These easy polenta bites topped with caramelized red onions, sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts make a lovely and original “mise en bouche” for a fancy menu. They are also naturally vegan and gluten free.
It’s Day #1 of my Vegan Christmas Menu and I’m really excited about it. As you know, I don’t call myself vegan, even though our diet is mostlty plant-based in our house, and as much as possible vegan. David recently watched the Netflix show “What the Health” and is even more tempted to go vegan. Have you watched that show? I watched it with a couple of friends from Best Of You a couple of months ago, and lots of thought came to us after. As a matter of fact, we spontaneously started a debate right after the movie. I was still not convinced myself about turning vegan but the movie raises some interesting matters about the food industry that is important to keep in mind in order to eat in a more conscious way.
I still haven’t decided what my own Christmas menu will be but for both of us, it wouldn’t matter to skip fish and meat. I believe we need to create new habits around Christmas traditions, and this is why I came up with this 3-course Christmas menu that starts today with a starter and will continue next Tuesday 12/12 with a main course and finally next Friday 12/15 with a lovely Christmas dessert. I hope it will give you some ideas for the holidays. If you speak French, I also recommend you check Rosenoisettes and La gourmandise selon Angie, three vegan blogs that have beautiful and original festive dishes for the holidays. I also like Cook A Life by Maeva, with recipes both in English and French.
As for now, let’s start with our course #1 for a Vegan Christmas, which is the starter or a “mise en bouche”. Mine is all about polenta. Polenta bites to be more exact. Have you even cooked polenta at home? It’s extremely simple and turns delicious each time. Made of cornmeal and milk (non dairy milk here, I used full-fat coconut milk), it looks like a very thick oatmeal or grits once ready, with a creamy and slightly sticky texture.
To make polenta, the cooking process is pretty simple. Just remember to stir often to avoid having lumps forming. Once ready, you can enjoy it creamy, served with cooked vegetables of your choice, or you can make some polenta bites as I did here. To do so, you will need to spread the cooked polenta onto a greased/oiled baking sheet, in a rather thick layer. If easier, you can pour onto a small square pan to ensure you have a thick enough layer, about 0.5 inch (1,30 cm). Then bake it in the oven at 440 F (220 C) for about 25 minutes. Your polenta will become slightly crispy on top and on the edge, while still being tender inside.
While your polenta is baking in the oven, prepare the caramelized red onions. Cook until soft and tender, while they still have their slightly purple color for a more beautiful result when you plate the dish for your guests. I added some sun-dried tomatoes that add a lovely savory touch to the sweet onions. And for the crunchiness, I like to add some toasted pine nuts too, but this is totally optional – you can make it entirely nut free if you wish.
Once the polenta has baked, allow to cool a little once you remove it from the oven, then slice into squares or make some fancy circles as I did here, using a stainless steel round cookie cutter. Note that this version is pretty but will leave you with some leftovers on the side. I usually keep them, cut into small cubes and serve on top of a salad. Then it’s time to plate: serve your polenta bites directly on the plates and top with the caramelized onions, pine nuts, and an additional touch of greens for a lovely visual effect.
Pair your polenta bites with a wine, preferably a dry white wine such as a Sauvignon, or a light red wine such as a Sancerre or a Valpolicella. Enjoy!
- 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil + extra for pan
- ½ cup (12 cl) full-fat coconut milk
- 2½ cups (60 cl) water
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (150g) coarse cornmeal
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 red onions, finely sliced*
- 1 Tablespoon margarine
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 6.5 oz (20 cl) white wine
- 5 oz (15 cl) balsamic vinegar
- 4 Tablespoons herb-marinated sun-dried tomatoes, cut into pieces
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 Tablespoon toasted pine nuts
- Fresh microgreens (optional)
- Line a baking tray with parchment paper (or a square 9x9-inch pan, approx. 22 cm) and brush with oil.
- In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine coconut milk, water and a large pinch of salt. Bring just about to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and add cornmeal in a steady stream, whisking all the while to prevent lumps from forming. Turn heat to low and simmer, whisking frequently, until thick, 10 or 15 minutes. You want a consistency approaching thick oatmeal. Stir 1 tablespoon oil into cooked cornmeal (polenta) and stir well.
- Spoon cornmeal onto prepared pan, working quickly so it does not stiffen. Spread it evenly to a thickness of about ½ inch all over. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Cover baking sheet with plastic wrap and put it in refrigerator until it is firm, an hour or more.
- Heat oven to 450°F (220°C) and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until it begins to brown and crisp on edges.
- Meanwhile, prepare the onions: sweat red onions with margarine until translucent. Add one Tablespoon of sugar, stir well, and cook for about 5 minutes on low-medium heat. Pour the wine and let reduce by ⅔. Add the balsamic vinegar and reduce again. Throw in the sun-dried tomatoes and stir well. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper.
- Assemble the polenta bites: slice the polenta into squares or with the use of a round cookie cutter to make cercles. Top with the onions mixture, add some pine nuts and fresh microgreens.