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By far, one of my favorite vegan meals is Mexican Style Polenta served along side vegan black beans and Mexican rice.  All of those idiotic, pre-conceived notions that vegans survive on lettuce and sprouts are blown out of the water with this completely satisfying dish.  I make this when I am really hungry and craving something spicy and a little naughty.  The polenta is fried, which makes it a bit of a greasy, crispy indulgence but since vegan diets are usually so low in fat, I feel it is ok to give in once in awhile.  Polenta can always be grilled or broiled if you don’t want the added calories.

For those of you who have never had polenta or have only bought it pre-made in the store, polenta is traditionally an Italian dish made from coarsely ground corn grits and is easily made from scratch.  It can be made into a creamy breakfast dish similar to porridge or it can be cooked, cooled, and cut into shapes for a variety of other dishes. Polenta can even be used as a thick, yummy crust for the top of casseroles or tamale pie. It is a versatile whole grain which is also gluten free, low on the glycemic index, and contains protein.

Mexican Polenta with Spicy Black Beans

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

½ medium red onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped

½ cup Moroccan Lemon Preserves, chopped (optional but so delicious.  Gives it a nice little zing)

3 cloves garlic, minced

½ cup frozen corn

3 cups of vegetable broth

1 cups coarse or medium ground corn meal /grits

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoon salt

¼ cup nutritional yeast (optional)

2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

Heat oil in a heavy saucepan.  Sauté onion until translucent.  Add red bell pepper and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.  Add lemon (if using), garlic, and frozen corn.  Cook about a minute.  Add vegetable broth.  Bring to a boil.  Mix spices into corn grits.  Slowly, whisk corn grits into broth, breaking up any lumps that may form.  Lower heat and allow to cook until thick and bubbly, around 15 minutes.  Stir in nutritional yeast and cilantro.  Remove from heat.  Spread mixture evenly onto a generously greased cookie sheet or in a spring form pan.  Refrigerate for at least an hour, until mixture is set firmly.  Cut into squares or use a cookie cutter to form circles.  Fry over medium heat in an oiled skillet until crispy, flipping only once.  For best results, serve along side spicy black beans, Mexican rice, or a garden salad.

For the Black Beans;

I prefer to make beans from scratch in order to avoid any nasty chemicals that can leach into canned food from the lining.  Making them from scratch also gives me control over sodium and is much more economical than buying canned.  I rarely have the foresight to soak beans overnight so I usually use the quick soak method on the morning I plan to cook them and that seems to work out just fine.  If you do choose to use canned beans, look for brands, like Eden, that guarantee their cans to be BPA free.  Rinse beans thoroughly to remove excess sodium.  I usually make a huge batch of black beans, as much as my crockpot will hold and add them to meals throughout the week.  They make a great (and quick) chili, fillings for burritos and enchiladas, or blend them in the food processor for a tasty bean dip (I know – I’m so smart).

Spicy Black Beans:

16 0z (or larger) bag of black beans

1 large onion

3 cloves of garlic

2 tablespoons cumin

1 to 2 tablespoons chili powder

1 tablespoon oregano

2 large vegetarian bouillon cubes (tomato based if you can find it)

3 Tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped

Salt to taste

Soak overnight or use quick soak method

Rinse thoroughly.  Place into crockpot with onion, garlic, cumin, chili powder and oregano.  Cover with water.  Cook on the high setting for about 4 hours or until beans are soft.

Please Note* Never, ever add salt to your beans before they are cooked thoroughly or they will never soften*

Add bouillon cubes to the crock pot and allow to cook a little longer, like 15 minutes or so to dissolve and incorporate flavor.  Salt to taste.