Poppyseed Polenta with Rainbow Chard

This little unassuming recipe may not look like much, but it is packed with so much flavor and comfort that I always come back for more. 

Polenta is simply cooked cornmeal. There are a myriad of polenta recipes with a wide variety of cooking methods. This is because polenta has a fairly benign flavor and so can be spiked with any number of other flavors - in this recipe I use a salty broth to flavor it. Mushrooms, tomatoes, and leeks are also great flavors for polenta. 

The cooking methods vary because polenta does take a while to cook and is fairly hands-on so cooks have tried to find other methods to either reduce the cooking time or make it less labor intensive. Lynn Rossetto Kasper from the Splendid Table has created a double boiler method that makes polenta less labor intensive. 

For this recipe, I stuck with the basic cooking method as that seems to work best for me.

The key with cooking polenta is giving the grains of corn long enough time to open up and release the gelatinous starch that creates the yummy texture. Stirring also helps to create the right texture. So, polenta is really the ideal slow food. It cannot be rushed. Make this on a lazy afternoon.

Polenta is a complex carbohydrate which is the kind of carb that you want to fuel your body - it takes longer to digest and doesn't spike your blood sugar. Polenta is also high in protein; it contains a little more protein than an egg. Added to the fact that polenta has Vitamins A and C, this is a pretty nutritious comfort food!

This recipe keeps the polenta soft, similar to the consistency of mashed potatoes. However, as polenta cools, it hardens. Stiff polenta can be fried or baked - and this is often the kind that you can buy pre-made at the grocery store. Sometimes I'll make a double batch of polenta and eat it soft for dinner one day and fry up the stiff polenta for dinner the next day. Now, hopefully, you're realizing how fantastic this little unassuming recipe can be! :)

Initially, because I don't like to mix my food together, I kept the rainbow chard and polenta separate. After one bite together I quickly stirred them into each other. The bitter chard complemented the salty polenta beautifully.

Before you run off and gather the ingredients for this fantastic dish, I also wanted to share my new favorite app for photography: Diptic. I love being able to combine several photos into one composite. Here's my favorite composite so far:

So pretty! Now, get into your kitchen and start making some polenta! :)

Poppyseed Polenta with Rainbow Chard
4 servings, about 90 minutes

5 cups water
4 teaspoons Better Than Bouillon No Chicken Broth Concentrate
1 cup polenta (coarse cornmeal)
2 tablespoons olive oil (I used oil that was infused with lemon, plain also works)
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
1 bunch rainbow chard - about 8 cups chopped
6 cloves of garlic, minced (yes, 6!)
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon lime or lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Bring water to boil in a large saucepan. Add the broth concentrate and stir to dissolve. Taste. Adjust if you don't love the broth (add more water or more concentrate). Pour in polenta slowly, stirring well to avoid lumps. Add olive oil and poppy seeds. Stir well. Cook over medium heat for 60-90 minutes, stirring frequently. You will need to stir more often at the beginning of the cooking time to avoid lumps. Stirring helps to release the starch, so stir often. Polenta is done when the cornmeal is tender, not bitter, and adhering together well. Think mashed potato consistency. When you think it is done, cook for another 5 minutes and taste again. If there isn't a noticeable difference in the tenderness or bitterness then it is done. The polenta will get stiffer the longer you cook it.
  2. Meanwhile, separate the leaves from the stems of the chard. Coarsely chop both, keeping them in two different bowls since they require different cooking times. Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add the stems, cook 2 minutes. Add the leaves, cook 6 more minutes. Begin timing when the food enters the water. Drain. Rinse with cool water then squeeze out excess liquid. If chard is too hot to squeeze with your hands, rinse with cool water again.
  3. Melt butter in a skillet. Add garlic and cook for a minute or so until it is light brown. Add cilantro and lime juice. Stir to combine. Turn off the heat. Add the chard to the skillet and stir well to combine.
  4. To serve, place a dollop of polenta on a plate and top with the chard. Devoir. 
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