Here's everything you need to know...
Polenta can be purchased in primarily two different forms: as a flour or as a premade product. Both are essentially corn grits that are sometimes seasoned with spices. In the premade product, there's also added water.
The plain variety is the most popular and the most traditional style used in Italy. Typically, polenta is part of a dish instead of the whole dish, like mashed potatoes. You're not likely to eat it all by itself.
What Does Polenta Look Like?
Most of the time, if you're buying ready-made polenta from the grocery store, it comes in the shape of a log. It's buttery yellow with a firm texture that gives just a little bit when you apply pressure.
If you order polenta from a restaurant, you'll get what looks like a bowl of grits or porridge. This is the super soft and creamy type.
Some restaurants do polenta "fries," meaning polenta cut into sticks and prepared like French fries. They're generally much thicker than French fries and crispy on the outside while maintaining a nice softness on the inside.
Ingredients in Polenta Brnads
We're going to look at the ingredient lists in standard polentas from a few different brands at the grocery store. These brands are widely available, in case you're looking to try one.
You'll notice that all of these recipes start off the same way: with water and corn meal. From there, they get a little bit varied, but not too much, and they're all vegan—even the flavored one.
Here's a helpful tip: The name of the polenta flavor is telling. If the name were to include something like "parmesan" or "bacon," you'd be able to count on it incorporating these ingredients. But most flavors are vegetable-based.
Ingredients: Water, Organic Yellow Corn Meal, Organic Dehydrated Garlic, Salt, Organic Basil, Tartaric Acid*, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Beta Carotene (Vitamin A). *A Naturally Occurring Acid Use To Control Ph.
Ancient Harvest Basil Garlic Polenta is made with mostly the same ingredients, through it also contains garlic and salt. Of course, garlic and salt are vegan, so this is also a vegan product.
What Does Polenta Go With?
Polenta can replace the starch on your plate. That means that anything you would eat with pasta, rice, mashed potatoes or baked sweet potatoes can be served with creamy vegan polenta instead.
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Among the best ingredients for delectable polenta are mushrooms, garlic, onions, greens, broccoli rabe, tomatoes and all manner of veggies.
Savory flavors are most frequently paired with polenta, though there are sweet polenta desserts and French toast-esque breakfasts (made vegan with plant milk and vegan butter) drizzled with maple syrup. These are some of the less common ways to cook polenta.
If you're just getting started, try a lunch of pan-fried polenta with salad or a creamy polenta dinner (made with vegan butter) topped with sauteed mushrooms, garlic and truffle oil. Or a vegan pesto polenta with grilled zucchini and bell peppers. Yum.