Pantry Staples to the Rescue
Many years ago, I had a really bad takeout habit, which was not helped by the fact that we lived next to Chipotle and a local sandwich shop, and down the street from Panera. Whenever I was tired and didn’t feel like cooking, my husband would stop at one of those places on the way home and pick up dinner. Those impromptu takeout dinners really started to add up! Meal planning has helped us almost kick the habit, and having some key pantry staples on hand sealed the deal.
Sometimes even when you have a meal plan, dinner falls through—you cut into the peppers you’re planning on stuffing for dinner and half of them are moldy inside, or you planned for a dinner that requires a lot of prep and you’re just not feeling it. That’s when those pantry staples come in handy. This Mexican Polenta recipe uses two of my favorite pantry staples: a tube of polenta and a can of black beans.
What is Polenta?
You can usually find prepared polenta near the pasta or pasta sauce at the grocery store. It’s a log of pre-made polenta that you can slice and use in all kinds of easy meatless dinners. Polenta fries are one of my favorite ways to use them, but I regularly use them to make polenta bakes too—I cut the polenta into circles and layer them with marinara sauce, sautéed mushrooms, zucchini, or roasted broccoli, and shredded cheese. Polenta can be thrown on the grill, added to salads, pan-fried in a little oil, and it works in a variety of cuisines, not just Italian. And when even that feels like too much work, sometimes I’ll just sauté a bunch of vegetables and pile them on top of polenta slices.
Then there’s the black beans! Whenever my favorite brands of beans are on sale, I stock up on black beans and garbanzo beans because I use them so often and they make the perfect starting point for a variety of quick dinners. I topped the baked polenta in this recipe with black beans simmered in salsa—salsa beans! Salsa beans work on nachos, they work on baked sweet potatoes, and they even work as a taco, burrito, or quesadilla filling. Seriously, salsa beans will change your life. They’re nothing fancy, but they’re one of those ideas that will keep you from ordering takeout because salsa beans take way less time and effort than schlepping to Panera and waiting for your food to be ready.
- 1 24 oz tube polenta, cut into 16 slices (I used Sun-Dried Tomato)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion diced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp chili powder
- 1/2 tsp oregano
- pinch of cayenne
- 1 medium zucchini diced
- 1 red bell pepper diced
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1/2 cup jarred salsa
- 4 oz queso fresco crumbled
- chopped cilantro lime wedges, and additional salsa for serving
- Preheat oven to 450°F.
- Use an oil mister filled with a high smoke point cooking oil (like grapeseed or olive oil—light, not extra-virgin) to coat a large baking sheet. Place the polenta slices on the sheet and spray the tops with additional oil. Bake for about 30 minutes, flipping halfway through cooking time, until the polenta is crispy and golden brown on the edges.
- While the polenta is baking, start the sautéed veggies. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until softened and starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, cumin, chili powder, oregano, and cayenne; cook for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the zucchini and red pepper to the skillet and cook, stirring often, about 3 minutes more, until slightly softened. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper.
- Combine the beans and salsa in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook until warmed through, about 5 minutes.
- Divide the polenta slices onto 4 plates, then top each with salsa beans, veggies, and queso fresco. Serve with chopped cilantro, lime wedges, and additional salsa.