This creamy miso polenta with mushroom ragu is fancy enough for guests, yet doable on a weeknight. (Plant-based and gluten-free)
I’m a big fan of polenta, and yet, I’ve been shying away from it in recent years. You see, typically polenta is made with a ton of dairy (butter and cheese) and I just couldn’t imagine it being rich and vegan.
But! Then I discovered this coconut milk-plus-miso technique and learned it is not only possible, but absolutely delicious. To my surprise, cooking polenta in coconut milk does not make it taste like a piña colada – in fact, the coconutty flavor is easily masqueraded by the “cheesiness” of miso and the corn-ness (?) of corn.
With cold evenings well on their way, I paired this vegan polenta with a rich red wine vegetable ragu. File this one under “cozy night in”.
What’s In This Recipe
This cozy meal consists of creamy polenta cooked with coconut milk and frozen corn, seasoned with miso and black pepper. It gets topped with a red wine-vegetable sauce made with bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, and canned tomatoes. The whole thing takes about an hour.
If you’re not familiar, “polenta” is a cornmeal porridge of north Italian origin (not unlike American grits, or eartern european mamaliga). Typically, polenta is fortified with cream, butter, and/or lots of cheese. This vegan version uses a duo of coconut milk and miso for a similar texture and flavor. Coconut milk lends creamy richness, while the savoriness of miso creates a “cheesy” flavor.
How to Make Creamy Vegan Polenta
A lot of people get intimidated by cooking polenta from scratch, but it’s honestly very simple. As long as you keep an eye on it, keep the heat low, and whisk it often, you won’t mess up.
To start, get a large pan or Dutch oven (even better if it’s non-stick); you’re gonna need enough room to whisk the polenta comfortably, so don’t try to fit it into something tiny.
Empty a can of coconut milk into the pan and add water and salt. Bring to a boil. Slowly incorporate the polenta while constantly whisking to prevent any clumps from forming. Then cover, turn the heat down to a bare simmer, and cook for 35 to 45 minutes. Be sure to whisk every 3 to 5 minutes to keep the polenta from sticking to the bottom and to prevent clumps. (In the meantime, cook the ragu).
Polenta is done when it no longer tastes gritty or chalky. If it starts to get too thick during cooking, you can incorporate more water, starting with about 1/4 cup.
When it’s almost done, whisk in frozen corn, miso, and coarse black pepper. (I love the chunky texture the corn creates, but you can leave it out). The pepper is an important flavoring here, so don’t be shy with the grinder! Miso is pretty salty, so wait until the very end to do your final seasoning to avoid over-salting.
How to Make The Mushroom Ragu
While the polenta cooks, make the ragu. Cut up the vegetables and cook in a large skillet/saucepan with olive oil until they’re softened and browned around the edges, about 10 minutes. Resist the urge to agitate the vegetables too much; less movement = more browning. This caramelization will create the foundational flavor for the sauce.
Then stir in minced garlic, dried herbs, salt, and pepper, and cook for 30 seconds more, being careful not to burn the garlic.
Next, add the wine and simmer for a few minutes, just to evaporate the alcohol. Finally, stir in the crushed tomatoes, cover tightly with a lid, and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the sauce thickens a bit.
Ingredients + Substitutions
- Coconut Milk: I recommend “light” (a.k.a. reduced fat) coconut milk here so the polenta doesn’t feel overwhelmingly rich. Look for an Asian-style brand of canned milk like Thai Kitchen for the best results.
- Polenta: Look for it in the grains aisle. Sometimes labeled “cornmeal” or “grits”. Avoid “enriched” cornmeal with additives – the only ingredient should be corn (I recommend Bob’s Red Mill)
- Frozen Corn: In the summer, use fresh! Alternatively, leave it out.
- Miso: This Japanese fermented soybean paste adds umami/a “cheesy” flavor. Look for it in the refrigerated section (next to tofu, kimchi, etc.) or in the international foods aisle. If you’re avoiding soy, sub with 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast.
- Mushrooms: I use cremini, but feel free to incorporate whatever ‘shrooms you can find, like shiitake, oyster, maitake, etc.
- Red Wine: Use a good quality dry wine (like cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, or malbec) that you’d enjoy drinking. Never use “cooking wine”.
Cooking Polenta with Mushroom Ragu in Advance
The ragu can be cooked entirely in advance and kept in the fridge for up to 4 days. The polenta, on the other hand, will solidify as soon as it cools, so serve it immediately. To keep the polenta warm and creamy, keep it over a very low flame until ready to serve; if it thickens and you want to revive it, add a drop of water and whisk vigorously until creamy.
More comfort food this way…
- Brown Rice Congee with Shiitakes
- Chickpea Crepes with Creamy Spinach and Mushrooms
- White Bean Puree with Garlic Sautéed Mushrooms
- Tempeh Bolognese
This creamy miso polenta with mushroom ragu is fancy enough for guests, yet doable on a weeknight.
For the Polenta
- One 13-ounce can light unsweetened coconut milk
- 2 1/2 cups water
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup medium- or coarse-ground polenta (not “quick-cooking”)
- 1 cup frozen corn
- 2 tablespoons white miso
- 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
For the Ragu
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small red or yellow onion, sliced
- 1 bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, sliced
- 8 ounces cremini mushrooms, quartered
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme or oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/3 cup dry red wine, like pinot noir or malbec
- 1 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes (about half a standard can)
- Fresh parsley or basil, for serving (optional)
- Start the polenta. In a large high-sided saucepan, combine 1 can coconut milk, 2 1/2 cups water, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cover, bring to a boil, and reduce the heat to low. While continually whisking, slowly stream in the polenta and whisk until no lumps remain. Cover tightly with a lid and simmer gently until a creamy porridge forms, whisking every 3 to 5 minutes to keep it from sticking to the bottom. It should take 35 to 45 minutes total. Polenta is done when it no longer tastes gritty or chalky; if it starts to get too thick, add a bit more water.
- Meanwhile, start the ragu. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, peppers, and mushrooms. Cook until the vegetables are soft and browned around the edges, 8 to 10 minutes, resisting the urge to stir too often.
- To the veg, add 3 minced garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon thyme or oregano, 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds (optional), 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Cook for 30 seconds more.
- Add 1/3 cup wine and simmer for 2 minutes. Then stir in 1 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes, cover tightly with a lid, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Finish the polenta: in the last 5 minutes of cooking, whisk in 1 cup corn, 2 tablespoons miso, and 1/2 teaspoon coarse pepper. Season with more salt, if needed.
- To serve, divide the polenta among bowls, top with the ragu, and sprinkle with herbs. Serve immediately.
- Serving Size: 1/4 of the recipe
- Calories: 380
- Fat: 13.6 g
- Carbohydrates: 52.2 g
- Fiber: 7.4 g
- Protein: 8.5 g
Keywords: polenta, mushrooms, red wine, ragu