When we were little, my mom used to make homemade popcorn for me and my sisters to snack on while we watched movies in the basement. I remember how she made the popcorn in a large soup pot on the stove-top using canola oil, and how we would wait patiently for the kernels to finally stop popping (which always seemed to take forever!) Before serving, she would dress the popcorn in melted butter and salt - plain and simple. At some point she even bought us those special little red and white striped popcorn containers for our movie nights - we just loved it!
Although homemade popcorn tastes so much better than the microwavable stuff from the grocery store, it took me a really long time to try making it from scratch myself. I always thought it wouldn't turn out as good as the popcorn my mom used to make for us. As I recall, the first time I tried making it was towards the end of my undergraduate degree, when I started to gravitate towards vegetarianism and to really cook for myself. Back then, I would make my popcorn using canola oil and season it with salt. My tastes have evolved since then, and now I like to be a little bit more adventurous with my popcorn seasonings. My favourites include nutritional yeast, smoked paprika, curry spices, and - you guessed it - za'atar!
Za'atar is the name given to a Middle Eastern spice blend featuring sesame seeds, a selection of dried herbs, and salt. The recipe varies depending on the country, but it often features herbs like sumac, thyme, oregano, cumin, or marjoram - and the list goes on. The tasty spice blend has a number of different uses - for example, it is often used to top flat breads, to mix into fresh salads or to season a salty yogurt dip. Yotam Ottolenghi wrote a great Guardian Food & Drink article on the 'magic dust' and its different uses just last year, which includes a few interesting recipes (I have my eye on his recipe for amaranth stuffed mushrooms with za'atar and pine nuts).
Besides its more traditional uses, it turns out that za'atar also pairs very well with popcorn! For this za'atar popcorn recipe, I used a pre-made za'atar mix which includes sesame seeds, sumac, oregano, cumin, marjoram and salt - but you can certainly make it yourself (a project which I plan to do in the future). If you are interested in making your own za'atar, you can find a couple great recipes here and here. Enjoy!
This is one of my favourite ways to enjoy popcorn. For this version, I used avocado oil, but you can swap in canola oil, coconut oil or olive oil in its place if you don't have any on hand. Taste your za'atar blend before adding salt - you may find that you don't need to add much salt if the blend you are using is already quite salty.
- 3 tbsp avocado oil (or oil of choice)
- 2 tbsp za'atar
- A few pinches of sea salt, to taste
- 1 tbsp avocado oil (or oil of choice)
- 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
Heat 3 tbsp oil in a small saucepan over low-medium heat. Stir in the za'atar along with a couple pinches of salt (if needed). Heat until the spices start to sizzle slightly, releasing their flavours (a few minutes). Remove from heat and set aside.
Next, heat a large soup pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. Add 1 tbsp oil and 3 popcorn kernels to the pot and cover. Once the first 3 kernels pop, add the rest of the kernels to the pot and cover. Shake the pot regularly throughout cooking to distribute the heat and to make sure the kernels don't burn. The kernels will start popping slowly initially, but the popping will speed up once the right temperature is reached. The popcorn is done once most of the kernels have popped and the popping slows down significantly (about 3 seconds between 'pops').
Once the popcorn is ready, transfer it to a large serving bowl. Drizzle a few spoons of the za'atar oil over the popcorn and toss, repeating with the rest of the za'atar oil. Taste the popcorn, and sprinkle on a little more salt if needed.
Serve immediately, or store in airtight containers for a few days.
Makes one large bowl of popcorn.