(10 seconds each to read and are almost that quick to prepare)
By Lisa Messinger
Food and Cooking at Creators Syndicate
There is an excellent classic cookbook from almost 20 years ago called "While the Pasta Cooks," which shows how to prepare everything quickly for a wonderful dish in the time the pasta was bubbling on the stovetop. There could just as easily be a cookbook titled "While the Popcorn Pops." There are all kinds of delicacies we can prepare as the popcorn bag inflates for a few minutes in the microwave or as a pan of corn is popped on the stovetop.
If you're only relegating popcorn to an occasional snack, you're missing out on a fast, whole-grain secret weapon that can be a gourmet addition to your meals.
Look no further than a stunning idea to emulate: a buttery curried popcorn that sits atop a squash bisque. Just season your popcorn first with curry powder.
The inspiration is the brainchild of veteran cookbook author Lorna Sass in her "Whole Grains for Busy People." To show you just how versatile a few seconds with popcorn can be Sass, who also wrote the James Beard Award-winning "Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way," in addition includes the same curried popcorn in a delicious ginger-carrot soup with wild rice and cranberries as well as in the cayenne- and smoked paprika-accented finely ground crust for turkey cutlets.
Plenty of others in the know also recommend popcorn as the savvy cook's shortcut to adding whole grains and a gourmet touch to meals. In "Encyclopedia Popcornica" - an online guide from the popcorn industry trade group's collaborative www.popcorn.org - peanuts, hot pepper sauce, soy sauce and garlic combine with ground popcorn for a Thai-influenced quick crust for chicken. Prepared mustard mixed with black sesame seeds was another of their split-second gourmet suggestions.
Creativity reigns when it comes to their cheesy popcorn corn bread, which adds ground popcorn to yellow cornmeal, shredded jack or pepper jack cheese and diced green chilies in an outstanding side dish.
If it's not a full meal you're in the mood for, while the popcorn's doing its dance in the microwave or on the stovetop, another quick solution is to stir up gourmet spice mixes. Use your favorite flavors and foods as inspirations: tacos, nachos, potato skins, chili and pizza.
Another excellent choice: copying the flavor of pesto by combining crushed, dried parsley, garlic powder, parmesan cheese and finely chopped, ground or whole pine nuts. You can toss that onto popped corn, or blend the mixture with melted butter or margarine and combine with the popcorn. These spiced popcorns are great as snacks or flavored additions as quick "croutons" for salads and soups.
Dishes like these prove innovative food preparation can be easy, nutritious, economical, entertaining - and fast. They take just 10 seconds each to read and are almost that quick to prepare. The combinations are delicious evidence that everyone has time for tasty home cooking and, more importantly, the healthy family togetherness that goes along with it!
Another benefit: You - and your kidlet helpers - effortlessly become better cooks, since there are no right or wrong amounts. These are virtually-can't-go-wrong mixtures, so whatever you choose to use can't help but draw "wows."
As new as it might be to experiment like this in your kitchen, using popcorn as a meal enhancer is old news. Popping was the first known use of corn; the oldest popped ears ever found were 4,000 years old. Popcorn continued its creative culinary timeline in the meals of everyone from Christopher Columbus, to 16th century Aztec Indians, to the inventors of the microwave oven who used popcorn as their first ingredient in the 1940s.
QUICK TIP OF THE WEEK: When you replace your microwave oven, don't overlook a useful part that can be recycled: the separate, removable round glass plate that's inside. Just as you removed it along the way to wash it, you can retrieve it before you dispose of the oven. It makes a wonderful clear serving tray for appetizers.
Lisa Messinger is a first-place winner in food and nutrition writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the National Council Against Health Fraud and author of seven food books, including the best-selling The Tofu Book: The New American Cuisine with 150 Recipes (Avery/Penguin Putnam) and Turn Your Supermarket into a Health Food Store: The Brand-Name Guide to Shopping for a Better Diet (Pharos/Scripps Howard). She writes two nationally syndicated food and nutrition columns for Creators Syndicate and had been a longtime newspaper food and health section managing editor, as well as managing editor of Gayot/Gault Millau dining review company. Lisa traveled the globe writing about top chefs for Pulitzer Prize-winning Copley News Service and has written about health and nutrition for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Reader's Digest, Woman's World and Prevention Magazine Health Books. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com.