Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Kale Chickpea Stew with Basil Polenta

I’m not sure what sparked my extreme craving for polenta last night, but I pretty much had to have it last night after thinking about it all day. I’ve had so much wheat over the past couple of weeks that I started to develop a sense of negligence and apathy towards other grains. Shame on me. Taking inventory of my grain selection, I had a pretty full stock of polenta, or coarsely ground cornmeal. Something about this fluffy Italian staple just hits me in the right spot when I need something comforting and filling that feels and tastes like a fatty, guilty carb-indulgence though in reality it is very healthy and low in calories. I am allowed to pamper in the occasional illusion of digestively splurging on some creamy, cheesy, off-limits edible luxury by the plateful. On days where I reminisce of eating those comfort foods of yesteryear, polenta is a fabulous outlet.

While I often experiment with polenta preparation – using it as a pie or pizza crust, chilling it and grilling it – I just wanted a classic scoop of golden goop. That doesn’t sound appetizing to you? Well it’s not as gloppy as, say, grits, but it does look similar. Though it’s cooked similarly to grits or oatmeal, its texture is sturdier than your standard gooey grain. As polenta cools, it becomes increasingly sticky until it finally firms up completely. I love that it is firm enough to be cut through easily with a fork but requires only a slight chew without feeling like denture food. It certainly won’t yank any crowns out either, so as Goldilocks would say, it’s juuuuust right. It serves as a perfect base for thick stew-like dishes or lighter stir fried vegetables. In this case I went with a “stewp” of sorts.

I tend to make a lot of dishes that are semi-saucy, not too stewy, but thicker than soupy…if that makes sense. In other words, they are meant to be served over some kind of grain. I typically start with the usually onion-garlic-spices combo, add some liquid, and simmer until the dish has reduced. It ends up being somewhere in between thick and thin but with a lot of flavor. For topping my polenta, I had just purchased a fresh bunch of kale. Some Italian recipes came to mind as kale is also an Italian staple often paired with white cannellini beans or potatoes in soups, crostini toppings or side dishes. I definitely wanted a kale dish here, but beans are a tough sell in my household save for the brawnier varieties like Edamame, fresh fava and garbanzo beans. I was already taking a little texture risk with the polenta this time around so I didn’t want to put too many beans in one pod. I looked up a few recipes for kale and chickpeas together, but decided to just wing it in the end. Classic fresh Italian herbs added bright flavor and an extra punch of both crushed red and black pepper took the whole thing up a huge notch. All I have to say is….holy polenta Batman, this rocked.

Kale and Chickpea Stew with Basil Polenta
Serves 2
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes


For the Stew
2 tsp. Olive oil
¾ c. Onion, chopped
2 Garlic cloves, minced
1 T. Tomato paste
1 tsp fresh thyme or ½ tsp dried
½ tsp fresh rosemary, minced or ¼ tsp dried
1/8 tsp Crushed red pepper
½ tsp Salt
1 ½ c. Tomatoes, chopped
½ c. Water or broth
1 c. Chickpeas, cooked or canned
2-3 c. Kale, de-stemmed and chopped
¼ tsp Black pepper or more to taste

For the Polenta
1 c. Water
1 c. Broth, vegetable or mushroom
½ c. Polenta
½ T Basil, dried
½ tsp Garlic powder
½ tsp Onion powder
¼ tsp Salt
3 T Nutritional Yeast


For the Stew: In a large shallow sauce pan or deep skillet, sauté onions in olive oil over medium heat. Cook until onions start to caramelize and brown, about 7-8 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional minute. Stir in tomato paste and cook another 30 seconds. Increase heat to medium high and add the next 6 ingredients. Bring to a boil and cook 2-3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium low, add remaining ingredients and simmer uncovered until liquid has reduced to a thin sauce and kale is tender, about 10 minutes.

For the Polenta: Combine water and broth in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil. Whisk water/broth in a circular motion and slowly pour in polenta. Continue whisking to avoid clumps. Once polenta is boiling, reduce heat to low and simmer. Add basil, onion powder, garlic powder and salt. Cook until polenta is tender and slightly stick to the pan, about 7-8 minutes. Stir in nutritional yeast and season with additional salt if desired.

1 comment:

  1. As one of the only, or only, fortunate people in this world that has eaten nearly every dish in this blog, I must say this was one of my favorites!