Soft Polenta: Soaked, Nixtamalized and Delicious

ng_softpolentaWhen I served a bowl of this soft, flavorful polenta, topped with simple marinara sauce to my two year old daughter last night, she dug in with enthusiasm even though she had never eaten polenta before. She then turned to me and said “Thanks for making this!” in her darling little toddler voice, doing so for the first time without prompting. I love serving dishes like this that get such sweet responses from my daughter.

The best part of it is that this polenta borrows from the wisdom of Mexico in soaking the corn in lime water to release locked up nutrients. Delicious, nutritious and traditional! And did I mention that it’s very frugal too?

And what did Joel and I think of it? We thought this was the best polenta we’ve ever had! It was flavorful in a whole new way. I’ve made many versions of polenta over the years, but I never got the gumption to try the Nourishing Tradition’s process of making polenta. When I read the several step process during my first run through of reading Nourishing Traditions, my jaw dropped. “How many steps is that?” It seemed overwhelming. It took for a kind commenter asking me about this process to push me into leaping into the project. I admit it. I was too nervous to try it at first, and just plain never got around to it later. I decided to use Sally Fallon’s method to make one of our favorite dishes, soft polenta, one which we haven’t made in a very long time.

Guess what? It’s easy!

Now that I’ve tried it, I realize I should have done it years ago, because it’s so easy! When each step takes 2 minutes, it’s hardly a hassle with a bit of planning. For those few minutes of time, I unlock a lot of nutrition out of the humble corn that we wouldn’t have gotten before. Another traditional practice added to our routine.

I will be sharing more about the benefits of this process in the next post, but today I want to wet your appetite with a recipe for soft polenta that both soaks it to further reduce phytic acid, and “limes” or “nixtamalizes” it to release the vital vitamin b3. This process actually made the polenta very flavorful, and super easy on the digestive system. I didn’t even miss the cheese we used to add!

If you aren’t quite ready for this process, here is a basis non-soaked recipe for it. But, when you get the chance, try this method! It worked well for us.

As I mentioned before, I’ve made a lot of polenta before and tried it a lot of different ways. I’ve found that the recipes using higher amounts of liquid are both more traditional, digestible, taste better and……. take longer to cook. The ones that have you add less liquid cook up much quicker, but won’t give quite as nice of a finished dish. This one uses the higher amount so will take a bit longer to cook (though you could reduce the liquid amount if you were in a hurry), but I find that it works out  just fine as I can prepare the rest of the meal while it cooks, as long as I remember to give it a stir here and there.

Polenta can be used in so many ways. It can be topped as simply as a drizzle of oil and a sprinkle of cheese, to a meaty tomato sauce, to a roasted vegetable topping.

Soft Polenta

-8 servings
Soaking in the lime water adds an almost masa harina taste to it. Since we used the vinegar, it gave a nice tang to it. Like I said, flavorful in a whole new way! Pour leftovers into a lightly grease loaf pan and stick in the fridge. This will get quite firm as it cools. You can then cut into slices and fry or bake into crispy little polenta toasts and top with a variety of toppings. Delicious!

    1 cup of lime water *
    2 cups of coarsely ground polenta

    1/4 cup of raw apple cider vinegar (this is what I used) or lemon juice, whey, buttermilk, yogurt,.

    2-3 teaspoons of sea salt
    1 onion, finely chopped
    2 tablespoons butter or olive oil.
    8 cups of water, chicken broth, or a combination of both

1-Carefully measure out one cup of lime water, avoiding contact with skin as it can be irritating. Mix with the polenta in a medium size bowl. Let sit at room temperature, covered, for about 7 hours. Then add the 1/4 cup of vinegar or other acidic choice. Now leave for 12-24 hours. You can start this the morning before you want to make this for dinner, to leave plenty of soaking time.

ng_limedcorn

2-When you are ready to cook it up, in a large pot, heat your butter or olive oil. When hot, add your chopped onion. Cook and stir for a few minutes then add 6 cups of the water/broth and salt. Place the lid on and bring to a boil. Meanwhile add two cups of water/broth to the polenta mixture and stir to combine.

3-When the liquid is hot, add the polenta mixture to it, and bring back to a boil, making sure to stir. Lower the heat and keep the polenta at a low simmer. Now it’s just a matter of time. Remember to keep stirring every few minutes (if you want to not have to worry about stirring so often, see this method. I decided against it because our “stainless steel” pans are cheap and things stick too easily to it). Cook and stir every once in a while for about 45 minutes. While this cooks, I make my sauce, and side dishes (salad, roasted veggies that sort of thing). By the time the polenta is done, I have everything else ready as well.

4-As you near the end of the cooking time it will start to thicken a lot more, you may need to stir more often to prevent cooking. When it is getting quite thick and harder to stir you know it’s done. 45 minutes worked great for us. Turn off the heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Then ladle into bowls. I like to let it to sit for about 5 minutes again at this point as it starts to firm up the more you let it sit. Then ladle your choice of toppings over it and enjoy!

ng_limewater1

*Lime water is from made from Pickling Lime ( calcium hydroxide). You can buy it here and other places on the net. To make, very carefully spoon about an inch worth of lime onto the bottom of a 2 quart size mason jar. Then fill with filtered water and stir. Let this settle for about 12 hours or overnight. After everything setttles back down, the clear water left on the top is the lime water (don’t stir the pickling lime back in! It’s supposed to fall to the bottom). If any gets on your hands, wash right away because it can be very irritating to your skin, and keep both the water and the pickling lime away from children. Store in a cool place.

KimiHarris

I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!

Comments

  1. KimiHarris says

    Christy,

    Cornmeal would normally be ground finer than polenta, but I have used it before to make “polenta”. It may cook a bit faster and need a little less liquid. :-)

  2. debbie says

    Quick question about the Mason jar – is it a 2-cup or 2-quart jar? I have never seen a 2-qt jar – but would be interested in having some! Do you have any suggestions where I can find gallon and half-gallon Mason jars?

    Something I learned from an Italian cookbook about polenta: it works best to combine the polenta in the cooking liquid (broth/water) prior to boiling. This keeps it lump-free. And I’ve had great success – although I admit that I have stood over my stove, stirring and stirring for 45 minutes! That recipe calls for 2 qts water, 2 cups polenta, 1 TB olive oil and 1 TB sea salt. I look forward to soaking it next time and seeing how it turns out. My family loves polenta!

    KH: A half gallon jar, or a 2- quart jar. Thanks for the clarifying question. The one in the picture is just a one quart jar as I only made a half recipe. Thanks, Pampered Mom, for the suggestions on where to get them! Azurestandard.com also sometimes has them.

    Oh, and you are right that “lump free” trick works great (I use it in this recipe too!).

  3. says

    Way to be adventurous! I must admit if it calls for lime water I typically avoid it…unless I can skip the step by substituting masa.

    Debbie – I would say by the picture it looks like it’s a quart jar (4 cups). A 2 cup jar would be a pint. A 2-quart jar would also be considered a half gallon. Ball makes a half gallon jar. I can get them locally at a few grocery stores, our local hardware store, or Farm and Fleet. We also used to get them at a Fleet Farm when we lived in another state. I couldn’t live without my half-gallon jars!

  4. Rosy says

    Is polenta the same as grits? I have a feeling they are, but I am not sure, maybe the are ground to a different size. I am curious to try this with grits.

    One of my fav ways to make grits is with shrimp. Cook up some grits(about the same as recipe above), add a little cheddar and melt it in. Top with a few garlic grilled/saute shrimp. Supper yummy, and makes you feel fancy. You could even add some chutney to this. I haven’t found one I like yet, but I have heard it was good too.

  5. says

    I’m thinking of grinding the popcorn I use for cornmeal in my hand grinder instead of my Nutrimill but I have never made polenta and don’t know what it’s supposed to look like. Should I just buy some the first time through and then see what I can come up with? This sounds really tasty!

    I have been really simplifying the foods we eat over the past few months- more lentils and chicken stock, less meat, bread, cheese, in large part inspired by your website. It’s a lot less expensive to eat quality beans and fats, prepared properly, than it is to eat a lot of quality meat, so that’s what we’ve been doing. Amazingly my husband, from whom I expected some resistance, if not any real complaining (because that’s not him) has said multiple times how much he is enjoying our “new” food. He was actually excited to hurry home to split peas and rice the other night! Your blog is lovely to look at and so instructive. Thank you for making it!!

  6. says

    Thanks for the informative post! I was not brave enough to try the lime water either but maybe now I will give it a try. Thanks for showing me the way! I can’t wait to make creamy polenta the healthier way!

    Rosy: Polenta is the same as grits, unless you have hominy grits, which is usually ground from white corn that has already been treated with lime (hominy).

    Lindsey: I just recently experimented with using popcorn to grind for polenta and I didn’t think the flavor was as good as buying the course ground dent corn (Like from Bob’s Red Mill). It seemed to have a bitter taste to it but maybe if you soaked it in lime water it would remove some of the bitterness.

  7. says

    Wow, this looks very interesting! I do have a question, though: if the lime water is irritating to your skin, is it really safe to eat?

    Your polenta looks delicious enough to cause any toddler to comment!

    • KimiHarris says

      Vicky,

      You voiced my question as well. This is the preparation method as outlined in Nourishing Traditions, which I respect a lot. So it’s probably just fine this way (I think they have also used this is canned goods too). But because they, in traditional societies, were also removing the outer layer from the whole corn when they limed their corn products, they would not cook in the limed solution, but would rinse it. So, it was traditional to rinse it. I am making boston baked bread today with limed cornmeal, and I did simply rinse it in a fine sieve and it worked great. So you could do this recipe as outlined, but rinse the cornmeal before you add the vinegar.

  8. says

    Honestly, Kimi, reading Nourishing Traditions has kept me from using corn too heavily. I don’t mind the soaking, etc. now that you explain how simple it is, but I haven’t really cared to try to find pickling lime. Where did you get yours from and was it expensive?

    We’ve actually never eaten polenta (are we weird?), but it sounds pretty good. I totally agree with you about doing why we should do the proper preparation for better nutrition (I just came here through your other posts on nixtamalization), but I mostly just avoid dishes that use dried corn of any kind (except for cornbread once every month of two, and I still soak it for phytates).

    We stick with either fresh or frozen kernels, and add them to our dishes only lightly. When we do want corn tortillas, I buy the sprouted ones made by Ezekiel Breads, and I assume that most of the nutritional issues are solved by the sprouting (maybe you can correct me).

    Anyways, thanks for bringing my attention to something I had been trying to ignore! LOL!

  9. sgl says

    basic chemistry says that a base/alkalai (eg, lime water) mixed with an acid (eg, vinegar) results in a salt. (table salt, sodium chloride, is only one type of salt from a chemistry perspective.)

    so, i’d guess the lime water removes the hulls, then is neutralized by the vinegar. hence the lime water that irritates your skin is no longer in its original state, but has been turned into some sort of salt.

    –sgl

  10. says

    I’ve owned Nourishing Traditions for 7 years but soaking corn in lime has always seemed like such a project that I’ve just never gotten around to it. I think you’ve helped me to finally get up the nerve!

  11. Eileen says

    Thank you for explaining the process, but I’m now wondering if you can “reuse” the lime by adding more water for a second batch? Or might that be too weak? Also, how do we dispose of the lime itself — is it OK for kitchen pipes or should it be thrown out in the garbage?

  12. Ruth says

    Hi! I have enjoyed looking around your blog, very detailed instructions and great pictures. I would like to know if I could substitute Masa Harina (and bypass the soaking process) in this recipe for polenta. Thank you!

    • KimiHarris says

      Eileen,

      Sorry I never responded to you! I just rinse the lime down my pipes. I sure hope it’s okay!
      I think you may just want to use the lime once. It’s very inexpensive anyways.

      Ruth,
      You can substitute Masa Harina for many recipes (though I recommend Organic as most unorganic corn is GMO corn), but I don’t know if it would for polenta bececause masa harina is very finely ground, while polenta is coarsely ground. Hope that helps!

  13. Gretchen Camilleri says

    Hi, I just made cornbread and polenta and used pickling lime as recommended in Nourishing Traditions, without rinsing it off.
    I did taste some of the corn before baking it and one night this week I developed croup. Was this from the pickling lime? I’ve heard it can cause respiratory problems. I was planning on serving this to company and now I’m nervous. Any help or answers??

  14. Michelle says

    I just purchased some of the Mrs. Wages picking lime off the internet. It is a powder form. How much do you use of the powder? You said in the recipe an inch-worth. And Nourishing traditions says something similar. Just wondering how to use the powder. Any help would be appreciated! Thank you.

  15. John says

    Some of you folks are confusing pickling lime with the green, citrus fruit. Pickling lime is a food-grade, edible chemical (Calcium hydroxide). It’s a white powder.

    Although it has the same name, it’s not the same thing as the green citrus fruit that’s used in pies, etc. They’re two completely different things that happen to share the same name. : )

  16. Another cook says

    Try cooking your polenta in a crock pot. Just add all the ingredients, stir, cover, set to high and walk away for a few hours. No endless stirring, no lava-esque explosions, no lumps. And you can cook it for a nice long time, which definitely improves polenta.

  17. Kezia says

    Hi Kimi

    I bought some of this pickling lime(I think) from an Indian shop its called fitkari there. I read somewhere online it was the same thing.

    Only this is in really big chunks. Can I still use it or do I need to somehow pulverise it?

  18. L.Z. says

    Do I have to rinse the lime out after 7 h of soaking and before adding vinegar or do I have to rinse the lime and vinegar out after soaking for 7h + 12h, or is it OK to just continue cooking with lime water being present? THANKS!!!

  19. Soccy says

    Hi Kimi

    I definitely want to try this recipe. I have a few questions, though. Do you rinse out the lime before or after the vinegar soak? Do you rinse the cornmeal at all? Your recipe doesn’t specify. I have only pre-ground organic cornmeal, so that’s what I plan to use. I hope it will turn out ok. Thanks so much.

  20. Christine Anderson says

    I found this post when I was reseraching nixtamalizing corn to make polenta. I am wondering if anyone has any experience nixtamalizing corn before grinding to make polenta as when I fresh grind corn for polenta, the hulls are still very present.

  21. says

    Some chemistry notes:

    1. You can make your own pickling lime, in theory, by roasting limestone red-hot in a kiln for several hours, driving off the carbon dioxide from the calcium carbonate and leaving only calcium oxide or quicklime; and then wetting it to make slaked lime (calcium hydroxide). I’ve never done this. It’s kind of dangerous, both because it’s caustic enough to eat your flesh, and because it produces a lot of heat when you wet it; but, also, any impurities in the limestone will end up in the result, and there’s no guarantee that what you end up with will be food-grade.

    2. Pickling lime (slaked lime) is NOT edible. It’s not poisonous, but it is caustic. As I said above, it can dissolve your flesh. If you dilute it with water sufficiently, it won’t hurt you any more than any other antacid, but in its pure form, it’s quite caustic. That’s also why it can cause respiratory problems: if you inhale the powder, it will eat your lungs.

    3. Lime is not stable in air over time, either in water or in powder form. It slowly absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and forms calcium carbonate (chalk). This is key to two of the major uses of lime: whitewash and cement. I imagine that if you kept it hermetically sealed (like in a Mason jar) this wouldn’t happen. But I haven’t tried it.

    4. Neutralizing lime with vinegar will give you calcium acetate, which is highly water-soluble and nontoxic (in the same toxicity range as salt or sugar), but which I imagine tastes horrible. I haven’t tried it.

  22. says

    Oh, one more thing: agricultural lime, which is also an alkaline white powder, is not the same thing. It’s calcium carbonate, not calcium hydroxide. It’s fine for adding calcium to your soil, but it won’t bind your paint, nixtamalize your corn, hold together your mortar, or burn your skin like pickling lime will.

  23. says

    Haha, I just read almost all the comments. It took me a while to figure otu that PICKLING LIME has little to do with green limes than it has to do with limestone. I’m going to try this out. I’m going through Nourishing Traditions and getting into the habit of soaking my grinas in order to avoid cavitities and be healthier. Thanks for blogging this. It clarified a bunch of questions up for me.

  24. Annette says

    I got “Pickle Crisp” granules at the store because I couldn’t find Pickling Lime. It’s Calcium Chloride. Would that work to make lime water too?

  25. Goldberry says

    I’ve read that corn can be nixtamalized using baking soda in place of pickling lime (but that it needs to soak longer). Do you think I would also be able to make this substitution for polenta? Thanks.

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