Creamy Polenta with Red-Braised Oven-Roasted Mini Bell Peppers, Mini Tomatoes, and Wood Ear Mushrooms. I made this dish in honor of Native American Heritage Day, which occurs on the same day as most people know as “Black Friday”. I think it’s important that we highlight this day, and remember the horrible history of how the Native Americans were treated, and what really led up to the holiday, Thanksgiving.
In honor of this day, I used the ingredient corn, with my own Chinese touch. I am thankful the Native Americans cultivated this plant, which is so widely used today (and also one of the most delicious ones, according to me!). So let’s get to the cooking!
I wasn’t able to record all the steps with pictures, as some steps require staying very focused and working quickly (for your own safety, and for the food!).
I started off by soaking wood ear mushrooms in a generous bowl of cold water, and then went on to prepare the mini bell peppers and small tomatoes for the oven. Score and de-seed the peppers carefully, before coating them and the tomatoes in a neutral cooking oil. Sprinkle lightly with some salt, and put them slightly higher up in the oven. Roast the vegetables in the oven set at about 200°C (400°F) for about 15-20 minutes, before flipping the peppers over. Remove from oven once they’ve got some nice color.
I continued by making what we call red oil in Chinese, which is a method of caramelizing sugar in hot oil. If you aren’t comfortable with working quickly and with splattering things, I would suggest skipping this step. The sugar will go from ready to burnt in a matter of seconds, and the latter will yield an overall bitter taste. Plus, it gets REALLY hot, and is no fun to get on you.
When the wood ear mushroom has soaked for about 30 minutes, you can drain them. Try to get rid of as much water as possible, to decrease splattering later. Here you can choose to either use the red oil method, or simply go straight to stir-frying them. Either way, use a quick and smooth motion, not too high up from the pan, and quickly cover with a lid and shake around until it has calmed down a bit, and doesn’t hiss as furiously.
Alternatively, heat up some oil in a wok, and start by searing ginger, chilis, and optional star anise, until fragrant. Add in the wood ear mushroom with the sugar, and stir-fry for a while. Carefully add the roasted bell peppers, and poke them around to absorb some of the fragrant oil! Now pour in soy sauce, rice wine, and – Marmite. Some of you might have avoided this controversial love-it-or-hate-it spread, but trust me, it is chock-full of umami! You might have to dissolve the spread before stirring it around, but it really adds a lot of depth to this already umami-rich dish. So please, do give it a try!
Next up is the polenta. A soft and warm pillow for the seared and roasted veggies to lie on. It’s ready in just a couple of minutes, and is like a deliciously filling hug. Bring some lightly salted water and full-fat vegetable milk (I used oat milk) to a boil, and whisk in the polenta flour vigorously, to avoid lumps. Add nutritional yeast, and taste for salt. It should be ready after a couple of minutes. Remove from the stove and stir in some cold butter. Optional to top off the polenta with a small piece of butter for serving, but encouraged. Assemble the mini bell peppers, wood ear mushrooms, and bell peppers, on top of the hot polenta. Dig in!
Creamy Polenta with Red-Braised Vegetables (Vegan)
Serves: 1 hungry person
- 10 mini bell peppers
- 4 mini tomatoes (if using cherry tomatoes, you can use more)
- 10 wood ear mushrooms
- 1 tsp granulated sugar
- 2 dried Chinese chilis
- Small piece of fresh ginger (I used less than 1/2 tsp)
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1/2 tbsp Chinse rice wine
- 1/2 tsp Marmite
- Neutral vegetable oil
- Optional: star anise
- 100 ml polenta flour (a little less than 1/2 cup)
- 300 ml water
- 125 ml full-fat oat milk
- 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 2 tsp vegan butter
- Salt to taste
Note: The Marmite really won’t taste like Marmite, it will just add some more depth, and blends really well with the other flavors. If you have the chance, I encourage you to try it!
I hope you try this recipe out for yourself! It’s simple, yet filling and comforting – perfect for the cold fall. If you do make this dish, please use the hashtag #umaminom on Instagram. I would love to see your dish!