Mediterranean Vegetable Polenta Recipe – Heart-Healthy, Satisfying Vegan Entree with Creamy Turmeric Polenta and a Flavorful Vegetable Ragout
I consider polenta to be one of my ultimate comfort foods. This simple cornmeal mush has been eaten and enjoyed for centuries all over the world. While we typically associate polenta with Italy, it is consumed in various regions and preparations. In France it became popular during the French revolution and was typically served with wild game and cheese or dressed with sauce. 16th century Portuguese brought cornmeal to Africa where it spread along Arab trade routes; it was fed to African slaves during transport because it was cheap and easy to transport. The Pennsylvania Dutch mix it with meat scraps. Romanians dubbed it mamaliga, serving it as a porridge or in small cake form. Romanian immigrants brought it with them to New York, where it became a common dish on Jewish deli menus. It Italy it is beloved both as a porridge and in cake form; it is sometimes mixed with buckwheat in a preparation known as polenta taragna.
When maize was first brought by Columbus to Europe it was looked on with suspicion, even by Italians. However, it didn’t take very long for folks to warm to the concept of corn– it was easy and affordable to grow and could be used in a variety of ways. Formerly known as pulmentum, the ancient Roman name for pottage, polenta became a dietary staple for ancient Roman soldiers. They would eat their polenta rations as a hard cake or a porridge. Polenta grew in popularity throughout the centuries for its simplicity, affordability and delicious flavor.
This polenta topped with a simple, flavorful Mediterranean chickpea ragout makes a filling and comforting meal. I’ve kept things vegan here, opting to add coconut milk and turmeric to the polenta for a creamy, savory flavor. Feel free to add parmesan to the mix if you’re not worried about keeping things dairy free. Enjoy!
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Beauty shots and styling by Bethany Nauert.
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil divided
- 8 oz mushrooms chopped
- 1 1/2 cups onion diced small (about 1 1/2 onions)
- 1 3/4 tsp salt divided
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
- 1/2 tsp coriander
- 1/8 tsp cinnamon
- pinch black pepper
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 3/4 cups cooked chickpeas or 1 can (15 oz) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1 3/4 cups diced fresh tomatoes or 1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
- 4 whole medium squash (yellow and/or zucchini) diced
- 1 large eggplant diced
- 1 whole red bell pepper diced
- 1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh basil chopped
- 3 cups water
- 2 cups unsweetened coconut milk (regular or light)
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 1/4 cups cornmeal, fine ground
- For the ragout: Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms, onions and 1/2 tsp of salt. Cook until browned, then stir in the smoked paprika, cumin, crushed red pepper, coriander, cinnamon, black pepper and garlic; cook 1-2 minutes until fragrant.
- Stir in the balsamic vinegar, scraping the pan to remove any brown bits. Add the chickpeas and 3/4 cup water to the pan along with diced tomatoes, squash, eggplant, bell pepper and sun-dried tomatoes, stir well to combine. Reduce heat to medium low and cover. Cook until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally, 20-30 minutes. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste if desired.
- Just before serving, stir in the fresh chopped basil.
- For the polenta: In a medium saucepan combine 3 cups water, coconut milk, 1 tbsp olive oil, turmeric and 1 1/4 tsp salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and slowly whisk in the cornmeal. Simmer, stirring frequently, until the mixture is smooth, tender, and creamy, about 15-18 minutes.
- Serve the ragout over the cooked warm polenta. Garnish with additional fresh basil if desired.
Other Great Recipe Ideas
Fussell, Betty Harper. The Story of Corn. University of New Mexico Press, 1992.