Fall often seems like a season in limbo—after months of heat and drought but before the temperatures drop and the pastures of Boulder County seize up into cold, barren fields. That feeling extends to food. Just before the holidays give way to pie, buttery potatoes, eggnog and plump turkeys, there is a turning point when local farmers markets begin to close up and pumpkin, squash and other gourds become the focus of locally sourced menus. As dishes become rustic and hearty, we begin to crave our comfort foods again.
And that brings me to popcorn, my ingredient of choice for this Challenge. There is something comforting and fall-like about popcorn—maybe it’s the massive popcorn balls we gnawed on at Halloween parties as children or maybe it’s a reminder that food is still fun. It’s not an upscale ingredient, but it is comforting. So when it was time to let Morning Glory Café’s Jules Lieb in on her secret ingredient, I went with my gut.
And it seems Lieb and sous chef Ron McPhall went with their instincts when it came to making popcorn-inspired dishes.
“We made a big batch of popcorn, and we began thinking about the potential flavor profiles,” Lieb says. “Popcorn can be sweet or savory, which made it a fun exploration.”
With McPhall’s training at the Culinary Institute of America and Lieb’s school of hard knocks education, the two put their heads together to create a three-course, popcorn-laden spectacle. They started with a mixed greens salad topped with cherry tomatoes, goat cheese and maple-bacon popcorn croutons. The salad was topped with a balsamic reduction. While the croutons where not as crispy as Lieb hoped (that was probably the biggest challenge of using popcorn, she admits), the flavors of the salad worked well together. The croutons developed a great sweet-salty component in the salad and made a toothsome texture. Next, Lieb served a popcorn- and parmesan-encrusted ruby red trout served with forbidden rice and asparagus. It’s a pretty dish with bright, vibrant colors. The fish was moist and the popcorn offered a crisp coating and a nuttiness to the dish.
And for dessert, they made chocolate-dipped popcorn balls with espresso—their riff on coffee and donuts. Each ball was dipped in a thick chocolate and either cinnamon and sugar or nuts. The cinnamon added a blanket of spiciness to contrast with the sweetness, making it a well-rounded little bite of goodness.
The dishes reflect what Lieb does best at her Lafayette café—and soon, a Boulder location in the Peloton. It’s a charming alcove of rustic, colorful, healthy food and honest respect for ingredients.
Morning Glory Café, morningglorycafe.org, is located at 1377 Forest Park Circle, Suite 101, in Lafayette. They will have these dishes on special throughout October.