Polenta is one of those things that I disliked as a kid. I think I have said before that I was a picky eater, and a bit of a weird one. I loved Brussel sprouts and bread crusts, because people told me that wasn’t normally something that kids liked. So I would love them and feel very special. I loved the mushrooms I grew myself in kindergarten and hated store bought mushrooms, but not always. Oh the joys my parents must have had while I was growing up. My older brother was a lot better, he only disliked bell pepper. That of course meant I loved bell pepper. I think my 6 year old self had a very clear goal in life; be similar to my older brother or be better. This resulted in me falling of my bike and a bump on my forehead that is still visible to this day. Life advice; don’t try to bike as fast as your 8 year old brother when you are 6, you will fall and you will have to wear a helmet for the rest of your childhood.
Over time I learned to like most food, but polenta wasn’t something I ate. I just remember it as a lumpy cake that wasn’t sweet. But a few years ago I rediscovered it and decided I wanted to try it. I was shocked when it turned out to be really good. Who knew? (My parents did, obviously…). Since then I have made polenta dishes (like this polenta cake). and it has become part of my diet. This does not mean that polenta always tastes good! This summer we were visiting my older brother who lived in Grenoble and went hiking for a few days in the Alps. We brought our own food for lunch, and slept and ate dinner in mountain huts. Mountain huts are places that are, in many cases, only reachable by foot. This makes it hard for them to have fresh vegetables and fruits, because they need to be brought there in the beginning of the season, and stored for a few months. Every night they make one dish for all the hikers sleeping in the hut and this is why we called them before to ask if they could make a vegetarian dish for me (and my sister in law). The first hut made a great dish for us, that they called ‘protein of the day’. The second hut however, didn’t really understand vegetarians. They served sausages and polenta that night, and told us that as a vegetarian dish we could just eat the polenta. I don't think I have to tell you that plain polenta isn't really nutritious, but that night we indulged ourselves in a lumpy, watery, undercooked polenta mixture, and while the others could mask the taste and texture with gravy and sausages, we just had polenta. At some point the host came by, and saw our struggle, and actually offered us some butter (spoiler alert; it didn't make it any better). Needless to say polenta with butter didn’t become my favourite dish, and I would not want to repeat it. The overall experience was hilarious though. I would like to add that we didn’t starve and had around 6 kilos of carrots and hummus in our backpacks, that we dragged over a few mountaintops. By the end of the trip we still had 4 kilos left. Oops.
This polenta story wasn’t my inspiration to create this polenta dish. Even though it made me appreciate polenta that is prepared the right way a lot more. The important part of cooking polenta is to not undercook it, because you want a creamy and rich texture. When you cook it too short, it stays grainy and sad. Here is out version of a vegan polenta with gravy, not butter!
Polenta with Mushroom gravy
For 4 persons
150 gram Polenta
Pinch of sea salt
2 Handfuls of spinach
Some sprigs of fresh thyme
Juice of half a lemon, save the lemon zest for topping
Bring 1 liter of water to the boil, add the polenta and a pinch of salt and let simmer. Keep stirring in the rest and add a little bit more water if necessary until it forms a thick and creamy paste. Sauté the spinach with some lemon juice.
Serve the polenta with the mushroom gravy, spinach and top with lemon zest and thyme.
Oil for baking
200 gram Mixed Mushrooms
2 Cloves garlic
3 tbsp Flour (rye/whole wheat/tapioca)
4 Tsp Soy sauce
3 sprigs Thyme
Slice the onion and sauté for a few minutes. In the meanwhile slice the garlic and mushrooms and add them to the onion. Bake the mushrooms completely until you get a nice mushroom liquid in the pan. Add the vegetable broth and thyme and bring to boil. Mix the flour with soy sauce, and add about 4 tbsp of water to make it into a smooth paste. Add the paste to the gravy, lower the heat and let it simmer for 5 minutes and serve.