One of the many beauties of being vegan is that the Thanksgiving menu doesn’t have to be same-y. You’re no longer burdened with the mantra, “But this is the way we’ve always done it.” The main course can change every year. (Or if you’re like me, and you like to do multiple Thanksgiving trial runs, you can give several main courses a whirl.)
The main requirement for the Thanksgiving main course is that it screams autumn and abundance. Oh, and it should be pretty enough that it is worthy of that 6 o’clock position on the plate.
Without a doubt, this polenta recipe meets that requirement many times over. At a time of year when the fields of corn are dry and brown, this polenta recipe reminds you of a good harvest. It’s stacked with that fall-debutante, delicata squash, which has been glazed with barbecue sauce. The layers are finished with dollops of savory cashew cream.
Cutting into a stack gives a creamy, smoky, and sweet touch with every bite.
This polenta recipe is a modified and simplified version of a dish I originally made back in 2012. In that version, I encrusted the polenta in popcorn and made the barbecue sauce from scratch. This version is a lot more weeknight friendly and every bit as delicious.
When it comes to jarred barbecue sauce, there are loads of vegan options out there. Just make sure it doesn’t include Worcestershire sauce with anchovies in it. I used Kentucky Bourbon Barbecue Sauce from Trader Joe’s.
Generally, making polenta from scratch involves standing at the stove for 30 to 40 minutes, babysitting the polenta until all of the liquid gets incorporated into it. However, I always use De la Estancia polenta, which is finely ground. It’s not instant polenta, but it cooks very quickly. (That’s why it’s one of my favorite things to eat for breakfast.)
Once the creamy polenta is fully cooked, you just spread it across an oiled baking dish and let it cool in the refrigerator until it hardens into slabs. Then cut it into circular shapes using a biscuit cutter, and give the polenta circles a shallow fry until the exterior is crisp.
I think there’s something beautifully feminine about a circular shaped stack. However, that does mean you’ll have some extra scraps of polenta left over after you cut out the circles. You can either save those scraps for later, or you can cut the polenta into squares instead. With the square shapes, there won’t be any leftovers to repurpose.
(If you’re really short on energy or time, I’ve heard from readers who have used pre-made polenta sold in tubes for this recipe, and that’s worked well. In that case, just skip the “make the polenta” portion of the recipe.)
The smoky sweet barbecue sauce-glazed squash plays very nicely with the mild mannered polenta. And the roasted pepitas dotting the top of the squash adds a bit of crunch and nuttiness that finishes the dish beautifully.
This polenta recipe would make an eye-catching centerpiece dish for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or your holiday dinner party. While there’s a little bit of set-up work involved with making the polenta and cashew cream, it’s easy enough to get everything prepped ahead of time. Then once guests arrive, roast the squash slices, fry the polenta circles, and start stacking. Serve with greens, Brussels sprouts, or a simple salad.
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