Monday, March 28, 2011

Vegan Polenta with Kidney Beans, Peppers and Tomatoes

Being able to hop on a plane and spend the weekend with Austin's family is great. However, there is usually one (rather insignificant) downside: coming home to an empty fridge. It's nights like this one that force me to get creative in the kitchen, making what I can with what we have in the pantry and fridge odds and ends. I call it Sara does Chopped*. Tonight, when I saw the cornmeal staring at me longingly I knew whatever we ate would be served on a bed of polenta... creamy, buttery, savory polenta. If you've never made it don't be intimidated by the myth that you have to whisk it incessantly. As Mark Bittman says, you don't actually have to stir it constantly, just every once in a while. While scavenging for polenta toppings in our fridge, I found some wilting arugula, a lonely green pepper and an almost overripe tomato. Pair that with some of our pantry staples, sun dried tomatoes and olives, and you have yourself a relatively quick, pretty healthy, mighty tasty and comforting meal.

Vegan Polenta with Kidney Beans, Peppers and Tomatoes
Makes 4 servings
  • 1 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup plain unsweetened almond or other non-dairy milk
  • 1/4 cup Earth Balance or other non-hydrogenated non-dairy butter
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1-1 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 green bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 15 oz / 425 g can / 1 1/2 cups cooked pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/3 cup kalamata olives, chopped small
  • 1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped small (I used the kind packed in oil)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 packed cups arugula
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil plus extra for drizzling
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes 
1.  In a medium pot, whisk together the cornmeal and 1 1/2 cup of vegetable broth. Heat the mixture over medium-high heat until it bubbles and then reduce it to a simmer, whisking every few minutes. When most of the liquid is absorbed and the polenta looks ready to eat, add whisk in another cup of broth and stir every few minutes to avoid clumping. Repeat until you use up all of the broth. In the last stage, add the milk, basil, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and simmer until the cornmeal tastes cooked and the polenta is thick and creamy (I like mine to spread when I plate it). Stir in the butter and the nutritional yeast and cook for another couple minutes. The whole process should take about 30-40 minutes.
2.  While the polenta is cooking, cook the toppings. In a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the bell peppers and cook until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until it's fragrant and starting to brown, about another 5 minutes. Deglaze the pan by adding the fresh tomato, sun dried tomatoes, olives, red pepper, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and thyme. Cook for about 7 minutes or until the tomato starts to break down. Add the beans and cook for about 5 minutes or until they're heated through. Taste and gradually add as much salt as you think the dish needs (be careful though; the olives will provide quite a bit of salt).
3.  Ladle the polenta onto a plate, top with about 1/2 cup of the arugula (which will wilt beautifully from the heat of the rest of the ingredients) and about 1/4 of the pepper, bean and tomato mixture. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and serve immediately.

*For those of you who don't watch Food Network religiously or don't have access to it, Chopped is a TV show in which contestants have to create dishes using all the crazy ingredients they're given in the mystery basket.

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