Update: I’m thrilled to say that I was chosen as a runner-up in the Chopped/Vegan competition! Congrats to the winners!!
The themed dinner parties are on hiatus for today, so that I can participate in Vegan Chopped!
When I heard there was going to be a brunch edition of Chopped for Vegan MoFo, I was eager to take part. For those of you who don’t know the show or the concept, Chopped is a TV show in which contestants get four seemingly incongruous ingredients in a basket, and from there they have to come up with a dish that incorporates all of them in a way that makes sense and tastes great. Isa Chandra Moskowitz of Post Punk Kitchen fame has organized two online and all-vegan versions of Chopped (unrelated to the TV show) with amazing results. From the sidelines, I’ve enjoyed watching as people took their creativity and culinary skills to the maximum to work the four ingredients (along with any others from their pantry) to make kitchen magic happen.
The mystery ingredients for the brunch edition are: butternut squash, popcorn, fresh rosemary, and apricot preserves! I was immediately struck by what fantastic fall flavors those were followed up by wondering how popcorn was going to get twisted into a brunch option. After ruminating on corn, it hit me to use my favorite brunch ingredient which is also made of corn – polenta. It’d be like the crunchy peanut butter phenomenon meeting the world of maize, with the smooth, buttery quality of polenta against the crisp, corn pop of popcorn.
I added rosemary to warmed, creamy polenta and then let it harden in the refrigerator for several hours. Once firm, I cut the polenta into circles with a biscuit cutter and breaded and shallow fried it with popcorn that I ran through the food processor until it was in small chunks, but not yet flour.
For the butternut squash and apricot portion of the challenge, I wanted to involve some smoky, creamy flavors to marry the two. I used the apricot preserves to make a sweet and full-bodied barbecue sauce and spread it as a glaze on roasted butternut squash. Then the polenta was stacked with layers of the butternut squash and healthy dollops of light and airy cashew cream. The end result was an inviting stack any brunch-goer would adore.
With several steps involved from letting the polenta harden, to soaking the cashews for the cream (if necessary), and making the barbecue sauce from scratch, this isn’t your typical Monday breakfast. But with a little advance effort on Saturday night, it could make for a very decadent start to a Sunday. With cool cream, smoky and sweet barbecue sauce, and the crisp outer crunch of rosemary polenta, this stack brings decadence to the weekend.
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for oiling baking dishes
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
- 3 cups vegetable broth (or water + 1 vegetable bouillon cube)
- 1 cup De La Estancia fine grain polenta
- 2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
- Salt & pepper, to taste
(Note: De La Estancia polenta is a fine grain, quick cooking – but not instant – polenta. If using another brand of polenta, you’ll need to adjust the liquid and cooking time accordingly.)
Lightly oil two glass pie dishes or 8×8 casserole dishes and set aside. In a medium-sized pot, sauté garlic in extra virgin olive oil on a medium heat. Once translucent and fragrant, add fresh rosemary to pot and continue to sauté for another 30 seconds. Add vegetable broth to the pot and bring to a simmer. Once the broth is simmering, lower heat and slowly add polenta, stirring constantly. Continue to stir the polenta until it begins to pull from the sides of the pot, about a minute. Add nutritional yeast flakes and stir until fully combined. Pour even amounts of the polenta into the two oiled dishes. Top with salt & pepper to taste. Refrigerate the polenta overnight or for several hours to harden.
- 4 cups air-popped popcorn
- 1 cup rice milk or other plain non-dairy milk
- 1 teaspoon corn starch
- 1 batch Rosemary Polenta (above)
- About 2-3 Tablespoons canola oil for shallow frying
In a food processor, process the popcorn until it has crumbed into small pieces. Pour the popcorn onto a plate. Combine the non-dairy milk and corn starch in medium-sized bowl.
Heat a skillet with canola oil and bring to a medium to high-medium heat. Once the polenta has hardened in the refrigerator, use a small biscuit cutter to cut the polenta into circles. Dip each circle of polenta into the milk & corn starch mixture and then press the polenta into the popcorn on both sides. Set aside and continue with all of the circles. Put a small bit of polenta into the oil to check if the oil is ready. If bubbles immediately surround the polenta, it is ready.
Being careful not to overcrowd the skillet and working in batches, put several polenta circles into the oil. Shallow fry each side for about 3 minutes, until browned. Continue until all of the polenta circles have fried. Once fried, move them onto a separate plate.
Roasted Butternut Squash with Apricot Barbecue Sauce Glaze
- 1 medium-sized butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and sliced into ¼ inch thick rounds or slices
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 batch Apricot Barbecue Sauce (recipe below)
Preheat oven to 420 degrees. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Toss butternut squash slices with extra virgin olive oil in large bowl until evenly combined. Move the squash to the parchment paper-covered baking sheets, spreading them evenly across the sheets. Make sure they don’t touch and aren’t overcrowded, so that they will roast instead of steam. Roast the squash for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and flip the squash slices. Then brush a generous amount of apricot barbecue sauce onto each slice. Roast for another 5-8 minutes until fully browned and done. Remove from oven and set aside.
Apricot Barbecue Sauce
Makes about 1 cup
- 1 15 ounce can tomato sauce
- 2 Tablespoons water
- 1 Tbsp apricot preserves
- 2 teaspoons low sodium tamari
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon molasses
- ½ teaspoon vegan Worcestershire sauce
- ½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- ½ teaspoon hoisin sauce
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon liquid smoke
- Salt & pepper, to taste
Combine all ingredients in a medium-sized skillet. Bring to a simmer and then cook over a medium to low heat, stirring regularly for 20 – 30 minutes until the sauce has reached desired thickness.
Light & Garlicky Cashew Cream
Makes about 3/4 cup
- 1 cup raw cashew pieces
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 Tablespoon nutritional yeast flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon white miso paste
- 1 small clove garlic, chopped small
(If you’re not using a Vitamix or other high speed blender, soak the raw cashews in additional water overnight or for at least an hour. Drain them and continue as follows.) Combine raw cashews, water, nutritional yeast flakes, white miso, and garlic in a blender. Blend until smooth and creamy. Refrigerate until needed.
Polenta, Butternut Squash, and Cashew Cream Stacks
- 1 batch Popcorn Crusted Rosemary Polenta
- 1 batch Roasted Butternut Squash with Apricot Barbecue Sauce Glaze
- 1 batch Light & Garlicky Cashew Cream
- Fresh rosemary leaves, garnish
Once all of the above elements have been made, you can begin to stack them on each plate. First lay one shallow-fried polenta circle. Top with two or three circles of barbecue sauce-glazed butternut squash. Then top with a dollop of cashew cream. Top with another polenta circle, two or three circles of barbecue sauce-glazed butternut squash, and another dollop of cashew cream. Top with one more circle of polenta and a final dollop of cashew cream. Garnish with a pinch of fresh rosemary leaves.