Sometimes you just need to mix up your home popcorn flavors. We’re hardly popcorn traditionalists in the indieculinary household. Butter and salt are nice, but they’re usually pushed aside in favor of some manner of hot sauce.
This new popcorn recipe is one of my favorite flavor combinations in a while. I came up with it for yet another Food52 contest, (Your Best Roadtrip Snack), and here’s how it came about, from my write-up for their site:
When I think back on the best road trip snack I’ve ever had, I remember driving through wine country with good friends. We stopped for provisions, settling on a tub of muhamarra and a loaf of good, fresh baked bread. Muhamarra is a delicious dip with various permutations in cuisines of the Middle East. As we had it that day, (and as I’ve made it ever since), it’s a mixture of walnuts, red pepper, pomegranate molasses, lemon, and cumin. It’s delicious, but eating it as we cruised up Highway 29 through Napa Valley admittedly took some negotiation from me, the driver. Every time I wanted a bite, I had to talk one of the passengers into ripping a hunk of bread off the loaf and spreading it with muhamarra for me.
For this new recipe, I wanted to recapture the flavors of muhammara and that perfect summer drive, but in the form of a road trip snack that could be easily enjoyed by the driver, too. So I tossed popcorn and toasted walnuts in pomegranate syrup and crushed red pepper, lemon zest, cumin, salt– all the flavors of muhamarra, but in a new permutation. This crunchy popcorn and nut combination is sweet and sour from the pomegranate and lemon, spicy from the red pepper and cumin, and of course has the salty kick that popcorn demands. I snacked on it while I was making it, I snacked on it– straight out of the oven– while it was crisping up at 350 degrees, I snacked on it while I was trying to take pictures of it, and I am snacking on it now. When I’m done writing this, I’m going to take it for a drive and snack on it some more.
A note on pomegranate molasses, which is used in the recipe below: It’s this fantastically versatile sweet-and-sour ingredient, made by reducing pomegranate juice with some extra sugar and sometimes lemon over heat until it becomes a thick syrup. You can actually make your own that way if you can’t find it already made. It’s hard to nail the exact consistency of the bottled version, though… and if you go too far with the heat, you’ll have pomegranate candy and a very-difficult-to-clean pot. (I can report this from personal experience.) It’s worth just buying it already made if you can find it; most well-stocked grocery stores should carry it.
- 2/3 cups popcorn kernels
- Enough of your preferred cooking oil to just cover the bottom of a stockpot
- 2 cups walnut pieces
- 3 ounces pomegranate molasses
- 1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Zest of two large, organic lemons
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
- To a lidded stockpot, add just enough oil to cover the bottom.
- Add 2/3 cup popcorn kernels.
- Cover with the lid and turn the burner on to medium.
- Once the oil heats, you'll hear the popcorn begin to pop. After it reaches a crescendo and the popping frequency slows, give the pot a few good shakes.
- Listen as some more kernels pop. As they slow to only an occasional pop, remove the pot from the heat.
- You'll now have about 10 cups of popcorn-- spread it out over a flat surface. (Such as a couple of cookie sheets.)
- Briefly toast your walnut pieces on the stove top until fragrant. Toss in the pan frequently as you toast them so they won't burn.
- Incorporate your toasted walnuts with the popcorn.
- Using a squeeze bottle or similar device, lightly drizzle the pomegranate molasses over the popcorn and walnut mixture.
- Sprinkle the cumin, crushed red pepper, lemon zest, and 1 teaspoon of the salt over the popcorn and walnut mixture.
- Toss everything well, transfer to a 9 x 13 pan, and put in the oven for 10 minutes to crisp up. (This step will harden the pomegranate molasses and make the popcorn crunchy rather than soggy.)
- Check frequently; toss at the 5 minute mark and return to the oven for the final 5 minutes.
- When it comes out of the oven, sprinkle with the reserved half teaspoon of salt. Snack now, or let it cool and then package it up for a road trip.