Before going vegan, microwave popcorn (usually the 94% fat-free kind) was pretty much a staple in our kitchen. In fact, I thought of it as a healthy treat. Now that I read the ingredients before the nutritional info, microwave popcorn is out. We can do without the artificial flavoring, the trans-fats and toxic diacetyl. Instead, we do it old-school now – in a big pot on the stovetop. It’s so simple, cheap and fast that I’m not sure why the microwave kind even seemed like a good idea. Making it the traditional way eliminates the junk and allows you to choose your oil (try coconut oil!), your seasonings, flavorings, etc.
When I started making popcorn this way, it brought back so many memories. My mom used to make it that way all the time. I vaguely recall a big, yellow, heavy (probably cast iron) pot that had definitely seen better days. My parents would have friends over and they would sit at the dining room table and play cards/games for hours. And there was always popcorn. I have the same memory of being at my cousins’ house – our parents sitting in the kitchen, playing cards/games, eating popcorn. Same thing at my grandparent’s house. There was ALWAYS popcorn.
My grandpa liked to get creative with it – cheesy popcorn, caramel corn, popcorn balls, peanut butter popcorn, etc. His idea of making cheesy popcorn was adding shredded cheese or chunks of cheese to the pot. It was chewy. Lawry’s seasoned salt was his seasoning of choice, and chili powder was a close second. He was known for adding unexpected ingredients – like the times he added hamburger meat and peanuts to the bread in the bread machine. I think he just had fun experimenting. When I asked my cousins to help me recall all of his weird popcorn ingredients, one of them said, “Gunpowder, chocolate, burger, dog treats.” The funny thing is, I couldn’t even begin to guess which of those was a joke or not. Knowing grandpa, they could all be true.
We usually just make the regular kind, seasoned with salt and paprika. But I thought I’d try a sweet version. I found a recipe for vegan caramel corn that involved blackstrap molasses. It didn’t go well. Before I knew it, the caramel was burning as the house filled with smoke and the worst smell. There was a thick black sludge in the bottom of the pot – which will remain there forever. It would have taken a crowbar to pry that stuff out. That pot was hit anyway, so we pitched it, along with that stupid recipe.
Back to the drawing board (aka Google). If you’re vegan, you’ve likely visited the beautiful blog, The Sweet Life by Sarah McMinn. Sarah creates the most amazing vegan dessert recipes in the world’s tiniest kitchen. While sweets seem to be her specialty, she also has plenty of great entrée recipes, including gluten-free and raw. Her “Living Vegan” section has tons of great tips for novice and veteran vegans alike. When I found Sarah’s recipe for Salted Caramel Corn, I knew it would be good. Not just because it looked delicious in the photos, but because this girl’s got skills.
The results? Well, it seemed to go over well with our friends. A few of them even took some home in Ziploc bags. Hubs loved it. He polished off the leftovers the next day. Personally, since limiting my sugar intake, I just can’t take that much sugar anymore. For me it was REALLY sweet, but for Hubs (who has the world’s biggest sweet tooth) it could have been sweeter – which is ridiculous. There was a very slight aftertaste from the Earth Balance (vegan butter), but I didn’t hear anyone else mention it. Overall, I would say this one’s a winner!