Coconut Curry Caramel Corn
The combination of sweet and spicy in the popcorn is what makes it different from anything else you’ve tasted. 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.
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.