Juhu Beach Club’s Desi Jacks

Sweet, savory, and spicy -- these aren't your childhood Cracker Jacks by any stretch.

Sweet, savory, and spicy — these aren’t your childhood Cracker Jacks by any stretch.


Juhu Beach Club in Oakland may be shuttered now, but its spirit lives on in “The Juhu Beach Club Cookbook”
(Running Press) by Preeti Mistry with East Bay food writer Sarah Henry, of which I received a review copy.

Mistry has vowed that Juhu Beach Club, which she ran with her business partner and wife Ann Nadeau, will rise again in some form, though details are scarce at the moment.

In any event, you can still enjoy her cooking at her very fun Navi in Emeryville with its unique pizzas, toasts and cocktails.

Born in London and raised in suburban Ohio, Mistry, a former “Top Chef” contestant, is an inventive, inspired cook who is adept at remastering comfort food with bold Indian flavors and flair. On her trips to her ancestral country of India, she fell in love with street food. There’s a playfulness in her food that reflects that.


That’s evident in recipes such as “Shrimp Po’Bhai,” “JBC Fried Chicken & Doswaffle,” “Chai-Spiced Bacon,” and “Bloody Meera.”

Take her “Desi Jacks.” This revved up version of caramel corn is featured at Navi. It’s even free during the daily Happy Hour, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

This is a snack that’s sure to get the party started.

It is loaded with crunchy nuts, flavored with chili and cumin for a kick of heat and warm, as well as toasty earthiness. It’s sweet and savory, and quite addictive.

The recipe does call for Indian red chili pepper, which is much hotter than cayenne. Since I’m a wimp when it comes to scorching chilies, I opted just to use cayenne instead. It was just the right amount of spiciness for my palate. If you want hotter and authentic, though,  take a trip to your local Indian grocery store for the real deal.

Peanuts and pistachios tossed in spices, and ready to get toasted in the oven.

Peanuts and pistachios tossed in spices, and ready to get toasted in the oven.

Just be warned that this is a very sticky caramel corn, more akin to the consistency of popcorn balls, owing to the large quantity of corn syrup in the caramel. Indeed, the amount of corn syrup to brown sugar is 1:1. For a less stick-to-your-teeth version, you can probably dial back on the corn syrup, add a little more brown sugar if need be, and even a little more butter.

Beyond that, there’s nothing missing from these Desi Jacks except the little plastic toy hidden at the bottom of the batch.

Desi Jacks

(Makes 6 quarts)

1 cup pistachios (can substitute almonds or hazelnuts if needed)

4 cups peanuts

1/4 cup neutral oil (we use Rito Rice Bran Oil)

1 tablespoon cumin seeds, toasted, then ground in a spice grinder

1 tablespoon Indian red chili powder

2 tablespoons salt

4 quarts cooked popcorn

1/4 cup ghee (clarified butter) or melted butter

2 cups packed light brown sugar

2 cups light corn syrup

2 tablespoons sea salt


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss both the nuts with oil, half the cumin, and half the chili powder. Season to taste with salt. Spread onto a sheet pan and roast for 10 to 15 minutes in the oven until golden brown. Let cool, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Season the popcorn with ghee, the rest of the cumin, chili powder, and salt to taste. Toss well to coat evenly. Set aside. Heat the sugar and corn syrup in a large oven-proof saucepan or dutch oven on high heat. Cook the sugar, stirring with a thermometer every few minutes. When the sugar reaches hardball stage (250 to 260 degrees), add the nuts and popcorn and fold into the caramel. Place the saucepan into the oven for 10 minutes.

Remove it from the oven and stir further if necessary to incorporate the caramel — use caution, as the sugar will be very hot.

Use a large spoon to spread the popcorn caramel mixture onto Silpat mats; flatten out the mixture with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle the mixture with sea salt and let it cool. When it is cool to the touch, break the clumps apart into bite-size pieces. Desi Jacks will keep in an-airtight container for 3 to 6 days.

Adapted from “The Juhu Beach Club Cookbook” by Preeti Mistry with Sarah Henry

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