Hearty vegan cocoa chili with a meaty texture from added mushrooms layered with slices of creamy polenta. Healthy comfort food at its best.
When I first started out cooking I’d follow recipes to a T even if that required buying an ingredient I wouldn’t regularly get and probably not use again afterwards [cue pantry shelf warmers]. These days, however, I agree with the food wisdom that recipes are really just guidelines that can either be followed or played around with. For me, it tends to be the letter. Don’t have a white onion? Use a red one. Out of wheat flour? Sub spelt. Or when a dish is seriously good but – just because that’s the way your mind works like – you need to add that one ingredient for a little something-something extra.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m all about textures and a huge fan of mushrooms. Needless to say when I feel like adding some more body or dare I call it stick-to-your ribs ‘meatiness’ to a chili they’re my go-to. Same applied here. About the zucchini? Consider it the strange but good part of this recipe. The actual reason, though, is my need for some greenery in every lunch. Yes, the mushrooms are technically the vegetable part of this recipe but since they were my ‘meat’ here 😉 I needed that extra green to complement the decidedly hearty chili.
Okay, now please forget what I just said about recipes as guidelines. This does not apply when it comes to polenta. I’m not easy to please when it comes to this little grain/ corn. Polenta prepared with just water and a pinch of salt? Bo-ring. It’s all about adding more flavour and (!) creaminess. Not necessarily with the need to get out the cream or cheese though if that tickles your fancy: go for it. I chose to keep the dish vegan here by cooking my cornmeal with some non-dairy milk and adding just a bit of coconut butter for an extra rich flavour. If you decide not to listen to me and just cook your polenta in water: fine. Just don’t come complaining to me about how tasteless it is ;).
My tweak to this recipe is that you don’t need to bake the polenta. Which is an added bonus because you can prep the polenta in advance and keep it in the fridge. Then just slice it when you’re ready to assemble the dish – making it a weeknight-compatible casserole.
Don’t let the seemingly long ingredient list intimidate you. A lot of them are spices and at least salt and pepper don’t actually count as ingredients. I know at least Davida will agree. This dish comes together much faster than you might think and still looks just that smidgen fancier than your average bowl of chili.
Polenta Mushroom Chili Bake [adapted from Coffee & Quinoa]
For the polenta:
- scant 1/4 cup of polenta/ cornmeal
- 1/2 cup each water
- 1/4 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk [I used soy because that’s what I had on hand but any unsweetened should work or just cow’s]
- dash of salt
- pepper to taste
- 1/2 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1 tsp coconut butter
For the chili:
- 1 small red onion, diced
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 6 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced thinly
- 1/3 cup each kidney beans and chickpeas
- 2 tbsps of corn
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/4 tsp coriander
- 1/4 tsp oregano
- 1/8 tsp of smoked paprika
- a pinch of cinnamon
- 1 tsp dark cocoa powder
- 1 piece of 99 % chocolate [or a chocolate with at least 85% cocoa], chopped roughly
- 1 tsp of chia seeds
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/3 cup grated zucchini [optional]
- optional: grated parmesan
Start by preparing your polenta [at least 2.5 hours in advance]:
- Bring water/ milk to a boil. Add salt and stir in polenta. Reduce heat and stir until the polenta has thickened.
- Stir in the nutritional yeast, coconut and pepper to taste.
- Pour into a small bowl, smooth out the top and set aside to cool.
For the chili:
- Saute the onion until it begins to brown. Add the garlic and saute another minute.
- Pour in the tomato sauce, spices, cocoa and chocolate.
- Let the chili simmer on low to medium heat for about 20 minutes, stirring every now and then to ensure it doesn’t burn.
- Remove chili from heat and stir in the chia seeds. Let the sauce thicken slightly.
- Meanwhile, turn the bowl of polenta upside down to pop out the molded block. Slice into four even rounds.
- Layer about half of the chili in your baking dish. Add the shredded/ grated zucchini.
- Top with the polenta slices and the remaining chili as well as the cheese if using.
- Bake for about 20 minutes at 180 °C/350 °F.
- Serve sprinkled with nutritional yeast.
I kept this recipe vegan but also gave the dish a try adding cheese on top. It’s delicious both ways.
Happiness inducing today: Chatting with my colleague while working on a rather boring task.
Stay in touch!
Do you follow recipes closely or just use them as guidelines?
What is your favourite dish featuring polenta?