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.
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.
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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.
If you don’t have an oil mister, you can brush the baking sheet and polenta with oil or use cooking spray. Shredded jack cheese can be substituted for the queso fresco if you have it on hand.
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