Today in the kitchen, we are making a creamy polenta with jalapenos. Super easy with a Texas-sized kick, this dish will have you coming back for seconds and thirds. (I might have eaten the whole batch over the course of the day, but you can’t prove it.) Before we begin: a story.
In college I was all about serious and intense phases. Like: the nine months I stopped shaving my legs. Or the year I refused to wear jeans of any kind. But mostly notably was my year as a vegetarian. I had no solid reasons for any of these things, but my year as a vegetarian taught me to eat better. Mostly because I couldn’t just stop at a fast food join and snatch up a meal for the most part. This is when I discovered that even refried beans often contain meat. I ate in the vegetarian cafeteria on campus with all the cool punk kids (back before hipster and before emo, there was only punk) and tried new foods. Like: polenta.
The cafeteria at my college wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t the best. Somewhere between the tube of polenta you can buy at the store (which I honestly also like) and real homemade polenta, their version was better than edible. I only learned years later that polenta is actually grits, another food I didn’t try until almost college—total blasphemy for a southern girl. In my defense, I thought I hated a long list of foods until college included (but not limited to): salad dressing, mushrooms, mayonnaise, whole milk, anything with fat in it, and olives.
There is something about polenta that I just love. The texture is creamy and sort of dense, and it can pick up many flavors well. In several of my pregnancies I’ve run to the store to snag a tube of polenta and eaten the whole thing after browning it in a little olive oil. The last two weeks, this baby has made me crave jalapenos, and as I was beginning to clean out the pantry for our move, I realized that I had a bag of polenta. Something clicked and this recipe was born.
Polenta can be a lot of work and require constant stirring, but I found a few recipes online claiming that you could treat it almost like rice, but with a little more stirring. While I wouldn’t recommend putting your baby down for a nap while it’s cooking on the stove (oops), this worked well and left very little stuck to the pan.
- 1 jalapeno, diced
- 1 cup grits
- 4 cups water
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup sharp cheddar, plus more for garnish
- 2 T butter
- 2 T milk
- Optional: Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning, green salsa
- Add the water to a pan with a lid and turn the heat to high. While you're waiting for it to boil, dice the jalapeno, discarding most of the seeds. When the water boils, add the salt and then whisk the polenta into the water. Turn down the heat and whisk for 2-3 minutes until it has thickened enough that the grits don't sink or separate from the water when you stop.
- Cover and cook 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so. Around the 30 minute mark, add the jalapenos, 1/2 of shredded cheese, butter and milk. Stir into the mix, then cover and let sit a five more minutes.
- To serve, you can scoop directly from the pan or spray a container with non-stick spray and scoop the polenta into it, letting it sit for 5-10 minutes until it takes on that shape. Flip it out onto a cutting board, cut into slices and serve, topping with cheddar and (optional) a sprinkle of Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning and some green salsa.
If you have a stove top grill for your gas stove, polenta is fabulous grilled. But definitely do NOT put it on your George Foreman grill. Just trust me on that one. Otherwise, I like this served after it hardens up a little so I put it in a greased cast iron skillet, then sliced it a few minutes later.
Green salsa added a great acidic balance to this and I wish I’d had homemade tomatillo sauce, so next time I’ll plan that (and share the recipe). I also liked a little extra cheddar, though there was already some cooked inside. So. Dang. Good. Have you ever tried polenta or even made it yourself at home? This is a great starter recipe or even a great replacement recipe if you’re used to the stir-stir-stir method. If you don’t like spice, leave out the jalapenos but keep the cheddar, butter, and milk for a great, creamy polenta. Traditionally, it is served with marinara or a tomato sauce, but I find that this a great and easily adapted recipe.