Creamy Polenta Sofritas Bowls with Black Beans

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I had many reasons to want to put these bowls together.  I have been dying for sofritas lately,  I also received my shipment of this very special corn meal I’ll tell you about in a minute and Cinco de mayo is coming!  What I didn’t expect is how amazing all the flavors are together!  Yumm!  I hope you will give this a try.  Let’s break this down.

Sofritas

Let’s start with the sofritas. The fast food chain, Chipotle Mexican Grill, added these spicy tofu crumbles to their menu in California in 2013 and it came to my home state of Arizona sometime in 2014. It has been a popular vegetarian option there ever since. My problem with it is the sodium level.  Why do they have to make it so salty?  And from what I have read, they were even saltier at first, but there were complaints so now it’s just salty, not mega-salty!  Uggh! 

Here is the breakdown of my go-to order at Chipotle – I get the salad bowl: Lettuce, sofritas, black beans, fajita veg, fresh salsa (pico de gallo), and red-chili salsa – 370 cals, 11.5g fat, 18g protein, 47g carbs, 1,985 mg sodium!!  That sodium amount is well over what an adult person should have in an entire day (1500mg)!  And quite a lot of fat (they use rice bran oil) for such a healthy seeming meal, too. If you add rice and any other toppings like sour cream or cheese the numbers are crazy! This is why I make it at home!  

Today’s menu deviates a bit because I just got this amazing orange corn product and wanted to use it. More on that in a minute.

What’s in a name? Sofritas comes from sofrito, a Spanish word meaning (loosely translated), “soft/gently fried.” In Spanish and Latin American cooking, sofrito is a combination of sautéed garlic, peppers, onions, and tomatoes often used as a base for stews, rice and beans, and even paella. Chipotle’s Sofritas takes its name (and some ingredients) from this culinary tradition. The dish contains braised shredded tofu, tomatoes, onions, garlic, chipotle chiles, roasted poblano peppers, and a blend of spices.  My version here blends the ingredients into a sauce first and then braises it together with the crumbly fried tofu and cauliflower combination.  I added fine chopped cauliflower because I had a ½ head that needed to be used, and I wanted to make a larger amount than my one package of tofu would do.  Both tofu and cauliflower are sort of bland and absorb flavors well – and so this recipe was born!

What About Tofu?

Are you on the fence about tofu?  I feel many of us are not fully on board, but if anything is going to get you on board it is this saucy, spicy simmering concoction that wakes up your tastebuds –  and that innocuous tofu soaks it all up and hands it back to you like a surprising gift that keeps you coming back for more!  There isn’t a bowl, burrito, taco or quesadilla that wouldn’t scream for this yumminess.

Some Tofu Notes

First, make sure you use extra firm tofu for best results.  Another tip: If you have the chance, it helps to empty your tofu of its water, and then place it in the freezer (in a sealed container of course) until frozen.  Then thaw it for an hour or so before pressing/drying and crumbling.  It may be a good idea to just have some tofu in the freezer at all times so that you don’t have to worry about it going bad and you can make things like these sofritas whenever you get the urge. The freeze/thaw action allows the tofu to give up more water and renders the texture a bit more conducive to crumbly fried bits.  But even if you don’t have time for freezing, make sure you press and dry it as much as possible before crumbling and sauteeing so it is easier to get those crumbles just right and it can soak up that sauce!

Let’s talk polenta…  

I recently learned about this company called Professor Torbert’s Orange Corn.  You should check out the link to learn more, but basically their mission is to improve the nutritional quality of the  foods people around the world eat every day.   They partner with HarvestPlus, a global leader in addressing micronutrient deficiencies and every purchase helps to provide more nutritious Orange Corn seed to farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, empowering them to provide for their communities.  They sell the orange corn meal in grits, meal and flour forms.  I used the grits for this recipe. Of course, any corn meal will work.  The creaminess of the polenta under the sofritas provides such a nice contrast and feels more southwest since this part of the world evolved on corn.

Black Beans

You can most certainly use canned black beans (see Notes in recipe card on how to fix them up), but I cooked dried beans in my Instant Pot.  You can cook your beans slowly on the stove as well – even more yummy.  Cooking the beans from dried may take a while, but not only can you do it the day or week before, but it is mostly hands off, requiring very little work, and well worth it!  But I totally get it if you just want to get this yummy bowl in your tummy and all you have is a can of beans.  I’ve got your back!

Pico de Gallo (Fresh Salsa)

Make that pico first…  You want it to have a little time to sit and marry all those flavors. Just fine chop onion, garlic, chile peppers (jalapeno, serrano, Fresno – whatever you have or want) and quarter a bunch of cherry/grape tomatoes.  I find these small tomatoes hold up better over time.  Add lime juice, salt and cilantro and stir it all up and let those veggies co-mingle in there and get all cozy and possibly marry while you make the rest of the combo.  I hope you’re ok with the loose instructions.  If you’d like more detailed instructions for my salsas, you can find it HERE.

FAQ’s

1. I hate the texture of polenta. Can I use something else?

Yes, of course! Rice (maybe some cilantro lime brown rice?) would be the most obvious option but I could see it over mashed potatoes, some other grain like barley or millet.  Whatever you may have around.

2. What are some other ways I can use sofritas?

Tacos – Choose your tortilla, warm it up, slap some sofritas and any toppings on it and there is your easy Taco Tuesday meal!  You’re welcome!

Burritos – Same here. Wrap this deliciousness up with some beans or rice or veg and hot sauce and there you have it. 

Crunch Wraps – Yes, it’s apparently a thing.  I first learned of it from Lindsay over at Pinch of Yum.  I’ve only tried it once, but what a fun indulgence!  Any leftover sofritas will work wonderfully to fry one of these puppies up! Check it out HERE.

Casseroles – Any dish where you might use taco meat, you can use sofritas.  Just layer everything like you normally would subbing sofritas for ground meat.  I promise it’s YUM!

As a topping for baked potatoes – Yep.  Just microwave your russet potatoes for 4-5 minutes, then place in a hot oven (450 F) for about 10 minutes to crisp up the skin.  Cut her open and spread warmed sofritas over the top. Feel free to add salsa or any other taco type toppings you desire. 

As a dip for chips – This is what I did since I was starving during the photo shoot for this meal!  Just dipped some blue corn chips right on in the sofritas bowl.  Not sorry…

I hope you make some version of this.  Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear what creations you make! 

Creamy Polenta Sofritas Bowls with Black Beans and Salsa

Creamy polenta gets topped with spicy tofu and cauliflower sofritas, black beans and all the fixin's for a delicious vegan dinner everyone will love.
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time40 mins
Course: lunch, Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: bowls, polenta, sofritas
Servings: 6
Author: Kiki Simpson, Healthy Sexy Kitchen

Ingredients

  • 14 oz package extra firm tofu press some liquid out and dry - see Notes
  • 1 cup cauliflower finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or oil of choice
  • 1/2 cup diced onion

Pico de Gallo

  • 2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons red onion finely diced
  • 1-2 jalapeno or serrano peppers minced
  • 1-2 cloves garlic finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro chopped

Sofritas Sauce

  • 2 chipotle peppers from jar or can - use less if you want it milder
  • 2 tablespoons adobo sauce from the can of chipotle peppers - use less if you want it milder
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth can use water
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup canned tomatoes fire-roasted would do well here
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup can sub any other sweetener or omit
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon chile powder I used ancho chile powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano preferably Mexican
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar red wine vinegar would work
  • 3 cloves garlic

Black Beans

  • 1 ½ cups cooked black beans
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil or oil of choice
  • ½ cup diced onion
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano preferably Mexican

Polenta

  • cups dried corn meal or grits
  • 4 cups water or broth
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Topping Options

  • Avocado
  • Cilantro
  • Pico de Gallo
  • Toasted Pepitas
  • Cooked Corn

Instructions

  • Slice your tofu in 4 pieces lengthwise and press between clean towels to remove as much liquid as possible. Let it sit while you prepare Pico de Gallo and chop your vegetables.
  • Chop your onions, peppers and garlic that you will need for all parts. This will be about ¼ head of cauliflower, 1 whole onion, 7-8 garlic cloves, 1-2 hot chile peppers, 2 tablespoons red onion and 2 cups of cherry tomatoes (quartered). Don't skip this since you will need to have everything ready to keep things moving.

Make the Pico de Gallo

  • Combine all ingredients together in a medium bowl. Stir well and let sit until ready to serve. Or taste test it a few times with some tortilla chips??

Start the Tofu and Veg

  • In a large skillet, add a tablespoon of water and the diced cauliflower, cover and steam over medium high heat until the water dissipates and cauliflower is slightly cooked, about 2 minutes.
  • Add oil and onions and begin to fry. Crumble the pressed tofu into the pan and stir well. Fry over high enough heat to start to brown the tofu, stirring every couple of minutes to prevent it from sticking. This could take 8-10 minutes. You want to tofu to be slightly crispy.

Make the Sofritas Sauce

  • While the tofu is browning, combine all the sauce ingredients in either a blender or food processor and blend until fairly smooth.
  • Once tofu is browned, add the sauce to the skillet and turn the heat to medium low. Stir until well combined and then cook slowly until some of the liquid is reduced.

Make the Polenta

  • While the sofritas are simmering... Boil the water with the salt in a medium saucepan and then slowly add the corn meal or grits, stirring/whisking well so there are no lumps.
  • Reduce heat to low and simmer, whisking often, until polenta starts to thicken, about 5 minutes. Polenta mixture should still be slightly loose. Cover and cook for 15 minutes, whisking every 5 minutes or so. When polenta is too thick to whisk, stir with a wooden spoon. Polenta is done when texture is creamy and the individual grains are tender.

Make the Black Beans

  • While the polenta is cooking (don't neglect it, though)... Saute onion and garlic in a pot with the oil for a few minutes, until translucent. Add cooked black beans with some broth or water, bay leaf, cumin and oregano. Use just enough water to allow the beans to cook with the aromatics and not burn on the bottom. Cover and let simmer, stirring as needed for about 5 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit until needed.

Make the Bowls

  • In a bowl, layer the creamy polenta, sofritas, black beans, pico de Gallo and any toppings of your choice. Serve while warm.

Notes

Black Beans - If you are fixing up a can of beans, make sure you drain and rinse them before adding to the sauteed onions and garlic.
If you are starting with dried beans, start with 1/2 c dried black beans, prepare the same way, but add enough water to cover the beans by 1 inch and simmer slowly (partially covered) until tender.  Add hot water as needed. This could take an hour or more depending on how old your beans are. This can be done well in advance (like days - or even weeks, if you freeze them after cooking).
Timing - The time given for this recipe assumes you are starting with cooked (or canned) beans and that you prep your tofu and vegetables first so it goes smoothly after that. 

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