Frugal Black Beans and Polenta
6 cups water (plus about 3/4 cup)
2 cups dry cornmeal grits (polenta) or cornmeal
sea salt and pepper, to taste
vegetable oil, as needed
1 (15 ounce) can black beans
1 1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
cayenne pepper, to taste (I use 1 teaspoon)
1 1/2 teaspoons flour, optional
1 For polenta, bring the 6 cups water to a boil with about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Slowly pour in the polenta, a little at a time, stirring as you add to prevent lumps. Bring the polenta down to a simmer and stir frequently with a wooden spoon until very thick and comes away from the sides- about 30 minutes.
2. Lightly grease a casserole dish or bowl with the vegetable oil (cooking spray works as well). Check to make sure your polenta is fine for seasoning (but keep in mind even if it tastes a little bland that the sauce will add flavor). Spoon the polenta into this prepared dish (it should be impossible to pour easily) , and smooth out so you have an even surface; let sit about 10 minutes.
3. After 10 minutes, divide the portions into four and slice each portion to make nice little pieces (cubes could be a fun change from the norm), place on dishes to prepare to serve.
4. For black bean sauce, pour beans into a saucepan. Add the tomato paste and 3/4 cup water. Add the cayenne pepper Simmer, and add flour to thicken, if needed. The sauce will be very thin otherwise.
5. When heated through, spoon on top of the sliced polenta. I usually spoon plenty of liquid on top so that it soaks through the polenta. Yummy!
For timing, I usually start the sauce about 5 minutes before the polenta will be done (25 minutes into the cooking of the polenta). You could easily use prepared polenta for this recipe; just lightly oil a frying pan and fry round slices and then top with the black bean sauce. In addition, you could always fry the sliced polenta if that's what you'd like. To thicken, if you don't want to use flour, it's possible to puree some (or all) of the black bean sauce. Ideas for additions include: adding chopped onion, omitting the tomato paste and adding salsa instead, adding chopped cilantro, adding a can of chopped or whole tomatoes (you'll want to omit the water if that's the case), and adding grated soy cheese on top. This costs approximately 75 cents a head to make and is very filling.