Friday, January 4, 2013

Polenta with Tempeh-Tomato Sauce

My favorite word is "stick."

Each morning, just before daybreak, we climb a long, steep hill in the dark. This time of year, the air is heavy with cold, but I am always excited to hike, even in the dark, even in the cold. For one thing, I love snow. For another, I love stretching my limbs after a long night with my body curled in on itself. I wake a bit stiff, but by the time we get to the top of the hill, the light is climbing too, and my limbs are unlocked and ready to run.

Mother wisely says that our morning hike is healthy, but all I know is how much fun it is. If I am lucky, she will throw me a snowball, and I will catch it proudly, right in my mouth. But here is the point: in the woods, there are sticks. And in my humble opinion, sticks are the best thing ever, better even than breakfast. And I love breakfast.

If I see a good stick first, I will run to it and look at Mother, wagging a happy dare. But sometimes she sees it before I do, and then she will grab it, make me sit, and hurl it as hard as she can, laughing "find stick!" I am usually too interested in the chase to correct her grammar, but that missing article really bothers me. She should know better.

Grammar aside: I always find the stick, people.

People! Check out the stick!

Here is Mother's favorite cold-weather comfort food. It makes her almost as happy as I do.


Polenta with Tempeh-Tomato Sauce

The combination of tempeh and toasted fennel seed makes this dish. The polenta here is soft rather than firm, like grits, and oh-so-comforting. While fresh tomatoes make the best sauce when they are in season, canned tomatoes are essential for winter cooking. I like Muir Glen brand.

For the sauce:
1 tsp fennel seed
2 tbsp olive or grapeseed oil
8 oz plain soy tempeh (check to ensure it is gluten-free)
8 oz tomato sauce
14.5-oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
salt and pepper to taste

For the polenta:
5 cups gluten-free vegetable stock (use homemade if you have it!)
1 cup coarsely ground, gluten-free cornmeal (polenta)
salt and pepper to taste
1 to 2 tbsp vegan margarine

1. Bring the vegetable stock for the polenta to a boil.

2. Crush the fennel seed in a mortar & pestle (or stick it in a baggie and run over it with a rolling pin). Heat a small skillet over medium-low heat, add the crushed fennel seed, and toast for 3 to 5 minutes, or until fragrant but not brown. Set aside.

3. Remove the tempeh from its packaging. Heat the oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, crumble the tempeh right into the pan with your fingers. Use a wooden spoon to break up any large pieces that remain. (Your goal is burger-crumble-size pieces.) Brown the tempeh, stirring occasionally, until golden-dark on all sides, 7 to 10 minutes. Turn the heat to low. Add the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, and spices, stir well, and simmer gently for 20 to 25 minutes, or until thickened and delicious. Taste and adjust seasoning.

3. When the stock is boiling, and while the sauce is happily simmering, take a wire whisk, and slowly whisk the cornmeal into the stock. This should take a minute or two. Lower the heat to the lowest setting, and continue to whisk for another minute or two, until the polenta is just barely simmering. Then switch to a wooden spoon (I use the same one I used on the sauce), and stir the polenta every minute or two. Add lots of salt and pepper. Cook for 30 minutes or so, adding a bit more stock if it starts to seem too thick. When the polenta is the consistency of grits or porridge (the consistency is up to you), turn off the heat and stir in the margarine. Taste and add more salt, pepper, or margarine if you like.

4. Ladle the polenta into a bowl and top with the tempeh-tomato sauce. Eat with a spoon. Mmmm.


  1. Your pet is hella talented! She expresses herself with ease. Her mother must be a scholar of some sort. ;)