Seared Polenta with Spring Salad & Sherry Shallot Vinaigrette

Created by Laura Wright
5 from 1 vote

Crispy seared polenta with a fresh asparagus and fennel salad on top. All topped with a homemade sherry shallot vinaigrette. This is a beautiful, elegant, and delicious vegan main!

An overhead shot of two seared triangles of polenta on a marbled blue and white plate. The polenta is topped with a shaved vegetable salad.
This post is sponsored by nutpods.
An overhead shot of some whole herbs on a cutting board (basil, chives and rosemary).
An overhead image of chopped fennel and whole asparagus on a wooden cutting board.
An overhead image shows a jar of vinaigrette and a bowl with shaved asparagus and fennel inside.


When I did my culinary school externship, I wound up at a slightly upmarket vegan restaurant in downtown Toronto. Most nights I would get a sweet staff meal, but sometimes I got to pick off of the menu, and on those nights I always chose the polenta entrée. It was seared, crispy/creamy, smothered in tomato sauce, and served with greens and other veg.

I love soft polenta with a little bean/veg braise ladled in, but rested and crisped-up polenta is a whole other thing. I would be all sweaty and hangry after service, just eating this beautiful plate of daintily cut shapes of golden goodness. I kind of see it as a more old fashioned plant-based entrée now, but that doesn’t take away from how awesome it is.

The version at that restaurant was made rich with a certain brand of soy milk, which I know is not ideal for some of my soy-free folks! Luckily my go-to coffee creamer is a perfect substitution. I need to have nutpods in the house for my coffee. Things don’t go well if I don’t because it really is the only thing I’ve tried that gets even close to real dairy cream (I used to take my coffee suuuuper creamy, like more cream than coffee hah).

I use nutpods in my cooking too, so when I had a craving for that creamy-crispy polenta again, I tipped a luscious pour of their original creamer into the pot. The results were amazing. Despite being made of coconut and almond, I find that this creamer has an amazingly mild/neutral flavor that works well in savouries.

So here I’ve modernized that slightly old fashioned dish. I do the polenta up with a wispy spring vegetable salad and super flavourful sherry shallot vinaigrette. The whole experience is creamy, crispy, fresh, and sharp. It makes a lovely light dinner that you could bulk up with more vegetables or some cooked pulses in the mix.

Image shows some dinner prep on a butcher block countertop.
Image shows a hand sprinkling polenta into a pot of liquid from a measuring cup.
Image shows a pot of cooked polenta with a bunch of chopped herbs on top.
An up close, overhead image of rested polenta cut into triangles.
A 3/4 angle shot of two seared triangles of polenta on a marbled blue and white plate. The polenta is topped with a shaved vegetable salad.
An overhead shot of two seared triangles of polenta on a marbled blue and white plate. The polenta is topped with a shaved vegetable salad.

Seared Polenta with Spring Salad & Sherry Shallot Vinaigrette

Crispy seared polenta with a fresh asparagus and fennel salad. All topped with a homemade sherry shallot vinaigrette. Beautiful vegan main!
5 from 1 vote
Seared Polenta with Spring Salad and Sherry Shallot Vinaigrette - The First Mess
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Resting Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 15 minutes
Servings 4

Ingredients

For the Polenta

  • ¼ cup olive oil + extra for searing
  • 1 clove garlic, finely grated with a microplane
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary, minced
  • sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups vegetable stock OR water
  • 2 cups nutpods original creamer
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • ¼ cup nutritional yeast
  • ¾ cup leafy herbs, chopped (chives, basil, and parsley are all good choices)

Salad & Vinaigrette

  • 1 small shallot, finely diced
  • ¼ cup sherry vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • ¾ cup neutral-tasting oil like avocado or sunflower
  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed and shaved/sliced thin, fronds reserved
  • 7-8 thick asparagus spears, shaved with a vegetable peeler
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained

Notes

  • I would highly recommend a nonstick pan for the searing part of this recipe as the polenta has a good amount of give, even after an overnight rest in the refrigerator.
  • I found this dish pretty hearty on its own, but if you wanted to add some protein, you could toss some cooked lentils or white beans in with the fennel and asparagus.

Instructions

  • Grease an 8X8X2 ceramic or metal dish. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit inside the pan with extra hanging out the sides like a sling. Lightly grease the parchment and set aside.
  • Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan. Grab a spatula, whisk and wooden spoon, and set them near the stove. Add the garlic, red pepper, rosemary, salt, and black pepper to the pan and stir until very fragrant, about 30-45 seconds.
  • Add the vegetable stock and nutpods to the pan and stir. Bring the creamy mixture to a boil. Once boiling, slowly sprinkle in the cornmeal, whisking vigorously as you pour it in. Try to get all dry bits/slight lumps out with the whisk. Bring the polenta up to a simmer and cook for 30-35 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon often and scraping down the sides with the spatula every 10 minutes or so. The polenta is done when it has the texture of soft-scrambled eggs.
  • Take the polenta off the heat and stir in the nutritional yeast and herbs. Pour the polenta into the greased 8X8 dish. Working quickly, smooth the top of the polenta. Let the polenta cool in the dish for 20 minutes. Cover the polenta and let it firm up in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
  • While polenta is setting up, make the salad. In a small, sealable jar, combine the shallot, sherry vinegar, maple syrup, Dijon, salt, pepper, and oil. Close the lid on the top and shake vigorously to combine. Set aside.
  • Combine the shaved fennel and asparagus in a medium bowl and coat in about ¼ cup of the sherry shallot vinaigrette. Set aside.
  • Turn the polenta out onto a cutting board. From here, you can cut it into triangles or squares, or use a form to get whatever shape you like.
  • Heat a slick of oil in a large skillet over medium high. Set pieces of polenta into the hot oil and sear until golden brown on one side, about 3 minutes. Gently flip the polenta pieces over and sear on the other side for another 3 minutes. Repeat with remaining polenta pieces.
  • Place seared polenta pieces on serving plates and top with portions of the salad. Drizzle each portion with extra vinaigrette. Top the salads/polenta with capers and an extra sprinkle of salt. Enjoy immediately.

*This post is sponsored by nutpods dairy-free creamer. All opinions are my own. Thanks for supporting the brands that support this blog. To my Canadian followers: nutpods is now available in Canada via Natura Market!

17/05/2017 (Last Updated 16/07/2023)
Posted in: earthy, gluten free, main course, nut free, refined sugar-free, salad, salty, side dish, sour, spring, sweet, vegan

25 comments

5 from 1 vote (1 rating without comment)

Recipe Rating




  • Lissa Schiele

    May I ask who makes the beautiful blue and white plate in your picture? Thank you!

    • Laura

      It’s from Pottery Barn!
      -L

  • Pam

    Just wondering about the nutritional yeast.. is it needed and if so for what purpose? I have made polenta in this manner before (cooked then cooled, cut into rectangles or triangles and fried till crispy), but have never seen yeast incorporated…Looks gorgeous though!
    Thanks!

    • Laura

      Hi Pam,
      Nutritional yeast is added here purely for flavour. Nutritional yeast is an inactive yeast that has a deeply savoury/almost cheesy flavour. It’s often utilized by vegans as a parmesan replacement. Not totally necessary to use if you don’t have it.
      -L

  • Lizzie || Wholehearted Business Coach

    That polenta looks amazing!!!! I think even though we are moving towards winter now it would still be perfect for us as a dinner. I love polenta, thanks for the inspiration.

  • Levi Le

    This looks amazing!!

  • Haley Hansen

    I don’t even know where to begin – your pictures are amazing, the food sounds irresistible, and your writing is captivating!

    I have loved your blog for so long :) keep it up! I can’t wait to try these recipes!

  • Tori

    this looks amazing! I hate to admit it but not a fan of fennel, any recommendations for substitutions? sorry! know I shouldn’t mess with the amazing stuff you have going! your site is fantastic! :) your cookbook is going to be my flexitarian bff’s bday present because it’s stunning and she’s loved EVERYTHING! I’ve made from you!
    thanks!

    • Laura

      So sorry that this reply is late! Jus thinly slice/shave any vegetable you like in its place, honestly, Zucchini, carrots, even some pepper-y radishes would be great. It’s all very forgiving once that shallot vinaigrette is poured on top ;)
      -L

  • Adrienne | Appetites Anonymous

    First, off this recipe sounds amazing!! Second, your photography is KILLER. Such an inspiration! :)

  • Rebecca

    I’ve been craving and making a version of this type of polenta and spring veg meal for the past few weeks–after I had an amazing restaurant version. Yum! I love that you add herbs and nutritional yeast to the polenta too!

  • Saniel Underwood

    I thought polenta was made from yellow corn grits. What’s the difference? Love this will be making very soon.

  • Cate

    I’m excited to make this but nutpods is not in Colorado yet. Do you have suggestions for an alternative ingredient until I can order some?
    Thanks!

    BTW- I’ve been cooking my way through your book and love it. Nice work.

    • Laura

      Hi Cate!
      I would suggest any plant-based milk that’s on the richer side, like unsweetened cashew, a higher quality/higher fat almond milk, or the kind of coconut milk that comes in cartons. Canned coconut milk will definitely give you coconut-y tasting polenta, so I’d avoid that one.Hope this helps!
      -L

  • Shauna | Linden & Lavender

    This sounds recipe sounds great! I am new to polenta (currently trying to reduce my wheat intake) so I am excited to try this in my kitchen. You noted that you are trying to reduce your soy intake- why is that?
    Thanks! Shauna

    • Laura

      Hey Shauna,
      Hope you get a chance to crack at the polenta! And to your soy question, maybe this is TMI, but consumption of non-fermented soy almost always leads to a big, cystic pimple on my face. So I stay far away as much as I can ;)
      -L

  • Rosie Newton

    This looks gorgeous. I really love our photography, such a nice style

  • Jenalle

    Hi Laura!
    Do you happen to know if Nutpods is available in Canada, and if so where do I buy?

    Otherwise, do they ship to Canada? I’m having trouble finding out from the site.

    Thanks!

    • Laura

      Hi Jenalle,
      Peep the bottom of the recipe where you can click over to Natura Market’s page to get your Canadian nutpods fix.
      -L

  • Ashley @ The Naked Food Life

    This dish is something I could eat every night! All the flavors and textures are perfection! I love the plate, btw!

  • lindsey

    Love this dish, Laura. Those crisp polenta edges look so delicious and inviting. And loving the idea of a asparagus ribbon and fennel tangle! xo!

  • Valentina | The Blue Bride

    Being Italian, I grew up eating polenta, but this one looks really amazing, I can imagine its crunchiness outside and tenderness inside….#yummy

  • Abby @ Heart of a Baker

    When polenta is involved I’m always 10000% IN! I always think of it as a winter/comfort food dish, but this spin on it is perfection for spring :)

  • Julia @ Happy Foods Tube

    I ordered a polenta & chicken liver main in a restaurant in Italy and I loved it! I haven’t eaten it since but looking at your beautiful photos I am going to try it. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Marta

    I abolutely love seared polenta! I always make mine with veggie broth, but I must try with a creamy plant-based milk! I love how you’ve packed yours with so many delicious and fragrant herbs! I always leave your blog craving whatever dish you share :D (made the skillet lasagna btw, and it was awesome!!) Have a lovely day!