November 14, 2011

Mexican Polenta Casserole with Avocado Cream Sauce

Last night I was craving Mexican food.

As I rummaged through my pantry and refrigerator, I realized that I didn't have tortillas, but I did have polenta, I didn't have black beans, but I did have refried beans, I didn't have salsa, but I did have tomato sauce, and I didn't have sour cream, but I did have avocados and cheese. 

I am going to let you in on a little secret.  I have a process that I follow when I am creating a new recipe.  For instance:

  1. A craving or idea comes to the forefront of my mind;
  2. I survey my pantry and refrigerator to see what I have on hand;
  3. I get a rough idea of what I might like to make;
  4. I research online and in my cookbooks for similar recipes; and
  5. Drawing inspiration from my research, I sit down with a pen, pad of paper, and my own ingredient list and create a totally new and unique recipe.
So last night, after following these steps, I came up with this casserole.  It is rich, filling, and has just the right amount of kick to it!

Mexican Polenta Casserole
Serves 4

1 tube polenta
1/2-1 C water
1 tsp cumin powder, divided in half
1 tsp chili powder, divided in half
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 C corn
1/2 C carrot, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1/2 can refried beans
1 4 oz. can of hot green chile
4-8 oz. tomato sauce
4 oz. shredded cheese


  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Slice polenta tube into 1 inch rounds.
  • Process polenta, water, 1/2 tsp cumin powder, and 1/2 tsp chili powder until smooth.

  • Heat oil in a non-stick pan.
  • Saute onion, bell pepper, carrots, corn, and salt until tender (approximately 5-8 minutes).

  • Meanwhile, heat refried beans until warm and smooth.
  • Add green chile to the refried beans, and stir until smooth.

  • Add tomato sauce, 1/2 tsp cumin powder, and 1/2 tsp chili powder to tender vegetables.
  • Layer casserole:
    1. 1/2 polenta mixture
    2. bean mixture
    3. vegetable mixture
    4. 1/2 polenta mixture
    5. cheese
  • Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.

Note: Next time, I would begin by cooking the bottom layer of polenta for 15 minutes.  The flavors of this recipe were spot on.  However, because the polenta was not cooked when I layered the casserole, it didn't hold its shape as well as I had hoped.  I think this could be easily remedied by pre-baking the bottom layer of polenta for 15 minutes at 375 degrees, and then continue layering the casserole accordingly.

As a side dish, both Bo and I had the casserole with a spinach, pear, and pecan salad.  YUM!

Bo's had blue cheese dressing!

Mine had Superfruit Vinaigrette!

Since we didn't have any sour cream, I decided to make an Avocado Cream Sauce to dollop on top of the casserole.  This sauce was delicious!  If you love guacamole, you will really love this sauce.  It is smooth, creamy, and has just the right about of "tang" to balance the casserole's rich and heavy flavors.

Avocado Cream Sauce
Serves 4

2 ripe avocados, flesh removed
2 scallions, diced
2 T lime juice
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cumin powder
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2-1 T vegetable broth, if needed


  1. Place all ingredients, except for the broth, into a food processor.
  2. Process until smooth.
  3. Add 1/2-1 T broth if needed for a smoother consistency (I added 1/2 T).
All in all, I think this recipe creation was a success!  As I mentioned in the note above, the only thing I would change is baking the bottom layer of polenta for a few minutes prior to piling on the rest of the layers.  Other than that, this casserole totally hit the spot and satisfied my craving for comforting Mexican flavors.

Question of the Day:

Do you ever create your own recipes?  If so, do you have a process you follow, or do you just "fly by the seat of your pants"?

Ally and Bo


  1. I'm more a fly by the seat of my pants. Recently Forrest[my son] brought me some fresh Venison. Knowing my husband usually dislikes anything 'wild', I was determined to come up with something his palate could handle. I ended up making what I called a 'stoup' Just a little of this and a little of that.[the secret ingredient being hot sausage]. Not only did he tolerate it he said he 'Liked it', which if you knew Mike is highly unusual. Usually I get an 'It's okay'. So needless to say I was exstatic

  2. Sounds like you did a great job of being creative with your secret ingredient, and combining it with foods you knew Mike would love. Good job! Coming up with new recipes is so much fun. Maybe I should try making my own "stoup" with lots of vegetables and vegan've got me thinking!