You see, typically the Thanksgiving holiday is a whirlwind for me. I’m often working at the ol’ day job up until the Wednesday before, and we usually have around 20+ people to feed. I try to do as much advance preparation as possible, but it’s still a busy, busy holiday.
Let me tell you, when I finally sit down after dinner, the glass of wine I decide to enjoy is often the best glass of wine ever.
Somehow, in that whirlwind, I’ve never made this pre-dinner Thanksgiving snack far enough in advance to share. Well, friends, this year is your lucky year. I’ve made it already, and so I can share it with you.
But why “un-popcorn”?
Truthfully, I love popcorn. I don’t eat it often, but when I do, I thoroughly enjoy it. You can certainly make this with popcorn. But I have some family members that cannot tolerate corn products. For those family members, I have opted to make a popcorn alternative. I promise you, it’s just as satisfying as the real deal. What do I use?
Why, rice cakes, of course!
I’ve done it before, in this “granola“. Crumbled rice cakes make an excellent stand-in for popcorn. They’re light and airy, and hold up perfectly to the caramel-y topping. I’m a big fan of Lundberg’s rice cakes – they’re gluten-free and they have versions that are lightly salted, which are my preference for a recipe such as this. And no, I’m not paid to tell you that – I just like their products.
This “un-popcorn” is easy to make – just crumble rice cakes, and then simmer maple syrup and spices, pour, toss, and bake. The result is a sweet and salty, crunchy mixture that just feels like Thanksgiving, thanks to the cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom. The dried cranberries and walnuts definitely help out that Thanksgiving feel as well. My personal favorite, however, is the black pepper. It’s a perfect foil to the sweeter spices, and keeps it in that “appetizer” category and away from feeling too much like a dessert.
Whether you make this with real popcorn or faux, I encourage you to add this to your Thanksgiving menu. It’ll keep the hungry masses at bay while you make the finishing touches to the big meal, and it’s very more-ish. I’m certain it’ll be a hit that will keep you coming back to it, year after year.
Apple Pie Spice “Un-Popcorn” (gluten-free, vegan)
1 package Lundberg lightly salted rice cakes, crumbled
3/4 c chopped walnuts
1/2 c dried cranberries
2 T coconut oil
3/4 c maple syrup
1 t kosher salt
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t ground cardamom
1/4 t ground nutmeg
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place the oven racks on the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line 2 baking sheets with aluminum foil and grease the foil. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, add the crumbled rice cakes, walnuts, and dried cranberries and toss.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the coconut oil, maple syrup, and salt to a boil. Add the black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg and whisk in. Reduce to a simmer and allow to cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 4-5 minutes. Pour over rice cake mixture and stir well, making sure everything is evenly coated.
Divide mixture between the two prepared baking sheets and spread out into an even layer. Bake on the lower and upper racks for 5 minutes, and then swap the baking sheets and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Break into smaller chunks. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.