COVID-19 has meant the cancellation of many of our favourite annual events. We’ll be missing out on a lot of the beloved traditions that give shape and value to our busy lives. For me, one of the more gut-wrenching of these cancellations it that of the Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival. I’ve written about this festival before and why I so look forward to it. It’s hard to imagine what September will be like without it. I’m sure the virtual version being planned by the Vegetarian Association will be great, but a big draw of the festival is the social ambience of the open market, which is hard to replicate in a digital format. Food always tastes best when enjoyed with good company.
The cancellation has also me feeling nostalgic for all the amazing food that the festival has introduced me to over the years, and I thought, what better way to give that nostalgia some meaningful texture and tangibility than to try and replicate one of my all-time favourite food fest dishes – Doug McNish’s Polenta Poutine. For those unfamiliar with the magic of polenta – I certainly was prior to trying McNish’s poutine masterpiece – it is made from boiled cornmeal and is usually served as a porridge or cooled into a bake-able or fry-able loaf, which is how it is usually sold in grocery stores. You can use those pre-made polenta loafs for this recipe. It will save you a lot of time, but, trust me, making polenta from scratch gives it a whole other level of flavour.
For this recipe I also decided to try out a few new vegan products. First, a vegan butter from Culcherd. It’s very creamy and has the perfect amount of saltiness, though it actually does not have a lot of salt it in, and unlike many other butter alternatives it’s palm oil free! A bit pricey, but totally worth it. And the second product was a vegan mozzarella from Wandering Deli. This was one of the best vegan cheeses I’ve had so far, and it melts beautifully – highly recommended!
Ingredients (makes 4 to 5 servings):
For the Polenta:
2 cups of corn grits
4 cups of vegetable broth
2 tbsp of vegan butter or margarine
2 tsp of salt
For the Gravy:
4 cups of vegetable broth
8 oz of champagne mushrooms, washed and diced
1 tbsp of miso
1/2 cup of flour
1 tbsp of cornstarch
1 tbsp of nutritional yeast
Oil for frying
Other toppings (I added sliced radish and some guacamole)
1. In a large saucepan, bring 4 cups of vegetable broth to a boil. Add the 2 cups of corn grits and reduce to simmer. Add the 2 tbsp of vegan butter and 2 tsp of salt. Cooking time will vary. It may take as long as 30 minutes, but you should be watching and stirring the polenta fairly diligently. I find that it is closer to twenty minutes. Once the broth has been absorbed and the polenta is creamy, remove from heat.
2. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread out the polenta in a deep baking tray, using a knife to make sure the surface is fairly even. Cook for 25 minutes, and then chill in the fridge. If you want it to be really solid you should chill it for at least 8 hours.
3. In a saucepan, add 4 cups of vegetable broth, the diced mushrooms, 1 tbsp of miso, 1/2 cup of flour, 1 tbsp of cornstarch, and 1 tbsp of nutritional yeast. Whisk the gravy at low heat until the clumps are dissolved and the gravy has thickened.
4. Slice the chilled polenta into small rectangles (fry shaped). Add about 2 tbsps of oil to a large frying pan, turn up to medium heat, and add in the sliced polenta fries. Cook for 3-5 minutes, turning frequently to make sure both sides get crispy.
5. Top the polenta fries with vegan cheese, and pour on a generous portion of the hot gravy.