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Even just a peek of this sunny yellow Creamy Mushroom Polenta in a bowl is enough to brighten those cold and frosty winter days! It is a thick and hearty vegan side dish made of a perfectly seasoned, porridge-like Polenta mixture. Served with a scrumptious mushroom topping complete with savory and umami flavors infused with a bit of sweetness. You can turn this Italian specialty into a main dish if you use it as a bed for some veggies or marinated tofu.
What is Polenta?
It is a Northern Italian staple dish made by boiling coarsely ground yellow cornmeal in liquid until it turns into a thick, creamy mush. You can say that Polenta is a centerpiece to many Italian meals. It’s a rustic recipe that is super quick and easy to make, naturally gluten-free, and quite customizable. It is rich in complex starchy carbs, which can make you feel fuller longer and boosts your energy levels. Polenta is also a great source of antioxidants which helps our body fight off certain chronic diseases.
It tastes like corn because that is essentially what it is made of. However, the flavor of your Polenta depends on what you make it with. The most traditional way to cook it is with water or broth, vegan butter, salt, and pepper. Our dairy-free version uses vegetable broth, oil, garlic powder, and salt instead. Also, Polenta can be used to make fried, grilled, or baked dishes because it firms up as it cools – just like in my Spinach and Pepper Polenta Pie and Polenta Scramble.
Ingredients Used to make Creamy Mushroom Polenta
- Polenta – though it is much more common in the US market nowadays, some might still find it challenging to find. In case you cannot get a hold of one, you can always use coarse ground cornmeal instead.
- Vegetable broth – gives the Polenta a more savory flavor. If you prefer making this with less sodium, you buy a low-sodium brand or use water instead.
- Oil – plus more for sautéing. You can use olive oil or any neutral oil. Vegan butter is a great option to add more richness to the dish.
- Garlic powder – I love a garlicky polenta but feel free to add your favorite flavors. Onion powder, vegan cheese, and other spice powders will work.
- Salt – to taste.
- Mushrooms – adds a meat-like texture to the dish.
- Miso paste – this thick Japanese paste has an umami, salty-sweet richness.
- Soy sauce – adds a savory flavor to the topping. You can use tamari to make this dish gluten-free.
- Agave or maple syrup – a dash of sweetness in the mix perfectly rounds up the dish!
Let’s get Cooking!
This creamy mushroom polenta recipe comprises two main components: the Polenta and the miso-sautéed mushroom toppings. You may prepare everything ahead of time, but it comes together quickly even if you don’t.
- Cook the Polenta. In a pot, combine the Polenta, vegetable broth, oil, garlic powder, and salt. Bring to a low simmer. Cook for about 25 minutes, or until the Polenta is soft.
- Make the Topping. Cook mushrooms for 1 to 2 minutes in oil until they are tender. In a small bowl, combine the miso paste, soy sauce, and agave or maple syrup. Pour into the pan with the sliced mushrooms. Serve on top of the Polenta.
Tips when Making Creamy Polenta with Mushrooms
- Cook the Polenta using medium-low heat only. Keep a consistent simmer until the grains are tender and the mixture has thickened.
- To prevent the polenta mix from lumping together or burning, stir using a wooden spoon frequently. Make sure to scrape the bottom of the pot so nothing gets stuck there and burns.
- If you overboiled it and it becomes too thick or lumpy, just add a little amount of the broth or water and whisk until you get the right consistency.
- Do not soak nor rinse your fresh mushrooms in running water to clean them. Use a wet cloth to wipe them clean instead. This ensures that your mushroom topping will not be watery.
- Do not slice them too thinly. They will shrink as you cook them, so make sure you keep them thick enough to still get that meaty texture.
- Cook the mushrooms using medium-high heat and leave them to sear in the pan for a few minutes. Do not get alarmed when they fizz and sizzle. This is because they are full of liquids that need to be released before they brown and caramelize.
- Use a large pan to make sure you do not crowd it. Too many mushrooms will cause the pan and oil to lose heat, causing them to steam instead of sear.
- Cooked Polenta. If kept in the fridge, cooked Polenta will last for about 3 days. Make sure to cover it with a layer of plastic wrap; otherwise, it will dry out quickly. For a longer shelf-life, it is best to store it in the freezer in an air-tight container for up to 3 months.
- Uncooked Polenta. Ground polenta that hasn’t been opened or cooked should be stored in a cool, dry place. If you keep it dry and free from moisture, it should last for up to two years.
- Fresh mushrooms. If you want to keep them fresh longer, keep them whole. You also need to transfer them in a paper bag or wrap them in paper towels and place them in an unsealed plastic or stasher bag. They should be good for a week before they get moldy.
Frequently Asked Questions for Creamy Mushroom Polenta
- Are Polenta grains and cornmeal the same thing? Polenta and cornmeal are both made of corn. The only difference is their texture. Polenta is coarsely ground, resulting in a less mushy finished product with more bite than cornmeal.
- Is Polenta the same as grits? No, there are significant distinctions. Grits are produced using white maize, whereas Polenta is created with yellow corn. Polenta is rougher and flakier than grits. Thus it has a chewier texture when cooked. On the other hand, grits are more refined and softer, and they become gelly-like when cooked.
- Do I need to soak Polenta before cooking? If you do have the time, yes, you can. The secret is to soak the Polenta for several hours in its liquid before cooking it. This step helps to properly hydrate, which reduces the cooking time significantly.
If you have leftover Polenta or mushrooms, try these too:
- Tomato Mushroom Polenta – Tomatoes, mushrooms, and Polenta are an unbeatable combo. The saltiness comes from the mushrooms and herbs, while the sweetness comes from the tomato sauce and Polenta. It’s all about what you’re looking for in a dish.
- Mushroom Pate – This mushroom pâté is a quick, easy, and tasty spread for crackers, bread, or sandwiches.
- Mushroom Stuffing – This vegan mushroom stuffing is creamy and crazy delicious! It only uses super easy to find winter veggies like celery, carrots, mushrooms, and onions.
Photos by Alfonso Revilla
Creamy Mushroom Polenta
- 1 cup polenta
- 4 to 5 cups vegetable broth
- 1 Tablespoon oil plus more for sauteing
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 8 ounces mushrooms
- 1 Tablespoon miso paste
- 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 Tablespoon agave or maple syrup
- Put the polenta, vegetable broth, oil, garlic powder, and salt in a pot and bring to a simmer. Cook until the polenta is tender about 25 minutes.
- Slice and saute the mushrooms in a little oil until they soften, about 1 to 2 minutes.
- In a small bowl, mix the miso paste, soy sauce, and agave or maple syrup together and add to the pot along with the mushrooms.
- Serve on top of the cooked polenta.
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