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Coconut Curry Caramel Corn

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Makes 18 cups

This is the recipe to think about if you are going to a party—it would make a great gift instead of a bottle of wine. I recently prepared this as a party favor for a luncheon of 750 women, and they loved it. Even more note-worthy: I still loved it after making such a huge batch! That says a lot. The combination of sweet and spicy in the popcorn is what makes it different from anything else you’ve tasted.

For the candied peanuts
  • 2 cups unsalted peanuts
  • 2 Tbs. well-shaken canned coconut milk
  • 2 Tbs. packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh kaffir lime leaf (about 10 leaves)
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. reshampatti chile powder or cayenne pepper (optional)
Tip:
A thorny bush with aromatic, hourglass-shaped leaves, common to Southeast Asia, kaffir lime, also called wild lime, has an intense and unique pepper-lime flavor. If you can’t find it, you can substitute grated lime zest.
For the caramel corn
  • Olive oil spray
  • 1-1/2 cups shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 3 Tbs. canola oil
  • 3/4 cup popcorn kernels
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1-1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 3 Tbs. chopped fresh curry leaf (optional)
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp. black mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. ground mace or nutmeg (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
Tip:
Used in curries in India and Sri Lanka, curry leaf is fried along with chopped onion in the first stage of cooking. Usually called “curry leaves,” they are also called “neem leaves” or “curry neem leaves.” Curry leaf has a slight nuttiness that adds backbone to the flavor of a dish. There really is no substitute, so if you can’t find the leaves, simply omit them from the recipe.
Make the candied peanuts

In a small mixing bowl, combine the peanuts, coconut milk, brown sugar, kaffir lime leaf, salt, and reshampatti. Put the mixture in a nonstick sauté pan and cook over high heat without stirring until the nuts have started to brown and toast, about 2 minutes. Then stir, and continue to cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until peanuts have browned. (The nuts will brown unevenly and the pan may smoke from the coconut milk, but it is all okay if you are stirring continuously.)

Transfer the mixture to a plate and set aside to cool. The nuts will be somewhat moist at this point but will crisp as they cool.

Once the nuts are cool, break them up and set aside until it’s time to add them to the caramel popcorn. (If you’re not using right away, store in an airtight container at room temperature.)

Make the caramel corn

Heat the oven to 250°F. Liberally spray an extra-large mixing bowl (not plastic) with olive oil spray.

Spread the coconut on a baking sheet and toast it in the oven, stirring it once or twice, until it is golden, about 8 minutes. Set aside to cool, leaving the oven on.

Put the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot, add the corn kernels, and set over medium-high heat. Cover, and shake the pot occasionally until the popping begins, about 5 minutes. Once the popping starts, shake the pot continuously until the popping slows down dramatically, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, but continue shaking it until the popping stops entirely. Dump the popcorn into the prepared mixing bowl, trying not to let any unpopped kernels fall into the bowl. Add the toasted coconut and the candied peanuts.

Before beginning the caramel process, spray a rubber spatula, a wooden spoon, and 2 cookie sheets liberally with olive oil spray.

In a medium saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally with the oil-sprayed spatula, until the butter is melted. Continue cooking, stirring constantly and being careful not to splatter the hot caramel, until the mixture thickens and a candy thermometer registers 255°F, about 7 minutes. (If you do not have a candy thermometer, you will know it is ready when the bubbles of the mixture get noticeably larger and slower.) Remove from the heat. Add the salt, baking soda, curry leaf, cumin seeds, black mustard seeds, turmeric, mace, paprika, cayenne, and cinnamon. Stir quickly to incorporate, and then immediately pour the caramel over the popcorn mixture. Stir with the wooden spoon until all of the popcorn is well coated.

Pour the mixture onto the oiled cookie sheets and spread it out evenly. Bake for 1 hour, stirring it every 20 minutes to keep it from burning.

Remove the cookie sheets from the oven and let the popcorn cool to room temperature. The popcorn will crisp as it cools.

Once it is cool, you can serve the popcorn immediately.

Make Ahead Tips

If you do not serve immediately, you can package the caramel popcorn in airtight bags for storage. It will keep well for 4 days.

Photo: Jennifer May

This is outrageously good! I now make this whenever I need a surefire hit for any gathering. (I pack it in individual cellophane bags tied with raffia.) Everyone seems to love it; and I always receive requests for the recipe.

The results sound wonderful ... BUT ... nonstick, Teflon-coated pans are n-e-v-e-r supposed to be used over "high" heat and this pan's gotten so hot that the contents smoke ... that could be a serious issue for the cook, as well as the pan ...

Couldn't resist trying this after reading through the recipe. If we hadn't planned on taking it to a NYE party, my husband and I would have been tempted to eat the entire batch. WOW, weird and wonderful!!!! Sure beats the old cheese & cracker routine!

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