Crispy Baked Polenta Wedges | With Fresh Cut Strawberry, Cucumber and Lime Salsa

Parents make a fairly accurate claim when they say that having a kid is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. I’m not even talking about the pushing-the-baby-0ut part – although I still stand by my assertion that being in labour feels (in my experience) like being hit repeatedly in the abdomen (and back) with a sledge hammer. The real work comes with figuring out just how to handle the darned thing once he or she pops out as a fully-formed infant.
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I used to roll eyes derisively behind my Ray-Bans when a parent would bemoan to me their toddler-induced exhaustion. But now that I have a toddler of my own I know only too well what they’re talking about: the non-stop night nursing, the refusal to eat certain foods (and the subsequent hurtling of said foods across the room or in the direction of the dog), the panic-inducing (for me) thrill seeking (my little guy loves to scale to the highest heights unassisted), the obsessive manhandling of only the filthiest household items (plunger and toilet brush), the seemingly unprovoked, back-arching tantrums. I could go on and on. I love the little sucker to bits and am growing more obsessed by the day – I even look at pictures of him on my phone while he’s napping – but HOLY COW does he put me through the paces at every conceivable moment!
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At a certain point one gets to thinking about taking a bit of a vacay, especially on days like today when the dog woke you up at 2am in the throes of diarrhea. Oh wait, except as a parent of a young child a true vacation – one where you can kick back with your oversized cocktail of choice and not have to worry about the proximity of your kid to the pool, and other potentially life-threatening considerations – isn’t really an option. Neither is leaving him with the in-laws, because as burned out as I feel at times the thought of not being around him for even a few days puts a very large and sappy tear in my eye. At any rate, we’ve decided to attend a friend’s wedding in Puerto Vallarta – although it’s not until November and I’m sure I’ll spend 99 percent of my time there chasing the little guy around with a tube of sun screen and worrying about the possibility of shark attacks, kidnappings and other statistically improbably occurrences. Being a parent has transformed me into the ultimate worry wart!
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While our sojourn to Mexico is still 6 months away (will I still be sane by then?), as soon as I was finished booking our seats with the travel agent my mind reverted to its favourite topic: food. And in this instance, Mexican food. My favourite item of Mexican cuisine, apart from a big old Mission-style burrito cram packed with fresh veggies, is also the most simple: fresh cut salsa paired with crispy tortilla chips (and an ice cold bottle of Sol, of course).
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Fresh cut salsa typifies the notion that food doesn’t have to be complicated to be delicious. I love how the ripe tomatoes, cilantro, the mild bite of sweet onion and fresh lime juice come together and form something so bright and balanced on my taste buds. The salsa in this post deviates from the traditional by replacing tomatoes with strawberries, whose juicy sweetness is tempered perfectly by lime juice, minced shallot and jalapeno. It tastes great with tortilla chips (of course) or tossed into a green salad, but here I’ve made it into a nice light lunch and served it over baked polenta wedges – golden and crispy on the outside; warm and tender of the inside. Our vacation is still merely a dot on the horizon, but dishes such a this will do a decent job of tiding me over 🙂
Recipe: Crispy Baked Polenta Wedges | With Fresh Cut Strawberry, Cucumber and Lime Salsa
Serves 3-4
Ingredients:
Baked Polenta Wedges
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 2 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk)
  • 1 tablespoon vegan margarine
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast or vegan parmesan
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon or so of extra virgin olive oil
Strawberry, Cucumber and Lime Salsa
  • 1/2 cup cucumber, skin and seeds removed and diced small
  • 1/2 cup strawberries, diced small
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed and diced small
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 1 medium lime, juiced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Method:

Prepare Salsa

  1. Place lime juice and salt in a medium bowl and whisk to combine.
  2. Add cucumber, strawberries, cilantro, jalapeno and shallot to bowl and gently toss until everything is combined.
  3. Cover bowl and place in refrigerator until needed.

Prepare Baked Polenta Wedges

  1. Lightly grease an 8×8 pan with olive oil and set aside.
  2. Place almond milk in a medium saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer.
  3. Whisk in cornmeal then switch to a spoon as mixture thickens. Stir until liquid is fully absorbed.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in margarine and nutritional yeast (or parmesan), and a bit of salt and pepper.
  5. Immediately transfer polenta to prepared pan and smooth top with a wet spatula.
  6. Place in refrigerator for 45 minutes, or until firm.
  7. While polenta is in fridge lightly grease a baking sheet with olive oil.
  8. Once polenta is firm, remove from fridge and preheat oven to 375F.
  9. Flip polenta onto a cutting board and cut into wedges.
  10. Transfer polenta wedges onto prepared baking sheet and brush tops with a bit of olive oil.
  11. Place in oven for 45 minutes or until tops are crispy and golden brown.

Assemble

  • Transfer polenta wedges to serving plates and top each portion with a few scoops of salsa. Eat!

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White Bean and Leek Stew with Fresh Herbs | Served on Creamy Polenta

I can’t believe it, but the three of us have been holed up in our 30 ft. recreational vehicle for a full four months now. I’m not mathematically inclined, but I was paying enough attention in elementary school to know that that’s an entire third of a year, folks! Those who read my initial posts on this blog may recall my many anxieties about making an RV – and by extension a trailer park – our temporary home. For instance, I anticipated taking on the ways of my neighbours and making polyester caftans my preferred leisure wear. That hasn’t happened, although I do find myself forfeiting skinny jeans and other such restrictive articles of clothing for track pants with increasing frequency, which suits me just fine. I also had a disproportionate fear of having to ignite a pilot light in order to use the oven. This I now do with an expert flick of the Bic lighter, and without visions of a ball of flame spewing forth from the oven and singeing off my eyebrows.

There are, however, a few things about trailer park life I haven’t taken so kindly too. Right up at the top of the list – and I realize a food blog is hardly the place for toilet talk so I’ll keep this short – is the special (not in a good way) ‘quick dissolve’ toilet paper you have to use so as not to clog the RV’s plumbing system. It’s one-ply, and it’s rough (although the package claims otherwise), and it’s so thin that you can’t even get it off the roll without it tearing. It’s not like I demand a luxuriant lilac-scented 4-ply tissue to be happy, but this stuff is ridiculous. Think the bathroom at a gas station and the toilet paper they provide you with there – only WORSE. There, I’ve vented. Now I’ll move on.

Another thing I’ve had to adjust to is RV’s small hot water tank. I’ve never been one to dawdle or sing or engage in protracted contemplations in the shower, but before we moved into the RV I’d take it for granted that I could lather up, wash my hair and shave without running out of hot water. It was a nasty awakening the first time I showered in the RV and the thing went cold on me in the process of rinsing the shampoo out of my hair (so not impressed). It took a few tries but finally I managed to get it down to a science, which looks something like this: Turn water on, get wet all over. Turn water off, lather. Turn water on, wet hair. Turn water off and lather hair. Turn water on and rinse hair. Turn water off and shave. Turn water on and take a final rinse. Sometimes the water still runs out on me and it kind of sucks – and don’t even get me started on the crappy water pressure – but I’m coping.

There are other annoyances I’ve detailed in previous posts – the lack of storage space, the barely long enough bed, the cold floor. But hey, we knew it wouldn’t be perfect. What the RV does have in its favour is a fully functional – albeit miniscule – kitchenette, a place for me chop vegetables and dirty cookwear to my heart’s content. And that, at the end of the day, is keeping me occupied, if not entirely sane, while forced to live in a confined space. On that note – a few words about this dish. Or one word, really: polenta! This stuff is crazy delicious, and in the process of making it today I wondered why I don’t eat it like, all the time. Its smooth texture and mild flavour makes it the perfect creamy companion for the light, fresh flavours of the stew. I love cooking with fresh herbs; they go hand in hand with the leeks, shallots and tomatoes and really work wonders to brighten up the taste of the stew. Try this recipe if you want to inject a little Spring into your Fall. I’m sure at this point we all need a little bit of that!

What are your favourite dishes that use cornmeal? Please share your recipes and ideas!

Note: I made the polenta using a combination of dairy (parmesan) and nondairy (almond milk, vegan margarine) ingredients, but depending on your preference you can make it using exclusively vegan (or lacto-ovo) ingredients. I’ve outlined both options in the ingredient list below.

Recipe: White Bean and Leek Stew with Fresh Herbs | Served on Creamy Polenta

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

Creamy Polenta

  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 2 1/2 cups milk (or unsweetened almond milk)
  • 1 tablespoon butter (or vegan margarine)
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese (or vegan parmesan), grated (plus a bit more for garnish)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

White Bean and Leek Stew with Fresh Herbs

  • 1/2 cup dried white beans (I used navy beans; great northern beans would work well too)
  • 2 leeks, diced (white and light green parts only)
  • 2 small shallots, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • Pinch of red chili flakes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 10-12 grape tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock (low sodium if preferred)
  • 1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Prepare white beans: Soak beans for about 6 hours in a few cups of water. Drain beans and rinse thoroughly, then place in fridge until you’re ready to begin making the stew. To cook beans, place them in a medium saucepan with 3 cups of water (don’t add salt as it prevents the beans from cooking properly). Bring to a boil then reduce to a gentle simmer. Cover saucepan and cook until beans are tender but still firm, about 45 minutes. Remove from heat and drain. Set aside until needed.

Finish stew: Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and one tablespoon of butter (or vegan margarine) in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks and shallots and saute until soft. Add garlic and saute just until golden brown. Add red chili flakes and coriander and stir until incorporated with other ingredients. Fold in tomatoes and white beans. Add vegetable broth and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and let stew simmer for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and fold in parsley and oregano. Taste and adjust with salt if necessary. Set aside and prepare polenta.

Prepare polenta: Bring milk (or almond milk) to a gentle simmer. Whisk in cornmeal then switch to a spoon and stir until liquid is fully absorbed. Remove from heat and stir in butter (or vegan margarine) and parmesan (or vegan parmesan). If polenta is too thick, stir in a bit more liquid. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

To serve, place a few spoonfuls of polenta in a bowl and top with stew (remember to remove bay leaf). Sprinkle with parmesan and freshly ground black pepper, then eat!