Early last week one of us was driving with our family, listening to satellite radio. A trio of talk show hosts were discussing snacking and the topic turned to their common love of popcorn. One of the three announced that when he initially moved out on his own, into a tiny little bachelor pad, the first appliance that he bought was a microwave; essential so that he could pop his corn. The lady of the group agreed that this was a smart move, priorities being what they are. She admitted that she went through about 10 bags of microwaveable popcorn a week. The third host then shared that he actually pops his corn in a pot, on the stovetop. There was a heavy pause, leading to confusion and shock with the woman finally saying something along the lines of, “Like, that’s so crazy! I could like, never do that! Like…isn’t that, like, dangerous!?” Like…huh?!
It was in that moment that we realized this post had to be written. Although popcorn isn’t a Greek recipe, growing up it was made for us often by our Greek father (aka, baba). This was before we had a microwave (and before microwave popcorn was even commercially available), and without a fancy air popper. Instead, we vividly remember anxiously standing by the stove, next to our dad, as he shook the pot into which he had placed the kernels. Together we listened to the sound of the dried corn exploding and dancing around under the cover, and we were always delighted to have him lift the lid and see that a handful of kernels had transformed into a huge amount of crunchy, light as a cloud, tasty popcorn. It was, and still is, magical! So magical that it makes us sad to think that anyone who loves popcorn does not know how to make it this way, simple and a little old-fashioned, and quite a bit better for you.
Popcorn is actually a really healthy snack when done right. It is high in fiber, low in calories and contains a nice bit of antioxidants. It’s only when this whole grain is doused in movie theater butter (is that really butter?) and an overload of salt that the health benefits are drowned out by saturated fats and extreme amounts of sodium. Although easy, microwaveable popcorn, a very popular home option, has received a lot of seemingly well-deserved bad press. It seems to pose hazards for workers in its manufacturing plants, and there’s an incredible amount of stuff on the internet warning snackers about the dire consequences which will result from eating it. We’re not ready to say that Oprah and Dr. Oz are absolutely correct about microwavable popcorn being the evil they describe, but we do know this: if you ditch the microwave and make popcorn using a pot, a bit of oil and some dried corn kernels, you can’t go wrong. Like, duh!!
To make popcorn this way you need a large pot (you will end up with about 8 cups of popped corn) with a fitted lid. A heavy bottom pot is preferable to be sure that the heat gets evenly distributed. Keep in mind that you will be shaking your pot quite a bit, so don’t use an extremely heavy cast iron pot for this…unless you want to combine popcorn making with your upper body workout.
Burnt popcorn is really quite horrible. Ensure that you don’t get any burnt kernels by keeping the heat to a medium temperature, and constantly shaking your pot. You can do this by moving your pot back and forth on your stovetop burner. If you have a flat top oven, and you don’t want to risk scratching the surface, lift the pot slightly so that it is not in contact with the stovetop, and shake it around that way.
You know that your popcorn is done when you don’t hear any popping sounds for about 5 – 10 seconds. Sure, you may find yourself with some un-popped kernels, but that’s better than keeping your pot on the heat for too long and ending up with burnt corn.
We don’t like very salty popcorn; the amount of salt that we recommend is to our liking. Adjust with more, or less salt, as you prefer.
You can also get creative with your toppings. Once in a while our dad would add some melted butter to our popcorn. Another absolutely favourite topping is mizithra (you can also substitute grated parmesan or romano cheese). You can even try some nutritional yeast flakes, dried herbs, anything really that can be sprinkled on your kernels. Consider them your blank, healthy, canvas!
Mia Kouppa: Popcorn
- 1/3 cup (80 ml) dried corn kernels, for popping
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) salt, or to taste
- In a large pot add the vegetable oil and the corn kernels. Stir well to ensure that each kernel gets coated in some oil.
- Place the lid on your pot.
- Turn heat on to medium high. Shake your pot often.
- After a few minutes you will hear the corn popping. Continue to shake your pot. It will take several minutes for your corn to pop; partly the time will depend on the level of heat, but also on the age of the kernels.
- You know that your popcorn is done when you do not hear any popping sounds for several seconds.
- Remove pot from heat. Carefully remove the lid. Add the salt and shake your popcorn in the pot. Enjoy!