Green Split Pea Polenta

Back to the Cabbage Chronicles with another recipe for my Mother in lockdown. She confirmed that the ingredients were available in her pantry and this is my spin on using limited culinary pickings to make something, nourishing, wholesome and incredibly tasty. That uses cabbage of course. The idea here was to make a beautiful polenta square into a complete meal – although you probably want to add a salad or soup when serving!

Yield: an 8”x8” dish which serves 4-6 as a main plate; 10-12 as a side serving; 18-20 as appetizer-sized bites on a toothpick (see the variations below)

What you need:

  • 1 cup green split peas, soaked overnight in 4 cups of fresh water and drained
  • 4 cups water (not the soaking water, new fresh water)
  • 3 large slices of ginger or 3 bay leaves or 2 whole cloves of garlic (whichever taste you feel for)
  • 1 teaspoon mustard, olive or sunflower oil (Mom: yes, you can use a healthy tablespoon of olive oil for more decadence)
  • 1 teaspoon panch phoran (a combination of 5 seed spices, you can read more about it here)
  • 1 large rib celery, coarsely chopped
  • 2 small onions, coarsely chopped, about 4 oz
  • 4 cups coarsely chopped cabbage
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cups + 2 tablespoons corn grits (polenta), organic preferred

What you do:

  1. In a saucepan or heavy bottomed pot (3 to 5 quart capacity), bring the drained green split peas, ginger (or bay, or garlic – or hey: be daring, use all three!) and 4 cups or water to a boil. Hard-boil the split peas, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Skim off all the foam and scum that rises to the top and discard.
  2. Bring the heat down, cover the peas allowing a little space for steam to escape so it doesn’t boil over, and simmer low until the beans dissolve into the cooking water; about an hour and a half. Toward the end of the cooking time, lower the heat as needed and whisk semi-regularly so the pea goop doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.
  3. When you’ve reached the hour mark on the cooking of the peas, start the veggies. Pulse the onion, celery and cabbage in a food processor until finely minced. There should be about 2 packed cups of minced vegetable and everything should be smaller than the size of a grain of rice – but NOT liquefied – still keeping its water. Set aside.
  4. Heat a non-stick (read cast-iron) pan over medium heat. When hot, add the oil, panch phoran and minced veggies from the food processor. Stir and fry over medium heat until cooked and browned to your liking. Feel free to lower the heat as required so things don’t char. Also feel free to add more oil as desired for extra decadence. When the vegetables are to your taste, set aside.
  5. Get an 8”x8” baking dish out (or 2 loaf pans) and either oil them generously or line them with parchment paper. Set aside.
  6. Now the split peas should be ready. Once they are, add the salt and bring them back to a slow boil. Slowly whisk in the corn grits (polenta). Cook 15-25 minutes, whisking very regularly to keep the mixture smooth and lowering the heat to keep the mixture simmering (more like splattering) without sticking to the bottom of the pot. It will thicken into a batter-like consistency and then to a thicker and thicker paste. As it thickens, switch from a whisk to a spoon, bringing the mix up from the bottom.
  7. When the mixture is very, very thick, remove from the heat. Add the reserved vegetables from the pan and stir to mix throughout the polenta.
  8. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and spead out evenly. Pat down the surface as best you can. Let the polenta cool/harden. If you want to speed this up, you can refrigerate the dish once it has stopped steaming.
  9. Once hardened, release carefully from the baking dish by either pulling it out by the parchment paper or carefully inverting the oiled dish onto a plate. Cut into large squares or slices. Serve warm or at room temperature. You can also crisp slices by pan-frying, roasting or broiling them for extra surface crunch and creamy interior contrast.

Variations:

  • Make appetizers! Instead of using an 8”x8” baking dish, use a 9”x13” and spread the mixture thinner. Cut into cubes and then brush the cubes with oil and roast them in a 400F oven until golden. Pass out some toothpicks and let people poke a polenta!
  • Go Meditarranean: Use yellow split peas instead of green. Swap the cabbage for cauliflower and substitute 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds and 1/2 teaspoon sumac for the panch phoran.
  • Go French: Add a carrot and/or parsnip to the mix of vegetables and omit the panch phoran. Spice wise, use a teaspoon of Herbes de Provence. You can also add a bit of marjoram and/or tarragon if desired.
  • Go Eastern European: Use caraway and/or anise seed instead of panch phoran to spice. You could also swap the cabbage for rutabaga or celeriac (celery root).
  • Go North American: Use yellow split peas instead of green and seasoning salt instead of plain salt. Use butter-flavoured coconut oil. Lots of it. Omit the panch phoran. And instead of cabbage use peeled potato. Just because in North America we need more starch…

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