How to make Polenta

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What is Polenta? It's basically a porridgy dish made of cornmeal which Italian grandma's slaved over the stoves for, stirring constantly. The couple of times I had it abroad, I never had it as a porridge, but in its grilled form with a lovely, rich beef or lamb stew. The one time I had it in India, I was put off by it. Perhaps, I didn't go to the right place.

When you go to a store abroad and ask for polenta, they actually have special cornmeal just to make it. You get instant polenta which does not need so much cooking time and also regular polenta which needs the slaving over the stove mentioned above. Polenta is different from the typical cornmeal in 1) colour, it's apparently yellower 2) texture. It's a coarser grind of corn.

While it may sound easy for folks from North India to differentiate the different types of corn, someone like me, who's from the South, in most cases will have no clue about this grain. We do not have corn in the south. Also, no 'buttas' or ears of corn slathered in lime, salt & pepper and grilled over hot coal. Corn, cornmeal and it's other various forms are completely unfamiliar to me. The one time I tried making corn muffins at home, it tasted so off. My brother spat it out and said "that's the worst thing you've ever made!" So the bag of 'makkai ki atta' that I'd got lay forgotten in my pantry for a while.

Today, April 1st, besides being April Fool's Day, also happens to be my first day of unpaid holiday, which essentially means I'm unemployed currently. I woke up uncharacteristically early for a holiday and was twiddling thumbs when I thought why not try making this polenta thingy. I actually craved the taste of the polenta I'd had long ago and really wanted to know whether it would be possible with Indian fine grained corn.

I know myself well enough to realise, while the grandmamas may have wanted to slave over the stove, I'm more easy going when it comes to food. So I read around and figured, perhaps I could cut down on the stirring considerably and let it cook in its own steam. I was trying this for one person, me, as an experiment and so didn't want to waste too much of cornmeal if it didn't turn out right. This quantity serves one just right as a light meal with a salad. Like most starches, namely rice, noodles etc, polenta also tastes plain (but savoury plain), until you add butter, seasoning, cheese and have a good accompaniment. In my case, I topped it off with parmesan & chilli flakes and accompanied it with a salad of baby spinach & tomatoes in a light dressing.

Now, there is no need to ask me if I liked this thing, cos yes, I loved it. Or else, it wouldn't make its appearance here. Next time though, I'd up the quantity, have a bit of it warm & porridgy, cool the rest in a loaf tin to slice up and grill later. Also, it doesn't make sense to have something on the stove for 40 mins for just one meal. So I'd rather make 4 portions and have leftovers. The ratio of cornmeal to water would be 1:4 if you want a bigger portion size.

This recipe

Serves 1
Time: 40 mins

Ingredients for Polenta

1/3 cup  makkai ki atta / cornmeal
2 cups water
10g butter
Grated Cheese
Salt, Pepper/ Chilli Flakes


1. Boil the water in a saucepan which has a lid
2. Lower the heat to medium high. Add the cornmeal and stir with a wooden spoon
3. Keep stirring till the cornmeal does not sink to the bottom, but blends in with the water.
4. At this point you could see lumps, try and break them up, but its ok to just continue stirring.
5. Cover and let cook for 10 mins. Stir to release the parts sticking to the sides and mix everything together once again.
6. Repeat Step 5, 3 times.
7. Uncover the lid, it should look like a gloopy mix now.
8. Let it cook uncovered another 5 mins stirring occasionally.
9. Season with salt, add the butter and let it melt directly in the polenta.
10. At this point its cooked, you can take it off heat at your preference of consistency.
11. Spoon it out to a dish, sprinkle grated cheese and chilli flakes.
12. Serve immediately. It sets as it cools.

Points to Note:

- Since it's served warm, its best to have prep your salad while the polenta's cooking.
- The seasoning is very important, atleast to me, so taste and adjust your salt requirement.
- My salad had an olive oil and apple cider vinegar dressing, which when mixed with the polenta was heaven on a plate!

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