Tag Archive for vegan comfort food

Polenta Fries {Vegan Gluten-Free}

There is a photograph of me, somewhere, in a dusty old album, probably at my dad’s place, a grinning 2-year-old, happily splashing in the surf at Long Beach near Tofino.

We were there for a family vacation, and showed my true colours early—any time I was in the water, I was happy.

It was a long time until I came back to this happy, wild place, on the coast of Vancouver Island as an adult.

Polenta Fries

I ate breakfast in the glowing early sunlight of the dining room at The Wickanninsh Inn, jutting out over the waves, watching the surfers make their first chilly forays into the Pacific.

I wandered the beach in my wellies, turning over stones and snapping photos of green anemones. I inhaled deeply the air, tinged with salt, and marveled at the patterns that the retreating ocean made on the wet sand.

Tofino is so much of what I love about living here in BC.

Getting there is a challenge; from Vancouver, you have to take a ferry to Nanaimo, then drive a barren rollercoaster of a road, that is not for the faint of stomach. And then you get to the end of the road. Literally. It stops, and there’s a “T.” Left takes you to Uclulet, and right, Tofino. This little town is famous for its hippies, its wild nature, its beaches, and its food.

As you might expect with any town perched on the edge of the ocean, seafood is plentiful and fresh here. The food in general is thoughtful and made with lots of love. Tofino is also home to one of Canada’s top restraints, The Wolf in the Fog.

But my favourite spot is SoBo. The first time I was there, a few years ago, Chef Lisa Ahier took care of us as her special guests. We were to arrive at happy hour for some of her famous hand-squeezed lime margaritas and some snacks. What followed was dish after dish after dish from the kitchen, some great stories, and gastronomical delight.

In my cookbook, I describe Chef Ahier as “one of my personal heroes.” Female-owned and run restaurants are not the norm in the industry, and she’s been doing it for a while. She started out as a food truck owner, and, in fact, her purple food truck still runs today in Vancouver (she sold it to the folks to now run it as Il Centro).

Her bricks-and-mortar location just behind the bakery in Tofino is a must-try. It’s very vegan- and vegetarian-friendly, and everything is made from scratch.

This was the first place I ever had polenta fries.

Polenta is a kind of cornmeal mush or porridge, popular in Italy. There you’d have it in the place of pasta, served in a pool, with a tomato sauce over, or, my favourite, sautéed mushrooms (a la Ottolenghi).

But if you have leftovers, you simply spread the hot polenta in thinnish layer overnight in a cake pan and refrigerate.

The next day, it will have coagulated into a solid mass that you can now cut and shape. I’ve had vegan “egg” sandwiches made this way—they do them this way at a Vancouver eatery called “The Wallflower”—but mostly, I just like to make them into fries.

When rolled in a little additional cornmeal and shallow-fried in hot oil, the “fries” come out perfectly crispy on the outside, but warm and gooey on the inside. They are creamy and crispy all in one bite. It’s kind of amazing how creamy the polenta is, without the addition of either butter or cream. This is partly due to the aquafaba, but also due to the fact that I use part cornflour (which is a finer grind of cornmeal) and cornmeal, which gives it its signature texture.

You can serve whatever dipping sauce you like with these, a marinara would be nice, though I’d recommend something creamy. At SoBo, it’s a Caesar Salad dressing. I mostly serve mine with a chipotle mayo.

Big thanks to my dear friend, Farzana, whose idea it was to make these for you.

Polenta Fries {Vegan, Gluten-Free}

(recipe from my cookbook, Aquafabulous! 100+ Egg Free Vegan Recipes Using Aquafaba)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup water or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup non dairy milk (unsweetened, and unflavoured)
  • 1/4 cup aquafaba
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup corn flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal (divided)
  • 2 1/2 tsp vegan butter
  • oil for frying
  • dipping sauce of your choice

Method:

  1. In a medium saucepan, bring the vegetable stock and the salt to a boil.
  2. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer and slowly add the corn flour, a little at a time, whisking continuously. It’s important to do this so you don’t get lumps. You could also sift the cornflour into the vegetable stock if you like.
  3. Now add 1/4 cup of cornmeal, using the same method. The polenta will quickly thicken and get very “bloopy.”
  4. Remove from heat and stir in vegan butter. Set aside for a moment while you prepare the pan.
  5. Lightly oil an 8” x 8” cake pan. Spread the polenta into the pan, and smooth the top with a spatula. Place in the fridge to set overnight.
  6. The next day, remove from the fridge and carefully flip upside down onto a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, slice into “fries.”
  7. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan, and wait for the old to begin o shimmer to know it’s hot enough.
  8. While the oil is heating add the remaining 1/4 cup of cornmeal to a shadow dish, and toss the polenta fries in it to coat.
  9. Cook the fries in the hot oil, being sure to flip them until the are crispy and browned on the edges. Drain on paper towel, hit them with a little extra sea salt, and serve hot with your favourite dip.