There are chips and dip -- and then there are chips and dip healthy-style. Whether it is for before-dinner munching, watching the football game or the youngsters who want something after the long school day, the healthier alternative to the potato chip and sour cream dip is here.
Almost any fruit or vegetable can be made into a delicious chip through dehydration or low-temperature baking. The idea is to remove the moisture, retain nutrients and flavor, and create a satisfying crunch. Pair these chips up with a hunger-blasting dip made from yogurt, guacamole or hummus and you have a vitamin-rich and tasty treat no one will object to. By the way, potatoes -- white or sweet -- can be baked rather than fried if there are traditional die-hards waiting for a snack.
Many varieties of healthful chips are available on store shelves. Be sure to read the ingredients to prevent yourself from buying artificially flavored, heavily salted, oily potato chips masquerading as healthful chips. If the chips are fried, see what type of oil was used; the American Heart Association recommends oils with less saturated fat. (This topic is currently being debated by other sources.) Choose oils that are liquid at room temperature over those that are solid and need heat to mix well. The AHA lists the following as good oils: canola, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean and sunflower. Choose oils with less than 4 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon, and avoid partially hydrogenated oils and trans fats.
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Some alternative chips include kale, pineapple, tomato, plantain, sweet potato, carrot, radish, apple, Brussels sprout, turnip and butternut squash. For most of these fruits or vegetables, you need a sharp blade or a mandoline to cut thin, even pieces no more than 1/8 inch and a dedicated food dehydrator, which could be an oven rack that will allow air to flow or at least three sunny days with temperatures of 100 degrees or more. Food dehydrators use heat and airflow to dry the moisture from foods and will take approximately six hours per batch; an oven at a temperature between 110 and 140 degrees will take about eight hours. Drying the food, also a form of food preservation, will remove the moisture, leave most of the nutrients and provide a good, satisfying crunch. Generally, the lower the temperature you can use the more nutrients are saved, but you must make sure the food is thoroughly dried without burning. Start with a higher temperature, and lower it after the first hour.
If you are in a hurry for a small batch of snacks, slice the chosen vegetables and soak them in cold water for 10 minutes. Drain and dry them between sheets of paper towels. Lay out a single layer of slices on paper towels on a microwaveable plate; the pieces should not be touching. Microwave at full power for three minutes and then at 50 percent power for another three minutes. Continue microwaving at half-power for a minute each time, checking between intervals to see whether the chips are crisp. Let stand for five minutes. When they're cool, store the remaining chips in an airtight container or a plastic bag for no more than a few days in a cool, dark place. This works very well for root vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips and radishes. You can prepare the vegetables ahead of time and store the slices in individual containers (do not mix with water) in the refrigerator, and then just dry them between paper towels and microwave a plateful as desired; the sliced veggies shouldn't be stored for more than a week in the fridge.
For butternut squash, peel the squash; halve it; scoop out seeds; slice it; and toss it with a little olive oil, herbs and sea salt to taste. Spread the slices on a rack in the oven at 200 degrees for three hours. Turn off the oven, and leave the squash sitting in the closed oven for another six hours. For kale, tear off bite-size leafy pieces; toss them with oil, balsamic vinegar and coarse salt; put a single layer on a tray in the oven at 350 degrees for six minutes; turn the pieces; and continue to bake for another nine minutes, until crisp but not burnt.