This creamy vegan 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 mushroom ragu. File this one under “cozy night in”.
What’s In This Dish
This creamy vegan polenta is made with “light” coconut milk, miso, and frozen corn. (The corn is optional, but I like it for texture.) The mushroom sauce features cremini mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, garlic, red wine, and crushed tomatoes. The whole thing comes together in just under an hour.
Ingredients + Substitutions
- Coconut Milk: I recommend “light” (a.k.a. reduced fat) coconut milk so the polenta isn’t 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 here, but feel free to incorporate whatever ‘shrooms you can find, like shiitake, oyster, maitake, etc.
- Red Wine: Use a good quality dry wine that you’d enjoy drinking. Never use “cooking wine”.
Polenta with Mushroom Ragu Step-by-Step
Start the Polenta: Get a large saucepan 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. Add coconut milk, water, and salt, and bring to a boil. Then gradually sprinkle in the polenta while constantly whisking to prevent any clumps from forming.
Finish the Polenta: Cover with a lid, turn the heat down to a tiny simmer, and cook for ~40 minutes. Be sure to whisk every 3 to 5 minutes to keep the polenta from sticking to the bottom or forming clumps. It’s done when it no longer tastes gritty or chalky. At the end, whisk in the corn and miso. Hold off on adding any more salt until the very end, since miso is pretty salty.
Saute the Vegetables: While the polenta’s going, make the ragu. Saute the onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms over medium heat until they’re softened and starting to brown, ~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. Add the garlic and herbs at the end.
Finish the Mushroom Ragu: Add wine to the veg and simmer for a few minutes to evaporate the alcohol. Then add the crushed tomatoes, cover with a lid, and simmer for 15 minutes to let all the flavors come together.
Serve: Divide the polenta among 4 bowls, top with mushroom ragu, and sprinkle with parsley. Be sure to serve the polenta immediately, since it thickens as it cools.
Tips for Making the Best Polenta
If you’re not familiar, “polenta” is a cornmeal porridge of north Italian origin (not unlike American grits, or eastern 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 umami of miso creates a “cheesy” flavor.
A lot of people get intimidated by cooking polenta from scratch, but it’s honestly very simple…
- First off, as long as you keep the heat low, keep the pot covered, and whisk the polenta often, you’ll be golden.
- Use a non-stick pan to make it even more foolproof.
- If your polenta gets too thick during cooking, just whisk in more water – starting with about 1/4 cup.
- Once cooked, polenta thickens and sets pretty quickly. If it cools before you have a chance to serve it, thin it out by [vigorously] whisking in more water.
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 set as soon as it cools, so it’s best made right before serving. If it cools before you have a chance to serve it, thin it out by whisking in more water.
More comfort food this way…
- Lemony Cauliflower Pasta with Fried Breadcrumbs
- Mushroom Bourguignon
- Tempeh Shepherd’s Pie
- Baked Polenta with Creamy Mushroom Sauce
If you try this recipe, let me know how it turns out! Give it a rating below and leave a comment, and don’t forget to tag your creation with @thenewbaguette on Instagram.Print
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 (optional)
- 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 red 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 fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/3 cup dry red wine, like pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, or malbec
- 1 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes (about half a standard can)
- Fresh parsley or basil, for serving
- Start polenta. In a large saucepan, combine the 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, gradually stream in the polenta and whisk until no lumps remain. Cover tightly with a lid and simmer very gently until a creamy porridge forms, whisking every 3 to 5 minutes to keep it from sticking to the bottom. This takes ~40 minutes total. If it starts to get too thick, whisk in a bit more water.
- Start 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 salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Cook for 30 seconds more.
- Finish ragu. 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 polenta. The polenta is done when it no longer tastes gritty or chalky. In the last 5 minutes of cooking, whisk in 1 cup corn (if using), 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