Savory Polenta Stacks with Black Beans and Greens

by Gena on January 13, 2011

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Yesterday, as I gave you my recipe for vegan butternut squash risotto, I promised you guys a “mystery recipe” to come. As soon as I uttered those cryptic words, I realized that it wouldn’t be long before I spilled the beans. What I’m about to share is one of my favorite recent dinners from the CR kitchen, and I’m proud to say that I constructed it spontaneously, using ingredients from M’s produce box and a touch of imagination.

Of course, I did have a little inspiration when it came to constructing this dish. It was my fondness for the “paradise casserole” at Candle Cafe here in the city. That dish is a heavenly casserole made from millet, black beans, and mashed sweet potatoes, and it’s my favorite of their entrees. Last Friday, as I was scouring M’s fridge for dinner ingredients, I found the following:

    • 1 tube of prepared polenta
    • 4 large yams
    • 2 cans black beans
    • 1/2 jar pimento peppers
    • 1 large bunch each of Swiss chard and kale

What could I make, I wondered, that would put all of these things to good use? My first idea was to make a casserole dish, lining the bottom with the sliced polenta and stacking ingredients on top. Then, I decided that mini-stacks would be cuter. I wanted to use a similar approach as the Paradise Casserole—starchy base, black beans in center, mashed yams on top—but I wanted to add some fresh greens, and to mash and flavor the beans. What follows is my ultimate creation.

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Savory Polenta Stacks with Black Beans, Greens, and Mashed Yams (serves 4 generously)

1 tube organic, prepared polenta
4 medium or large yams
1 tbsp mellow white miso (optional)
2 tbsp Earth Balance
2 tbsp-1/4 cup almond milk
1 tsp cinnamon
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup roasted red peppers (jarred is fine)
2 small cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
1 tsp agave
1 head of kale or Swiss chard (or a mix of the two), washed and chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1) Peel and quarter the yams. Heat a large pot of water to a boil, and boil the yams until they’re fork tender.

2) While you wait for yams to cook, spray a large pan with coconut oil spray (or any cooking spray). Cut the polenta into 1/2 inch rounds, and line them evenly on the tray. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

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3) Remove yams from water, and drain. Using a potato masher or ricer, mash them with the miso (if desired), cinnamon, Earth Balance, and almond milk. Use only enough milk to achieve a thick consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set the mashed potatoes aside.

4) Place drained beans, peppers, garlic, cumin, coriander, agave, and salt and pepper to taste in a food processor, and process roughly, so that the beans are somewhat mushy but look like refried beans, rather than hummus (i.e., so they’re not totally without texture). This, by the way, is a great dip/spread, all on its own.

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Set bean mixture aside.

5) Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a skillet and add the garlic. Stir garlic for about 1 minute, then add all of the chopped greens to the skillet. Cover it quickly so that the greens wilt down; two minutes later, begin sauteeing them until they’re tender and cooked through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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6) To assemble the stacks, layer each polenta round with about tablespoon and a half of the black bean dip. Next, place some greens on top of that–I found it easiest to do this with my hands–and press the greens down to adhere to the bean mix.

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Finally, top the greens with a nice little heap of mashed yams. Again, use your hands if necessary.

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7) When stacks are assembled and uniform, place the tray in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes. Serve.

I found that 3-4 stacks was a very adequate serving size. They’ll be warm, tasty, and very cute looking when they emerge from the oven, like so!

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These, along with salad or any simple veggie side, make for a fabulous and easy dinner.

Yes, I said easy! I know there are a lot of moving parts in this recipe, but it’s actually a breeze to make. You can prep the bean mix and potatoes ahead of time, and then all that’s left is wilting some greens and cutting the polenta. In fact, using the pre-made polenta in place of a cooked grain is a great way to save time and energy!

These were such a hit that I made them again the next day—this time for a vegan cookoff and potluck dinner. Once again, they got enthusiastic reviews. I can’t recommend them enough for a healthy, simple, and filling meal.

What’s the last recipe you came up with spontaneously? How do you get inspired by what’s in your fridge?


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{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

thefruitpursuit (Sabine) January 13, 2011 at 12:40 pm

This looks so cute and delicious! I have no idea what polenta tastes like though haha so I’ll have to take your word ;)

x sabine


lindsay January 13, 2011 at 12:43 pm

what a great recipe and perfect for those random ingredients in the fridge!


Evan Thomas January 13, 2011 at 12:43 pm

I can see why this would be a hit; it’s definitely unique and sounds packed with flavor.

I think the most recent recipe that I made up on the spot was the quinoa recipe I posted today. I really just wanted a lot of cooked vegetables with something to make them stick, and thought about the spinach I had in the freezer and how to use it to make it not taste frozen. It was so good I made it two days later and served it to company who also loved it.


Katelyn @ Chef Katelyn January 13, 2011 at 12:44 pm

These are adorable! I love little stacks of anything:) Slash thinking of recipes on the fly is fun, one time I thought up a random carrot cake quinoa recipe that turned out AMAZING. It ends up on my stove verrry often!


VeggieGirl January 13, 2011 at 12:47 pm

LOVE this!

I get inspired by what’s in my fridge when I see a mix of greens and other vegetables, proteins, and some spices. I think of what tastes good together, and voila! A “new” creation :D


ainslie January 13, 2011 at 12:48 pm

I love when dinner is adorable! This sounds delish, I usually combine yams+black beans+greens+corn in an enchilada/tostada/taco type situation, but this polenta base is an awesome twist!


Stephanie January 13, 2011 at 12:48 pm

I made a green olive hummus the other day because as I was deciding what flavor to make it, I opened the fridge and there was just enough left to make a tasty concoction. I was rather surprised that it turned out as well as it did! This recipe looks great!


JL Goes Vegan January 13, 2011 at 12:49 pm

I have yet to cook with / make polenta! This recipe may be the one that makes a me a polenta-virgin no more!

My last spontaneous recipe was black-eyed peas and farro (in the pressure cooker!) and wrapped in a collard green. Mmmmmmm.


Dole Nutrition Institute January 13, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Such an inventive and absolutely delicious meal. You are so creative!


Valerie @ City|Life|Eats January 13, 2011 at 12:58 pm

I *love* this idea – I am going to try it with teff “polenta” cakes (corn and I do not get along).

Also, my recap of our visit will be up by the weekend. Work got insane this week (fortunately collard wraps have been keeping me nourished along with smoothies – thank you again for all the inspiration). Our visit was a highlight of last week. Thank you again. :)


Jacquelynn January 13, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Yummm! I absolutely love polenta and greens… I am going to have to try this in the next day or so!


Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga) January 13, 2011 at 1:00 pm

“They’ll be warm, tasty, and very cute looking when they emerge from the oven”–

CUTE FOOD IS very important! :)

Great recipe, Gena! I love how you were inspired by something you loved at Candle and came up with this in your own house,by what you have on hand.

I just did that yesterday with a savory recipe. It was kinda like the cans and jars and sauces were overtaking my cupboards so i went into project Use It Up and came up with a winner. I am writing the post and will have it up in a day or so.

I hope you’re doing great at your first week at school! I cant believe you have the time to get super creative in the kitch AND blog about it. That’s the 2nd half…the uploading, writing copy, and documenting it that DOES take time. So thank you for taking the time!


Elizabeth@The Sweet Life January 13, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Your recipes just get better and better!


Lauren January 13, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Yum! Vie made the Candle Cafe casserole in the past, good stuf!


Wendy (Healthy Girl's Kitchen) January 13, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Could this be a Best of 2011?


Gena January 13, 2011 at 9:49 pm



Elle January 13, 2011 at 1:30 pm

I’m going to have to make this stat because I love every part of this dish! I may have to make this for my visiting in-laws this weekend.

Also, stick a stack in a short mason jar and bring to work/school.


zoe (and the beatles) January 13, 2011 at 1:38 pm

this looks. SO. GOOD. i’ve been looking for a reason to use polenta and you just gave me one! i happen to have everything on hand minus the polenta, too. thanks, gena! this may just be my dinner tonight :) (you rock :)!)


Kathleen January 13, 2011 at 1:51 pm

You are becoming a cooked vegan MASTER! Looks ah-may-zing.


Hannah January 13, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Mmmm this looks really good. I’ve tried polenta before but maybe this will win me over :)


Lexica January 13, 2011 at 2:09 pm

This sounds very tasty. One of my favorite dishes is something I call “beans & greens” — kale cooked in olive oil with a WHOLE LOTTA garlic (not your favorite, I know) and then a near-painful amount of lemon juice added at the end, served over garlicky homemade black beans. So good. (And very much “You call this comfort food? Good grief, you really are a Californian, aren’t you?” *grin*)


Gena January 13, 2011 at 9:49 pm

Ha! Kale is my comfort food, too. I could be a Californian, I guess :)


Little Bookworm January 13, 2011 at 3:22 pm

Great sounding recipe! :)

The last recipe I came up with was a sort of jambalaya with leftover vegetables in it. :) I wanted to let you know that I have given you the Stylish Blogger award here:


Gena January 13, 2011 at 9:48 pm

oh my gosh! So flattered!


Christin@purplebirdblog January 13, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Very clever and definitely cute!!! Sounds like some good ol’ soul food, full of warmth and comfort!


Anna @ Newlywed, Newly Veg January 13, 2011 at 3:47 pm

“Spilled the beans”– ha! :-)

Okay, now I want to make THESE for our dinner party!


bitt January 13, 2011 at 4:29 pm

Chris and I love those premade polentas. I like to make them into mini pizzas too. Cute for sure!


Melomeals: Vegan for $3.33 a Day January 13, 2011 at 5:54 pm

that looks so good. There’s something insanely comforting about beans and polenta together.. and for me, greens!


BroccoliHut January 13, 2011 at 7:59 pm

Ever since I started the Ellie Project, I haven’t doing much spontaneous cooking…on the to-do list for this weekend! Wait, I guess it’s not spontaneous then.


Gena January 13, 2011 at 9:48 pm

I know exactly how you feel! I wonder what time the post-bacc is going to leave me, but I’ll sure try.


Clare @ Fitting It All In January 13, 2011 at 8:50 pm

Those look incredible! (As does your risotto from yesterday). I love finding creative ways to use my favorite ingredients.

Good luck in school!


Andy January 13, 2011 at 9:41 pm

Oh my goodness. This looks like one of the most colorful, delicious, and texturally interesting creations I’ve come across in a while. I’m a little concerned about the eating process. I assume you eat them with a fork, but I’m worried the greens will get in the way of clean fork-side cuts.


Gena January 13, 2011 at 9:47 pm

I used a fork and a sharp knife to cut.


Iris January 13, 2011 at 10:52 pm

I love this idea! I never seem to have time to check out my favorite blogs these days, but when I saw the title of this post, I had to come look at it! I will definitely be using this idea.


VKO-Lifestyles of the Chic & Vegan January 13, 2011 at 11:09 pm

Hi there! just wanted to pop over to your blog & say hello- was nice to meet you at the James Beard House event, wish we had more time to chat. I know you are super busy these days being back to school & all (congrats!!!) but would be great to meet for lunch or dinner sometime! xVKO


Erika @ Health and Happiness in LA January 14, 2011 at 2:10 am

I can imagine these flavors together, and it sounds amazing!

A lot of the time I make fridge leftovers into soup. It’s just so easy.


melissa January 14, 2011 at 11:36 am

This look so ridiculously good! I have to say, I have a hard time cooking when I don’t have all the ingredients for a recipe. I need to be more spontaneous and creative. I have fresh Brussels sprouts and eggplant that I don’t know what to do with.


Julia (The Veggie Side) January 14, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Wow! That looks amazing!


Diana (Soap & Chocolate) January 14, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Very cute indeed! I’m a big fan of creating new dishes based on what I have on hand. As much as it’s fun to try a beautiful and/or challenging recipe I may come across, it’s a drag if it means buying a bunch of new ingredients i wouldn’t otherwise buy and won’t likely use thereafter. So I’ve always been big on modifying my meals (or even other people’s recipes) based on what I’ve already got. That said, I’ve been in a bit of a rut lately as I’ve gotten busier – when my mind is otherwise occupied, it’s comforting to fall back on quick, easy and reliable favorites! If you are what you eat, I am zucchini and brown rice.


Christine (The Raw Project) January 14, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Wonderful recipe, it looks perfect for me. Thanks! My last recipe was a creamy chickpea chowder using hemp seeds and tahini and it was a success. I usually pull out all the fresh ingredients that need to be used up soon and create something.


FoodFeud January 14, 2011 at 10:21 pm

I always love games like that – what can I make with what I have. I never do as good a job as this, though! They look so cute and sound delicious! Never had pimentos, though…hmm.


Ro"bean"a January 16, 2011 at 11:37 pm

Try steaming the sweet potatoes instead of boiling them. Steamed sweet potatoes contain 413% more antioxidants than boiled ones!


Laura neff January 22, 2011 at 7:34 pm

Yum! Just slid this in the oven and it looks sooo good! I didn’t have tube polenta so instead, I just whipped up a batch of quick homemade using veg stock. Spread it on the bottom of a casserole dish and simply layered everything else on as well, once the polenta cooled and firmed up well. By the looks of it, it’s gonna be great! Thanks for another stellar recipe, Gena!!


amy February 13, 2011 at 11:35 pm

Oh.m.g. These are so good. I made them for my boyfriend for our sunday night dinner and they were just fab. I knew I’d be a fan since they’re made up of some of my favorite things but wow! Delish. I love the coriander. I also added a dash of freshly ground nutmeg, which went well with the greens. Great recipe! Thanks so much :)


Gwen November 26, 2011 at 1:28 pm

this is a great recipe Gena! I’ve been slightly obsessed with polenta lately so this will be a great way to incorporate even more of it, yay!


Melissa March 13, 2012 at 1:01 am

This dish was phenomenal!!!! One of my favorite vegan dishes to date-and you were right-surprisingly simple. Thank you so much! Can’t wait to uncover other goodies on your site!


Sarah September 19, 2012 at 10:24 pm

Hey there! I just made these tonight! I love that it’s like vegan gourmet, yet simple–I felt like a chef! My littles devored the mashed sweet potatoes, and my littlest was scarfing down the extra kale bits! Soooo… Thank you heaps!!!


Gena September 20, 2012 at 8:07 pm

You are welcome! One of my fave recipes.


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