato chip flavor, with all natural ingredients.
In mixing up various spice rubs, we were surprised by how much brown sugar we needed to emulate that characteristic flavor. And then we struck gold: what if we used a naturally sweet vegetable, which would allow us to reduce the added sugar down to nearly nothing?
And thus, the baked BBQ zucchini chip was born! It was a huge hit with the BBQ-potato-chip-lovers in my house. And here's the really good news: You don't need any special equipment to make this happen.
If you have a dehydrator, great — you probably already have a strong veggie-chip game going. For the rest of us: your oven on low will work great for this recipe. And, you don't even need a mandoline for slicing. I have one, but almost never use it ever since nipping off a bit of finger years ago on an episode of "Ten Dollar Dinners."
Use a knife and slice relatively thin, and that's fine. In fact, the slices are better and sturdier when they aren't too thin anyway. I do recommend using a baking rack, only because the chips will dry out faster and more evenly. But, even this is optional equipment — just use parchment paper on a tray, cook a little longer, and flip the chips halfway through cook time if you don't have a rack. Kale chip, move over.
Baked BBQ-flavored zucchini chips
Start to Finish: 2 ½ hours
Yield: serves 4
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon chipotle or ancho chili powder (or plain chili powder)
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large zucchini
2 teaspoons olive oil
Preheat oven to 200 degrees. In a small bowl, stir together the smoked paprika, chili powder, brown sugar and salt and set aside. Slice the zucchini thinly, about 1/16th of an inch, but not paper thin.
You can use a mandolin, but slicing by hand is just fine. Don't worry if you can't quite get the slices super thin. Place the zucchini slices in a large bowl, and blot with a paper towel to remove excess moisture.
Drizzle with olive oil and toss the slices to coat. Sprinkle with the spice mixture and toss to coat. Line two or three large baking sheets with baking racks, and spray briefly with nonstick spray. Spread out zucchini slices and bake until dry and slightly crispy, about two hours. Allow to cool on rack before removing. Best eaten the same day.
NOTE: Instead of a baking rack, you may instead line the baking trays with parchment paper, in which case flip the chips about one hour into cooking, and note that chips will require about 30 extra minutes of bake time.
Nutrition information per serving: 54 calories; 24 calories from fat; 3g fat (0 g saturated; 0g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 513mg sodium; 7g carbohydrate; 2g fiber; 5g sugar; 2g protein.
Food Network star Melissa d'Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook "Supermarket Healthy."