Polenta has become a favorite staple in my diet because of its versatility as well as its ease in preparation. It can be served soft, hard, grilled or fried. It can be topped with a myriad of sauces and vegetables and can have various ingredients folded in while it's still soft. Italians often spice-up their polenta by substituting water with broth. It is easy to make from scratch, but I find the Trader Joe's pre-packaged polenta is great. It has all-natural ingredients and is packaged similarly to sausage in a plastic "tube" sort of thing. This form of polenta is a little on the firm side, which I enjoy, and can be sliced into individual medallions.
My favorite way to cook this type of polenta is to layer it in a baking dish with fresh basil and my favorite vegan red sauce and sauteed mushrooms. Heat it through in a 375 oven for about 30 minutes and a tasty treat ensues. Not quite vegan? Add a high quality parm/reggiano and you have one delicious entree!
A good polenta dish with a Mexican twist can be made by layering it with chili or black beans, sauteed onions, salsa and cheese, if you're not a vegan, or vegan cheese sauce if you are.
This is a good recipe for Vegan "Sharp Cheddar Cheese" that calls for agar agar, (easily located at a natural foods store such as Whole Foods....or "the Food Hole" as we like to call it) :
- 5 teaspoons powdered agar-agar or 5 tablespoon agar-agar flakes
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1/2 cup cashews
- 1/3 cup nutritional yeast
- 1/2 cup pimientos
- 3-4 tablespoons lemon juice, depending on how sharp you want it
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon prepared mustard
Begin by combining the agar and tap water in a small sauce pan.
Heat over a medium flame, stirring often.
When the mixture boils, reduce the heat a bit.
Allow the agar to boil gently for 5 minutes.
Stir often to prevent burning and to make sure that all of the agar dissolves.
Meanwhile, measure all of the other ingredients into a blender container.
When the agar is finished boiling, carefully pour it into the blender container.
Blend on high for about 2 minutes.
Stop, scrape down the sides, replace the lid and whizz again, for about another minute.
The mixture should be very smooth and the same orange color as dairy cheddar.
Pour the mixture into a small, lightly oiled loaf pan.
Refrigerate overnight and allow it to chill until firm.