There’s something about stacked food that just screams fancy. These vegan polenta stacks would make an eye-catching entree for the holiday table or a dinner party. Vegan & gluten-free.
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 vegan 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.
Vegan polenta stacks with barbecued squash & cashew cream
This vegan polenta recipe is a modified and simplified version of a dish I originally made back in 2012.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 creamy polenta is 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.
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 vegan 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.
Vegan polenta stacks with BBQ squash & cashew cream
For cashew cream
- 1 cup raw cashew pieces
- 1/2 cup water + additional for soaking
- 1 Tablespoon nutritional yeast flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon white miso paste
- 1 small clove garlic
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
For BBQ delicata squash
For polenta stacks
- 1 to 2 Tablespoons organic canola oil or other neutral high heat oil for shallow frying
- 1/4 cup roasted pepitas
- 4 small sprigs rosemary optional
To make polenta
- Lightly oil two glass 8x8 casserole dishes and set aside.
- In a medium-sized pot, sauté garlic in 1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil on a medium heat. Once translucent and fragrant, add water and vegetable bouillon cube to the pot and bring to a simmer. Once the bouillon cube has disintegrated and liquid is simmering, lower heat and slowly add polenta and nutritional yeast flakes, stirring constantly. Continue to stir the polenta until it begins to pull from the sides of the pot, about a minute. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour even amounts of the polenta into the two oiled dishes. Spread it across the baking dishes, so that the polenta is in an even layer.
- Cover the dishes in plastic wrap, and refrigerate the polenta overnight or for several hours to harden.
To make cashew cream
- Cover the cashews in water and soak for several hours or overnight. Once you're ready to make the cashew cream, drain the cashews and set aside.
- In a blender, combine the soaked and drained raw cashews, 1/2 cup water, nutritional yeast flakes, white miso paste, garlic, and salt. Blend until smooth and creamy, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides as needed. Refrigerate the cashew cream until you're ready to assemble the polenta stacks.
To make BBQ delicata squash
- Preheat oven to 420 degrees. Line one large baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Lay the thinly sliced delicata squash on parchment paper-covered baking sheet and drizzle on 1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil. Toss delicata slices with extra virgin olive oil until evenly combined. Spread the slices evenly across the sheet. Make sure they don’t touch and aren’t overcrowded.
- Roast the delicata squash for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and flip the squash slices. Then brush a generous amount of barbecue sauce onto each slice. Roast for another 8 minutes until fully browned and done. Remove from oven and set aside.
To make the polenta stacks
- Bring a non-stick skillet to a medium-high heat with a thin layer of organic canola oil across the bottom. Use a 3 to 4 inch biscuit cutter to cut the hardened polenta into circles.*** (If you're making square polenta stacks, cut the dishes of polenta into quarters.)
- 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 if necessary, 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. (Add more canola oil to the skillet, if needed.) Once fried, move the polenta circles onto a separate plate.
- Now it's time to make each stack. First, lay one polenta circle on a plate. Top with two or three circles of barbecue sauce-glazed delicata squash. Then top with a generous dollop of cashew cream. Top with another polenta circle, two or three circles of barbecue sauce-glazed butternut squash, and finish with another dollop of cashew cream. Garnish each stack with a tablespoon of roasted pepitas and a small sprig of fresh rosemary (if using).
**De la Estancia polenta is finely ground and cooks quickly. If you use a different polenta, you'll likely need to adjust the amount of liquid and cooking times.
***If you cut the polenta into circle shapes, you'll have extra scraps of polenta leftover. You can fry/bake it later to eat on its own. Or if you don't want extra scraps of polenta, cut the stacks into large square shapes instead.
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