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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarians in Paradise
 Vegetarian Cooking with Zel

'Tis the season when summer foods like stone fruits fade from the menu. Taking their place are heartier, more robust items like grains and legumes that form the base of many wholesome dishes that bring warmth and satiety. While the dishes feature bolder seasonings, autumn's color palate offers plenty of drama for visual pleasure.

This voluptuous polenta dish, with its enticing eye appeal, was created when I happened to have on hand some homemade Hummus and Basil Butter. Notice that the Basil Butter contains no oil, yet still possesses the creamy mouth feel and delicious pungency of traditional basil pesto. To make this recipe come together with ease, prepare the Hummus and Basil Butter a day or two ahead.

An enjoyable and very hearty main dish, the polenta needs nothing more than a salad of mixed greens to accompany it. If you prefer to dress this dish with a touch of red, add a diced red bell pepper when cooking the Veggie Mountain. Alternatively, garnish with pomegranate seeds or a dollop of tomato sauce.

Polenta Veggie Mountain


Yield: 6 servings


    4 cups (1 liter) water
    1/2 cup (120 ml) unsweetened soymilk or nutmilk
    1 teaspoon salt

    1 cup (240 ml) coarse cornmeal (polenta)


    1 15-ounce (425g) can garbanzo beans, drained
    1/4 cup (60 ml) tahini
    1/4 cup (60 ml) fresh lemon juice
    1 clove garlic, crushed
    1/2 teaspoon salt

Basil Butter

    2 cups (480 ml) chopped zucchini
    2 cups (480 ml) lightly packed fresh basil leaves (about 4 ounces--115 grams), washed and patted dry
    1/2 cup (120 ml) raw cashews
    2 1/2 tablespoons red miso
    1 clove garlic, sliced
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Veggie Mountain

    1 large zucchini, diced
    1 yellow pepper, diced
    2 Indian or 1 Japanese or Chinese eggplant, diced
    1 cup (240 ml) chopped broccoli
    1/2 small onion, chopped
    2 tablespoons water
    Salt and pepper

    1 lemon cut in half (optional)

  1. TO MAKE THE POLENTA, have ready a large, round platter about 15-inches (40 cm) in diameter. In a 4-quart (1 liter) saucepan combine the water, soymilk, and salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Watch carefully to prevent a messy boil-over. Reduce the heat to medium-high and add the cornmeal. Stir frequently with a wire whip for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until the polenta is fully cooked and has thickened to the consistency of thick oatmeal. Spoon the polenta onto the platter and set aside to cool and thicken further.
  2. TO MAKE THE HUMMUS, place the garbanzo beans, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and salt into the food processor and process until thick and creamy. Transfer to a small bowl and wash the processor work bowl. Makes 1 3/4 cups (420 ml) hummus.
  3. TO MAKE THE BASIL BUTTER, combine the zucchini, basil leaves, cashews, miso, garlic, salt, and pepper in the food processor and process until smooth and creamy. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Makes 1 1/2 cups (360 ml) basil butter.
  4. TO MAKE THE VEGGIE MOUNTAIN, combine the zucchini, bell pepper, eggplant, broccoli, onion, and water, and water-sauté over high heat for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Add small amounts of water as needed to cook the vegetables and prevent burning. Season generously with salt and pepper.
  5. TO ASSEMBLE THE DISH, spread a generous layer of the Hummus over the cooked polenta, leaving a 3/4-inch (2.6 cm) border of polenta visible. Top with a generous layer of the Basil Butter over the Hummus.
  6. Spoon all of the cooked vegetables over the top of the Basil Butter, piling them as high as necessary. If desired, add a squeeze of lemon juice over the top. Alternatively, cut a lemon into 6 wedges, arrange the wedges on a small serving plate and serve at the table for anyone who might like to add a squeeze of lemon.
  7. Cut the polenta into wedges and remove to the dinner plates with a pie server.

Note: The advantage of Basil Butter over traditional pesto is its mild nature. The basil's flavor still shines through, yet doesn't overpower the vegetables, polenta, or the Hummus.

Suggestion: When using the Basil Butter as a spread or topping over pasta, baked potatoes, or whole grains, consider adding 2 to 3 tablespoons of lemon juice to add a tangy touch.

Leftovers: Hummus and Basil Butter are the makings of a seductive sandwich. Start by spreading whole grain bread or sprouted wheat bagel with a layer of Hummus. Top with Basil Butter. Then, finish with a thick slice of tomato and greens like spinach or romaine.

Click here for past cookingwithzel@home.comeonin recipes

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