Autumn – The year’s last, loveliest smile. – William Cullent Bryant
In my last post I talked about transition foods and the gradual move from light, simple Summer foods to warmer, heartier fare. A prime example is chili. A bowl of hot, steaming chili is enjoyable to eat in cooler temps, wearing jeans and a comfy flannel shirt. It’s somewhat less enjoyable to eat when you’re wearing shorts and debating whether to go punch the air conditioning down another couple of degrees.
My transitional compromise? These Chili Polenta Bites. These little cornmeal rounds topped with chili make a great light meal, perfect with a side salad and some fresh fruit – maybe some Autumn apples? You still get the taste of chili and cornbread, but without the heaviness and heat. They’re also good as a quick, easy snack or party appetizer.
Best of all, these are EASY. Minimal time spent hovering in a hot kitchen. Normally I advocate cooking from scratch, but these days it’s very easy to find high-quality vegan, even organic, canned chili and pre-made polenta. And we all need a few quick and brainless recipes for those days we just don’t have the time or inclination to cook!
Not sure what Polenta is? You’re not alone. It’s commonly defined as “an Italian dish of boiled cornmeal that can be fried, baked, or broiled,” and it’s become very trendy in the past few years.
Now, everyone but Southerners look away for a moment: Polenta is basically gussied-up grits. It’s just that hipster restaurants can charge a lot more by calling it “polenta” than calling it “grits”. Got it? Good.
OK, everyone else can come join us again.
Ingredients for Chili Polenta Bites:
1 15-oz. Can Vegan Chili* (see notes)
1 16-oz. Log Polenta* (see notes)
Chopped Sweet or Green Onions
Vegan Sour Cream or Plain Unsweetened Yogurt* (see notes)
Other Garnishes as desired, such as Pickled Jalapeno Slices, Vegan Cheese Shreds, etc.
Directions for Chili Polenta Bites:
Slice the polenta into roughly 1/2 inch thick slices. Spray a baking sheet with a little oil, or use a sheet of parchment paper. Bake according to package directions – or, roughly, about 20 minutes at 400 degrees, flipping midway. I like polenta fairly soft with chili, but if you want yours firmer, keep cooking up to 35 minutes. (Check at intervals to make sure it doesn’t get too firm/burned/dried out.)
While polenta is cooking, heat the canned chili in a small pot on the stove.
When polenta is done, arrange slices on plates. Spoon chili over the polenta slices. Add dollops of vegan sour cream or plain, unsweetened yogurt. Garnish with chopped sweet or green onions and cilantro. Add any other garnishes you’d like, such as vegan cheese shreds or pickled jalapenos.
I highly recommend Amy’s chilis – my favorite is the Spicy version. (No surprise to anyone who knows me in real life or reads my blog, huh?) An additional plus is the chilis are organic, come in BPA-free cans, and many have a low-sodium version. Check out my review of Amy’s vegan chilis. But there are other good chilis, too. Be aware that many chilis marked “Vegetarian” – such as Hormel – are actually vegan, so don’t let labels throw you. Read the ingredients.
Polenta comes in both refrigerated and shelf-stable versions. Although a shelf-stable version is great to have on hand – it’s always good to have a small pantry of shelf-stable items – I think refrigerated versions taste better. My current favorite is Melissa’s Organic Polenta.
To cut down heat in your kitchen if you are still in warm weather like me – use your toaster oven.
I typically use homemade unsweetened plain soy yogurt in place of sour cream – check out my yogurt articles. Eureka! Homemade Vegan Yogurt! and Vegan Crockpot Yogurt – Part II.
Oooh, yum! As a European who always skips any recipe involving grits because I don’t know what it means, I’m happy to hear that it can be interchangeable with polenta!
Yes, they are definitely interchangeable! There are some who would argue with me the corn in Italy is different from the corn in America, or that polenta has a finer grind, but the differences are minuscule. I had a great aunt who would lightly bake loaves of leftover grits, refrigerate them, then cut them into slices as needed and fry them. Very similar to the polenta “logs” you buy in stores today!