Three Sisters Supper (Bean-Studded Polenta with Roasted Squash and Spicy Red Sauce)

Anything “three sisters” (beans, squash and corn) tends to turn Tex-Mex in flavor.  This was an attempt to break away from the predictable and use the classic combo in a fresh new way.  Indian-inspired spicing for some crunchy oven-baked polenta, perfectly roasted hot-and-sour squash and a hot-hot-red sauce to smother everything in.  It’s a very warming dish ideal for snow-days and sick-days of all kinds.  It is on the labour intensive side, so save the full spread for when there’s time to play in the kitchen.  When things are more rushed, the individual parts of the meal can be made independently and combined with other foods as desired.

Tip to get it all happening together: Make the polenta in the morning and refrigerate it through the day.  In the afternoon, prep the squash and bake it in the same oven as the polenta, rotating the pans from top to bottom at the half-way mark.  While the polenta and squash are in the oven, make the red sauce.

Yield: 8 portions

What you need for the polenta:

  • 2/3 cup dry white kidney  or Great Northern beans (or 2 cups cooked)
  • 3 bay leaves and a pinch of hing (optional, if cooking the beans yourself)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups unsalted vegetable broth, divided
  • 4 tablespoons sunflower oil, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon urud dal (optional)
  • 10 fresh curry leaves (optional)
  • 1-3/4 cups medium cornmeal (organic preferred)

What you need for the roasted squash:

  • 10 cups diced winter squash, 1/2″ to 3/4″ pieces, a 3-4 lb squash (the recipe shown here features Lakota Squash, a rather rare cultivar that’s hard to find unless you grow your own, Butternut or Kabocha would make a good and readily available substitute)
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons chaat masala (chaat masala is a hot and sour combination of spices, if unavailable and you aren’t up to Google a recipe, then curry powder, amchar masala or garam masala will make equally tasty although very differently flavoured substitutes)
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup

What you need for the red sauce:

  • 2 cups unsalted tomato sauce (home-canned preferred)
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 or 2 teaspoons Sriracha or Sambal Oelek (adjust the heat to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seed

What you do for the polenta:

  1. Soak the dry beans overnight or up to 24 hours in a generous amount of fresh water, enough to cover by 3’’-4’’.  Drain and set aside. DSCN1087.JPG
  2. In a pressure cooker, place the beans, bay and hing and cover with water by an inch or two.  Bring to pressure (or bean cycle if using an Instant Pot) and cook for 10 minutes allowing a natural pressure release.  Alternatively, you can work on stove-top and simmer the beans for an hour (or more) until very tender.  Drain and set aside.
  3. Generously oil or line a 9″x13″ baking dish with parchment paper and set aside.
  4. In a blender, liquefy the onion, garlic, mustard powder, turmeric, salt and 1 cup of the broth.
  5. In a 3 quart saucepan heat 2 tablespoons of the sunflower oil over medium heat.  When hot add the fenugreek, fennel, cumin and urud dal.  Stir and fry until the urud dal is reddish (if using) or until the cumin turns a shade darker, about 1 min.
  6. Add the fresh curry leaves (careful, they splutter) and then the onion mixture from the blender.  Bring to a boil and then lower heat, simmering until the mixture darkens a bit, 3-4 minutes.
  7. Add the rest of the broth and bring to a boil.  Remove the curry leaves.
  8. Add the cornmeal in a steady stream, whisking continuously to avoid clumping.  Bring the heat to low and cook at a low simmer 10-15 minutes, stirring often, until the mixture is very thick (and a spoon stands up in it).
  9. Add the cooked beans and stir to distribute evenly throughout.
  10. Pour/scrape the polenta into the prepared baking dish and allow to cool to room temperature.  Transfer to the fridge until set, a couple of hours.
  11. Preheat the oven to 410F and line an 11”x17” rimmed pan with parchment paper.
  12. Brush the paper with 1 tablespoon of the remaining sunflower oil.
  13. Remove the polenta from the fridge and cut into 8 equal squares.  Cut each square diagonally into 2 triangles.  Transfer the 16 triangles to the rimmed pan and brush the tops with the remaining tablespoon of oil.
  14. Bake 40-50 minutes, until as golden as desired.
  15. Remove from oven and serve.

What you do for the squash:

  1. Preheat the oven to 410F and line an 11”x17” rimmed pan with parchment paper.
  2. Toss all the squash ingredients together in the pan.
  3. Cook for 25 minutes, flip the squash pieces over and return to the oven for another 25 minutes.  At this point the squash should be cooked through with lots of golden and darker toasted bits.  Decide if it’s roasted enough or if they need another 5-10 minutes.
  4. Remove from oven and serve.

What you do for the red sauce:

  1. Put all the ingredients together in a small saucepan, stir and bring to a boil.
  2. Lower heat and simmer 30-40 minutes.
  3. Spoon generously over the polenta.

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