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.
Baked Polenta with Kale, Basil Tomato Sauce and Goat Cheese
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
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.