Susan Feniger's caramel corn is nothing like the average state-fair treat. Studded with candied peanuts and spiced with curry, lime leaves, ground turmeric and mustard seeds, this popcorn is a sweet-savory mash-up. The recipe is also one of many vibrantly flavored dishes in Feniger's new, globally inspired book, Susan Feniger's Street Food. We were lucky to have the chef herself make the sweet-spicy snack for us in the Tasting Table Test Kitchen, but the dish is equally enjoyable eaten while reclining on the couch with a stack of foreign films close at hand.
Adapted from Susan Feniger's Street Food by Susan Feniger (Clarkson Potter)
Yield: Serves 8 to 10
Cook Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
1½ cups shredded unsweetened coconut
2 cups unsalted peanuts
2 tablespoons well-shaken canned coconut milk
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar, divided
1 tablespoon chopped fresh makrut (kaffir) lime leaves (about 10 leaves) or grated lime zest
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, divided (optional)
Nonstick cooking spray
18 cups popped popcorn (from about ¾ cup kernels)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh curry leaves (optional)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon Black Mustard Seeds
1 teaspoon ground Turmeric
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg or mace (optional)
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 sticks unsalted butter
½ cup light corn syrup
1. Preheat the oven to 250°. Spread the coconut on a rimmed baking sheet and place it in the oven and cook, stirring once or twice, until the coconut is toasted and golden, about 8 minutes. Set aside to cool.
2. While the coconut toasts and cools, make the candied peanuts: In a small bowl, combine the peanuts, coconut milk, 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar, makrut lime leaves, ½ teaspoon of the salt and ¼ teaspoon of the cayenne pepper (if using). Transfer to a medium nonstick skillet set over high heat and cook, without stirring, until the nuts start to brown, about 2 minutes. Stir and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the peanuts are completely browned, about 5 minutes longer. (The pan may smoke slightly; this is okay.)
3. Transfer the mixture to a large plate and set aside to cool. When cool, use your fingers to break the mixture into smaller pieces.
4. Make the caramel corn: Spray an extra-large mixing bowl (don't use plastic), rubber spatula, wooden spoon and 2 rimmed baking sheets with nonstick pan spray. Place the popcorn, candied peanuts and toasted coconut in the sprayed bowl.
5. In a small bowl, stir together the remaining 1½ teaspoons of salt, curry leaves (if using), cumin seeds, mustard seeds, turmeric, baking soda, nutmeg, paprika, remaining ¼ teaspoon of cayenne (if using) and cinnamon and set aside.
6. In a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat, melt the butter with the remaining 2 cups brown sugar and the corn syrup. Stir occasionally with the greased rubber spatula until the butter is completely melted, then stir constantly until the bubbles in the mixture are thick and the caramel registers 255° on a candy thermometer, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and quickly stir in the spices and curry leaves.
7. Immediately pour the spiced caramel over the popcorn mixture, stirring with the greased wooden spoon until all of the popcorn is evenly coated.
8. Divide the mixture between the two baking sheets and spread each into an even layer. Bake 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes to keep from burning.
9. Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature. Once cool, serve or pack into airtight bags; the caramel corn will remain fresh for up to four days.