What is Polenta?
Polenta is a dish made out of corn meal that originated in Italy.
Here in Trinidad, we have our own version which we call Coo-Coo. Coo-coo can be made savoury or sweet.The savoury coo-coo has an unmistakable Caribbean flavour due to the seasonings it’s made with. The sweet coo-coo cannot be compared to anything else. It is a Trinidadian treasure, to be noted with the likes of Trini Sorrel, Callaloo and other uniquely Trini things!
Coo-coo, whether sweet or savoury, is a dish that is in a class of it’s own. Although comparable to Polenta, do not think that either one can replace the other.
For this dish, I will be making a tasty Polenta that tops a warm thick stew of lentil peas. Polenta is often made very plain, with only salt and pepper added for flavouring. As a Trinidadian, I love full flavoured meals so of course I had to add my own twist to this versatile base.
While this post is longer than other recipes I’ve posted, don’t worry! It’s a simple recipe and process so don’t be intimidated. You can start cooking your lentils then prepare the Polenta while the lentils cook.
Ingredients for Stewed Lentil filling
1 cup lentil peas
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, minced
1 piece of ginger, minced ( about half an inch)
a small sweet pepper, cut into chunks
a small carrot, cut into chunks
2 tomatoes, cut into chunks
1 stem of celery, minced
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon flour
- Start by soaking you lentils in hot water for 15 minutes.*
- On low heat, put up a pot with oil, add garlic, onion, ginger, sweet peppers, carrots, tomatoes, celery, salt and pepper. Saute vegetables until softened (approximately 5 minutes).
- Add strained lentils and increase heat to medium high. Stir mix frequently for 5 minutes then add water. Add enough water to cover the contents of the pot by an inch. Bring to a boil then lower the heat to medium – low and allow to cook.
You can leave your lentils cooking and start on your Polenta. While your Polenta is being made, check on your lentils occasionally, making sure there is enough liquid in the pot to cook the lentils properly. This simply means that the lentils must have enough water to cover them.
Ingredients for Polenta topping
3/4 cup of corn meal
3 cups water
1/4 cup grated carrot
1/4 cup finely minced sweet pepper
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon margarine
- Bring water to a boil, then lower the heat to medium. Adding a little at a time, whisk the corn meal into the boiling water. Add slowly for an even, creamy texture.**
- When all the corn meal has been added, add minced veggies.
- Reduce heat to low and continue stirring frequently until thickened. Approximately 8 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and add margarine. Mix in well and put aside.
At this point, test your lentils by pressing some with the spoon, if it is crushed then it is properly cooked, if not, allow it to cook until lentils are soft.***
When your lentils are cooked, if there is a lot of liquid left in your stew allow it to thicken by adding 1 teaspoon of flour and mixing it in entirely. When you have a thick gravy remove from the heat.
Assembling your Polenta Pie
- Preheat your oven at 400°F.
- Pour the stewed lentils into a greased baking dish and spread evenly.
- Top with the cooked Polenta by putting a spoon of Polenta over the lentils and gently spreading it. Continue until the entire pie is topped.****
- Bake on the top shelf of your oven at 400°F for 15- 20 minutes or until the top is golden.
*Always soak your dried peas and beans! Not only does this shorten their cooking times, it also makes it easier for your body to absorb the nutrients in them. Never skip this step!
**It is absolutely necessary to add the corn meal slowly by sprinkling it on the water. If the corn meal is added too much at a time it quickly clumps up. These clumps are difficult to break up and don’t cook evenly.
***Lentils make take longer to cook if they were not soaked in hot water, if they were not soaked long enough, or if they are very old.
****Do this step carefully as you don’t want to press down the Polenta into the lentils.
Please feel free to leave any comments, questions and suggestions! I look forward to hearing from you 🙂