Olive Oil Popcorn with Za’atar

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Zaatar popcorn with blanket, Maureen Abood copy

I don’t remember seeing movies in the theater all that frequently growing up. It was a very occasional treat, and I’m sure this was not out of discipline or deprivation, but because it just wasn’t the industry it is today.

My great movie-watching memories are rooted most comfortably at home, with my brother and sister and me (the youngest of the five kids) lined up across my parents’ bed in the dark, watching. Here we feasted on Willie Wonka, Mary Poppins, The Wizard of Oz—movies we went completely crazy over because they were shown only once a year, and we’d waited sooooooooo long to see them again.

Olive oil popping, Maureen Abood

Either my mom was a wizard herself or serendipity was on her side, because those exciting movie-watching nights seemed to fall  on the same nights my parents were hosting one of their regular dinner parties. These were all-out beautiful evenings that Mom orchestrated from her kitchen with classic meals like roasted tenderloin and twice-baked potatoes. On those occasions my dad would come home from the office with striped boxes of peanuts from The Peanut Shop in downtown Lansing, and the lovely little silver nut dishes they received for their wedding were put into action.

Upstairs, nut dishes of another sort were on offer. We had our brown paper lunch bags folded down at the top, one for each kid. My mother knew how to snack her kids some fun for movie-watching, filling the bags with salty popcorn, pretzels, mini-marshmallows, chocolate chips (how exciting when a chocolate chip got mixed in with a little handful of popcorn or pretzels). Who needs beef tenderloin when you’ve got your own bag of gold to hoard?

Popper, Maureen Abood

Perhaps this popcorn bag of my childhood had something to do with my addiction-level love for Garrett’s popcorn in Chicago (a ravenous mow-down of a bag of that popcorn is always regrettable, but so good in the moment), which I ate of course not at the movies, but walking up and down Michigan Avenue on my lunch hours, wondering how I’d get the yellow stain off my fingers for the afternoon.

I’ve gotten into making the caramel corn at home (try this recipe; you won’t regret it), and elevating movie-nights on the bed with truffle-salted popcorn. But this winter’s at-home movie-watching season (God bless you On Demand, Netflix, Amazon…the whole crew), I’ve started popping my corn in olive oil.

Be still my heart: olive oil popcorn is unbelievably good!

Zaatar for popcorn, Maureen Abood

And because I can’t leave well enough alone, the olive oil led me to think of Lebanese za’atar, since those two are both made perfect together, and wouldn’t that make a fine brown-bag popcorn treat?

I was so right about this that I even hesitated sharing it here, thinking of patents and trademarks and secret recipes so spot on they could make a girl millions.

Or at least just a delicious night at home with the movies.

Zaatar popcorn in hand, Maureen Abood

(P.S. I invite you to dive into my updated site design with a big bowl of za’atar popcorn in hand! It may not be as exciting as the movies, but it’ll do for mindless popcorn eating…)

Olive Oil Popcorn with Za’atar
Serves: 8-10 cups
Take care when heating olive oil to make popcorn, as it has a low smoke point and can burn easily. I use a Cuisinart popcorn maker, which helps prevent the oil from overheating and burning.
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup popcorn kernels
  • 3 tablespoons [url href=”https://maureenaboodmarket.com/collections/spices/products/lebanese-zaatar?variant=16601511361″ target=”_blank”]Lebanese za’atar[/url]
  • Fine sea salt, if za’atar is unsalted, as needed
  1. In a large, heavy pot, heat the olive oil with the kernels, covered, over medium high heat. If you’re using a popcorn maker, be sure to turn it off and remove the popcorn as soon as the popping slows down.
  2. As soon as a few kernels begin to pop, reduce the heat to medium so as not to overheat the oil and burn the popcorn. Shake the pan frequently until the popping sounds have nearly stopped.
  3. Pour the popcorn into a bowl and immediately sprinkle za’atar (and salt if needed) over the hot popcorn. Toss and serve immediately.


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  1. My “popcorn memories” are of my mom cooking up a large batch of popcorn in her copper bottom pan with lid……and going to either the Algeir Drive-In or the Wayne Drive-In…….five kids piled in the back of a big old 1950’s Buick, and my dad singing all of the way there. Such happy times!
    Also, my favorite Christmas gift ever was a mini popcorn stove with a little pot to pop corn with…..spent endless hours popping away and sharing with my dad.
    I still share his love of popcorn and think of him whenever I’m eating it!

  2. I am definitely trying that recipe sometime. And if you have never tried garlic-infused olive oil to pop your popcorn, that is delicious too.

  3. YES!! I LOVE the redesign of your website. As always, a feast for my eyes and my brain! It’s easy to navigate through and since I always want to know exactly how you created something, the section on techniques is wonderful! Looking forward to having your cookbook in my kitchen. Bravo!

  4. This is brilliant. My mind is spinning. Popcorn is my drug. Go market this now! I’m going to try my hand, but I use a whilrly pop & my new house has an electric stove, which I cannot figure out how to control the heat. I’m not sure I can keep it from burning. So, see – if you sold this, it would make it so much easier for me to get my hands on it!

  5. Thank you so much for the wonderful idea. I’m going to try it, I always have za’atar and look for new ways to use it.

  6. Looks and sounds yummy–and love your sweet and touching remembrances of Mother, childhood, siblings!

  7. Oh my goodness, I am so obsessed with za’atar and have been looking for ways to eat more of it. I LOVE this idea!

  8. Maureen your gift of writing and cooking come together in the most beautiful way. You never cease to amaze me. xoxoxo

  9. Maureen,
    I’m so happy I discovered your site. Popcorn memories and love of za’atar! We have a wonderful Lebanese market in Austin and it’s like a field trip for me. Just discovering all the delicious new flavors.