Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Popcorn, Revisited

Synchronicities are everywhere these days!  I have a friend who is in the middle of a two week cleanse; her first week was all raw food and now she's on six or seven days of juice.  I recieved an e-mail from her this morning saying how she was craving popcorn.  The synchronicty?  I had awoken a little before 5am thinking about popcorn and wanting to write a post about it.  Weird!!
The two "vices" I still struggle with as I've adopted healthier eating habits are red wine and popcorn.  Mind you, I'm not trying to be all puritanical and will myself to totally give them up.  Well, I'm struggling with that urge, let's say.  I do know that most everything can be enjoyed in moderation - it's the moderation I have the hardest time with.  It's no problem for me to make a huge pot of popcorn and drink two or three glasses of wine on both Friday and Saturday nights, sitting down with my wife to watch Downton Abbey, Modern Family or Harry Potter.   Maybe that doesn't seem too terrible to many of you, but the more I learn and read, the more I'm concerned about my popcorn addiction.
Totally NOT my family, by the way
It's not junky microwave popcorn, either, we gave that up, with its accompanying load of toxic chemicals, long ago.  No, this is pretty old-fashioned homemade popcorn, made in my big 16 quart stockpot.  Canola oil, probably 1/4 to 1/2 cup and 1 cup of popcorn kernels - into the huge bowl with some sea salt - soooo delicious.  It's oil, though, that may be the problem, and not even because it's pure fat without much nutritional value.  Most oil contain 120 calories per tablespoon, so that's 480 calories in 1/4 cup, 960 in 1/2 cup.  Which means that if I use a 1/2 cup to make our popcorn (I don't really measure, but I bet that's about right) and I eat half of the bowl, that's 480 calories just from the oil, not including the popcorn itself.  So that's potentially an issue.  My hero Joel Fuhrman, of course, is pretty seriously anti-fat, and while I still mostly subscribe to his theory, we also know that our bodies do need fat for proper brain function.
However, even aside from the fat content and caloric density of oil, the other potential problem comes from subjecting the oil to high heat (and it's got to be pretty hot to pop those kernels).  It seems that when cooking oils are heated to their smoke point and beyond, the oil begins to decompose and the antioxidants (good for us and present in both canola and olive oil) break down and get replaced by free radicals (the opposite of antioxidants, the molceules that literally "age" us).  This process creates a host of potentially dangerous molecules, things like "polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons," "advanced glycemic end-products" and acrylamide (I'm not making those things up).  These chemicals are produced when certain foods, often meat, but numerous plant foods as well, are subjected to various forms of high-temperature cooking - grilling and frying among them.  As much I used to love a seared steak on the grill, foods that get charred are the most likely to contain these dangerous chemicals.  Those three chemicals have been implicated in a number of diseases, cancer, diabetes and heart disease among them.  The fact that these are produced by cooking (even though it may only be some cooking methods and some foods) has been used as part of the scientific foundation for the raw food movement.  No cooking = no dangerous by-products.  It does make sense.

After finding out about all this, though, I've been feeling guiltier and guiltier on those Friday and Saturday nights, especially whenI come back into the kitchen and the end of the night, lift the lid off the stockpot and smell that burnt oil.  I have been wondering what stuff may be doing inside me.
But what am I supposed to do?  Give up that delicous snack, my last bit of yummy salty crunch?  Make air-popped popcorn?  All of us who lived through the 1980s remember that stuff and how almost tasteless it was - unless, of course, you did what my family did, melt half a stick of butter in that little metal tray on the popper and pour that on top.  And I won't be doing that.  To be fair, though, I haven't had that air-popped popcorn probably since the 1980s, so perhaps I need to just give it a try and, like they did after my first juice cleanse last year, my taste buds will adjust.

Another Way - Chickpea Popcorn

There is, however, another alternative, one I discovered, dare I say it, on the Dr. Oz show (okay, Joel Fuhrman was on, so I taped it): ChickPea Popcorn.  Totally awesome snack, can easily replace popcorn, and isn't just "not bad" for you, it's super healthy!!  (See my bit on beans, back here).  Here's how you do it.
  • 1 can (15 ounces) chick peas/garbanzo beans, drained (about 2 cups)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil (really?  after all I said about it up there?  just a tablespoon)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tesp garlic powder
  • sea salt to taste (a few pinches seems to do the trick)
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
  2. In a bowl mix the chick peas with the oil and seasoning until well coated
  3. Spread in one layer on a baking sheet (one with shallow sides is best so they don't come off when you shake them)
  4. Every 15 minutes or so, pull the tray out and shake it so they don't stick
  5. Bake for 50-70 minutes depending on how crispy you'd like them
  6. Let cool and enjoy - so delicious!!
On a large baking sheet you can fit three times this amount (three cans or six cups).  They last at least a few days, so I've made at least two cans each time I've done it.  You can obviously play around with the spices you use - try something spicy, or sweet, perhaps.
Like the Sweet Pea Salad, the greatest judges are my kids, both of whom DEVOUR these.  Not only have we eaten them while watching a movie all together, they TAKE THEM TO SCHOOL!  That's a huge testament - there's no more food love than that.
I hope you enjoy them!
Be well,


  1. Wonderful, easy alternative Sal! YUM! I have tried chickpea popcorn in a restaurant, but it had a heavy fried coating. And I LOVE the snack suggestions for children. More please...

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. I make it in the microwave, 2 TBSP of Bob's Red Mill with no oil at all makes a very satisfactory snack for one.

  3. I make a lentil snack like this! Adobo Lentils. Super easy if you can find canned lentils in your grocery store (I found them in the organic foods section). A little olive oil, adobo seasoning and toast them in the oven--basically the same steps as the chick peas! Makes a great salad topping too. I'll certainly be trying these!