meatless monday

Meatless Monday. Have you heard of it? My guess is that you haven’t. This is probably because it’s an initiative established by a non-profit organization in partnership with a The Bloomberg School of Public Health whose goal is to help Americans reduce their meat consumption in order to improve the health of individuals and the planet and not an initiative established by one of the major food corporations with a multi-million dollar budget and advertising campaign complete with celebrity endorsements which makes going vegetarian one day a week look like the hottest, hippest trend that you simply cannot NOT be a part of.
Ugali is a staple in Tanzanian cuisine. Made from ground cornmeal (maize meal) and water, ugali is typically eaten as a thick dough-like substance (think over cooked mashed potatoes, or playdough) served along side vegetables or meat (often these are served as a stew) because it has little flavor on its own. When we spent time in Tim’s field site, or visited our favorite local restaurant (which had the awesomest name– 7-Up) we would eat ugali on a regular basis, but I only once made it at home.

I don’t know if it’s my search for wheat-free alternatives or because I subconsciously miss ugali, but I’ve been experimenting with polenta lately. The back of my Bob’s Red Mill Polenta Corn Grits package tells me that polenta is “a good choice when  you’re in the mood for a simple Italian food. One of the many dishes dating back to antiquity, a version of of polenta nourished soldiers of the Roman Army” so I can get on board with that. The trick was finding a way to present this food so that my husband and toddler would allow me to make it again. Neither  of them are what I would describe as picky eaters (so at least I had that going for me), but I had never cooked with polenta either so really didn’t know how a meal featuring it would turn out. But I got lucky, and the baked polenta with kale, tomato sauce, and goat cheese was a (big?) hit. And it was Monday, which was doubly cool. So, polenta may have staying power in our house, and Meatless Mondays will continue.

Tim thinks we should start having Tunaless Tuesdays, so you can look forward to that too.

Ugali and vegetable stew.

One cup Bob’s Red Mill Polenta (corn grits).

Mounds of chopped kale.

Tomato sauce, layered atop cooked polenta and wilted kale.

Little E helping clean up.

Baked Polenta with Kale, Basil Tomato Sauce and Goat Cheese

Serves 6


Tomato Filling

1 Tbs Olive Oil

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 onion, minced

1 28-ox can whole tomatoes (I used crushed), well drained and finely chopped

generous seasoning freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil, or 1 tsp dried (I used less)


8-10 c chopped kale

The Polenta

unsalted butter for greasing dish, plus 1/2 Tbs cut into bits

2  c milk

1 1/2 c water

1/2 tsp salt

1 c cornmeal

1/2 c part-skim mozzarella cheese

4 oz goat cheese


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 2- 2 1/2 quart baking dish.

2. In a large pot of salted water, briefly blanch the kale until wilted. Drain and let cool. Wring water from kale when cool enough to handle.

3. To make the tomato filling, heat oil over medium heat. add the onions and saute until soft and golden, 7-10 minutes. Add the garlic and co0k for 30 seconds- 1 minute more. Stir in tomatoes and season with black pepper. Cook until juices thicken and are almost evaporated, about 10 minutes. Stir in the basil and remove from heat.

4. To make polenta, bring water, milk and salt to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and slowly drizzle in the cornmeal, whisking constantly. Continue to cook and whisk the polenta until it is the consistency of mashed potatoes and it peals away from the side of the pan (about 5 minutes).  Whisk in 1 Tbs butter and mozzarella cheese.

5. Spread half of the prepared polenta into the baking dish. Spoon on the kale and distribute evenly over the surface. Top with tomato mixture and crumble goat cheese over the top. Spoon on the remaining polenta and spread it out. Sprinkle 1 Tbs parmesan cheese over the top.  (At this point the dish can be covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.)

6. Bake the  polenta for 20-25 minutes or until golden on top. Careful not to overcook.


6 thoughts on “meatless monday

  1. Hi Kiyah,
    Love your blogs! I have a quibble with good ‘ole Red Mill Bob re polenta. Modern polenta is made from maize (Italian ugali or grits?). There was, of course no maize in Europe before Columbus so no Roman ate polenta as we imagine it. Maize was probably not available until the late 1500s in Italy. But some argue that polenta was made from chestnuts in ancient times, must have been a chore to grind them all up! But they probably had slaves for that!
    Keep up the good blogs!


    1. Good question Lisa. What makes whole grain whole grain is the fact that they have all three of their edible parts intact: the endosperm, the bran and the germ. A quick search for whole grain corn grits turned up this (from the Food Netweork website, so maybe take it with a [whole] grain of salt, ha ha):
      “Corn Grits: whole kernels chopped into bits. For whole-grain corn grits, search for those labeled “speckled heart grits”, one of the few types processed from whole kernel corn. Cooks in about 50 minutes.”
      Ugali typically takes less than 50 minutes to cook, right? On the other hand, it would seem to me that processing is relatively minimal…I think you stumped me.


  2. Tom-Glad you’re still here, reading. And thanks for the heads up about our friend Bob’s claim to polenta’s fame. I wonder if Bob realizes this potentially misleading statement…or if there is even a “Bob.” But chestnut flour…there’s something I’d like to try.
    Keep coming back!


  3. This sounds really yummy! I adore polenta and have an awesome recipe for polenta pizza which I can send you. I tried it with what’s labeled as “polenta” here, but it didn’t work… I think I need a coarser grind. Perhaps I should try ugali?! Anyway, great to see a KJD Creation on here, can’t wait to try.


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