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!
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 (see here and here), 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.
Seared Polenta with Spring Salad & Sherry Shallot Vinaigrette
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
- 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.
- 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.
*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!