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garam masala & coconut popcorn

In gluten free, snacks, vegan, vegetarian, year-round on 6 December, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Today’s post is not so much a recipe as it is a set of instructions on making one of the best snacks around.

The other night around midnight, after a failed dinner, a failed blogging effort and a failed attempt at sleep, I found myself wide awake with a semi-growling stomach and so I pulled myself out of bed and into the kitchen. Yep, that’s right. Midnight Snack Time.

Sleeping is something I don’t normally find difficult, so Midnight Snack Time is hardly ever something I experience (unless you count, of course, those post-revelry takeaway noodles I sometimes find on my bedside table on certain weekend mornings, but those don’t really count; for one, they’re usually eaten far past midnight to qualify as a Midnight Snack).

But Sunday night I was all out of whack, after a week packed with post-holiday catching-up and madwoman running around organising wigs and gowns and celebration plans for that thing I did on Friday*, and then that thing on Friday and then of course the celebrating and then on Saturday morning I woke up at an ungodly hour** for family activities with my visiting parents and by Saturday evening I was in bed, asleep, before it was even dark out (don’t you love that about summer?) and so Sunday I was physically well-rested and mentally drained: not a good combination for trying to will yourself to sleep.

I’m not sure why popcorn and garam masala were on my mind at that hour of the night, but it was lucky I had chosen those two things rather than, say, cereal or yoghurt or hot buttered toast or even leftovers, because as a consequence of my recent Melbourne trip, I’ve had very little money left with which to buy staple foods like milk or yoghurt or butter.

Or… butter. The realisation struck me as I opened the fridge, after I’d gotten out the popcorn and spices. I was completely out of butter (and, as luck would have it, all other cooking oil). I was about ready to add Midnight Snack Popcorn to my list of Sunday failures when I remembered the bag of random goodies (gin, chocolate, conditioner, my old silk scarf, and so on) my parents had left with me as a parting gift. I was pretty sure the bag also contained a jar of coconut oil. I was right.

So, out of desperation came this pretty damn amazing combination of coconut oil and garam masala on popcorn. I’m not going to pretend I’m the first person to discover it, because it’s pretty elementary. But the discovery, for me, was one of my biggest post-midnight triumphs yet.***

Garam masala (or sometimes curry powder, or other spices) on popcorn is an old trick I’ve had up my sleeve since my university days when I needed a quick study snack. But I’d always turn to butter or vegetable oil to cook my popcorn. I should’ve tried coconut oil sooner: the coconutty flavour isn’t that obvious at first, and the aromatic spiciness of the garam masala fills your mouth with each bite. But then, beneath that, there’s a subtle burst of supple, mellow, almost-sweet coconut flavour that melds with the spices, evoking the warm sea breezes and swaying coconut palms of someplace far from here (that possibly exists only in my imagination, but hey).****

This is better than any movie theatre popcorn (or microwave popcorn, or whatever’d otherwise take your fancy). The spices give it a lingering heat that sticks around far longer than the popcorn actually stays warm; for this reason, it’s ideal for prolonged nibbling over the course of a ninety-minute feature film. Or you can scarf it down, standing in the hallway, at Midnight Snack Time. It’s up to you.

Anyway, it was so good that I had it again yesterday afternoon when I got home from work. Still tasted just as impressive. I urge you to try it, especially if you have some coconut oil (or can get your hands on some). If you don’t, I’d just use butter or a neutral-flavoured oil, and maybe toss some shredded coconut in along with the garam masala just to give it that faint, sweet whiff of some imaginary tropics. Go on. (edited to add: if you’re doing this, might be better to add the coconut in at the end to prevent burning. Thanks, Lucia! x)

*!!!!! It was super exciting.

**of course, with a half-eaten box of char kway teow next to my bed.

***not that I have many post-midnight triumphs (for the most part, I’m asleep at that time of night and when I’m not, I’m not sure I’m achieving much), but still. This was definitely a triumph.

****I’m pretty sure the reason why I associate these particular spices with coconuts and tropics is because my mum brought them over to me from Kerala, a place I’ve never been but which exists strongly in my imagination as a place where there might possibly be hot sea breezes and coconut trees.


Melt 1 1/2 – 2 tbsp coconut oil* in a saucepan with a lid. Add a couple generous pinches of salt and 1 tsp** garam masala. Add 50g (approximately 1/4 cup) popcorn kernels and cover the pan with the lid. Heat over medium-high heat, giving everything a good shake every now and then to coat the kernels, until they start to pop. Keep shaking the pan over the heat, using a back-and-forth motion, until the popping slows down. Remove from heat and add more salt and/or garam masala to taste; toss and serve.

Devour while hot or make a big batch and pick at it slowly through the course of a movie: it’s up to you.

*bonus: if you get some on your hands you can slather it all over your skin and you will smell delicious. True fact. (If you don’t have coconut oil, cook the popcorn in the oil of your choice, perhaps adding some shredded coconut with the salt and spices).

**or more, to taste

  1. Ooh nom, I’m really keen to give coconut oil a whirl. What brand did you use? It’s quite hard to track down, especially the “virgin”.

    • The one I used is one my mum brought over from the States and is called “Dr Bronner’s Magic ‘All-one!'” which makes it sound like some sort of early 20th century snake oil or something but really, it’s good… and is virgin. I have to confess I haven’t even looked at coconut oil in shops here, mostly because I’m such a butter fiend… but after having this I will definitely be keeping an eye out for it.

  2. That is one creative midnight snack. I’m sitting at my desk annoyed that I don’t have any pop corn in the house, because garam masala pop corn would be the perfect snack for right now.

  3. amaaaaazing! so creative and such fun bright photos. never would have thought to try, but very impressed. And congratulations! !!! !!! !!!

  4. What great idea and if it hadn’t been a midnight feast a beer would have been perfect with it

  5. I’m definitely going to track down some coconut oil to give this a try – great combo with the garam masala. Can’t wait to try.
    Sue xo

  6. Cute pics , love the blue!

  7. Wow, this looks so delicious! Watch out kitchen… I know what I’ll be making when I stumble home in the wee hours of tomorrow morning!

  8. YUM!

    I put dessicated coconut in before cooking it, and it all burned at the bottom. I’d suggest leaving it til afterwards so you don’t get sad at the waste. Unless I’m just doing it wrong..

    You can get a range of different coconut oils at Commonsense in Wellington.. and I’ve seen it in New World too, it’s getting more common. Very good for you :)

    • Thanks for letting me know! (hmm, I really should test my alternative suggestions before posting, eh!) but yum. yes leaving it til afterwards might be better. Will have a look at Commonsense and NW for coconut oil once I’ve depleted my supply… seems to be going fast :)

  9. Coconut, spices & popcorn…my kind of snack, midnight or any time of day. Thinking I could devour a whole bowl of this….I love freshly popped popcorn & this is a new spin on it for me & one I will definitely have to try.

  10. I love coconut oil! And garam masala. And after-midnight discoveries. And midnight snacks, come to think of it. While butter on popcorn is my fave (followed by butter, peanut butter, and chocolate, but that’s another story) this sounds so wonderful.

    Nice to see you yesterday :D

  11. wow that popcorn looks amazing. I am NZer living in the US where popcorn is an institution, Imagine if I made yours for them .. their eyebrows! I am laughing at the thought! wonderful to have found you.. c

    • Thanks! You should totally spread this popcorn around the US… definitely not the typical American movie theatre popcorn but it’s worth trying! Have been starting to read through your blog as well, lovely to have found you too :)

  12. i love popcorn & this is just ingenious! love the idea of garam masala popcorn :)

  13. wow! what a wonderful idea..garam masala popcorn in coconut oil! A perfect midnight snack!

  14. […] needing to eat all of this. I found a recipe that called for garam masala, salt, and coconut oil. This is it, and it was perfect. My mom is still mourning a nearby Indian restaurant that recently closed its […]

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