Friday, August 23, 2013

Three Bean Mexican Stew with Polenta Croutons

This meal that grabs the attention of carnivores, vegans and vegetarians alike. It's a thick, hearty and pleasantly spicy stew. Corn, carrots and a bit of honey balance the heat from a poblano pepper. Smoked paprika and a medley of  subtle spices lend warm layers of flavor, rounding out the stew. There are plenty of beans for protein and substance. A little polenta is used to thicken it and make it more luscious.

Wonderful with some diced scallions and toasted pepitas on top, it's equally good served with sliced avocado, lime wedges and topped with polenta croutons. The croutons make this meal extra special. They're crispy on the outside and soft in the center. The stew is cooked in a Dutch oven. You can place the Dutch oven directly on the table and spoon it into deep bowls with a variety of serving options for people to choose from. The cooler weather is coming, making us yearn for comforting, one pot meals like this. I hope you'll try this fun, nutritious and satisfying recipe.

Three Bean Mexican Stew with Polenta Croutons Recipe 

Some Notes:

This vegan recipe makes an entire pot full and reheats very well for workweek dinners and lunches. But, in place of some of the beans, you can add some chopped white meat chicken to please every appetite.

This stew is started on the stove top and finished in the oven so everything mellows and melds together.
If you serve this stew with rice, you'll have a complete protein.

Don't get hung up on searching for all the spices. Add all of them or just some of them. I highly recommend the cinnamon, smoked paprika and oregano. If you like the taste of ground cumin, stir in a few pinches of it too. The idea is to create warm, subtle layers of flavor from the spices.

Most veggie and bean stews need some sort of thickener to make them rich, luscious and hearty. I love a bit of instant polenta in this stew. But masa harina will work too. These are both wheat-free thickeners.

Pomi tomatoes are what I use in most of my recipes now. They're 100 percent Italian tomatoes with no added fat or sodium. A 28 ounce can of quality chopped tomatoes will work too. If you use salted canned tomatoes adjust the salt accordingly.

You'll Need
  • 2 bell peppers, chopped. You pick the color. I used red.
  • A handful of baby carrots or 3 large regular carrots, chopped.
  • 2 medium yellow onions, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno or poblano pepper, seeded and diced. I used a poblano. Leave the seeds in if you want it spicier.
  • 1/2 of a one pound bag of frozen corn
  • 4 small to medium size zucchini, chopped
  • 1 lime 
  • 2  dried bay leaves (optional). Remember to remove them before serving.
  • A couple of good pinches of smoked paprika.
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • A few pinches of ground cinnamon
  • A dash of allspice (optional)
  • A few saffron threads, 6-8 (optional)
  • A generous drizzle or two of honey to balance out the spicy flavors.
  • 1 26.46 box of Pomi chopped tomatoes or a 28 ounce can of quality chopped tomatoes. 
  • 3 15-16 ounce cans of beans, your choice. I used black beans, kidney beans and chickpeas (garbanzos). Rinse and drain the beans before adding them to the stew.
  • Olive oil for cooking
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Instant polenta or masa harina to thicken the stew. I used about 1/4 cup. The more you use, the thicker the stew will be. Start with two tablespoons and add more to your liking.
  • To serve: Limes, cilantro, diced scallions, diced avocado, corn chips, toasted pepitas, sour cream, creme fraiche, rice and/or my polenta croutons (recipe below).

The Rundown:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a large Dutch oven, saute the onions, peppers, chili pepper and carrots with sea salt and olive oil until they start to soften. Then stir in the zucchini, beans, corn, spices and bay leaves with more salt. Add the tomatoes and honey. Add just enough water to cover the veggies. Adjust the salt. Bring to a boil and then place in the oven for 30 minutes. Take out of the oven stir in a couple of tablespoons of instant polenta or masa harina to thicken the stew. Finish with a couple of squeezes of fresh lime.

Meanwhile make the polenta croutons: Follow the instructions on one package of instant polenta. I used one 17.6 ounce package of Pastene Instant Polenta, imported from Italy. Before cooking it, reserve about 1/4 cup to thicken the stew. I used about three scant cups of polenta for the croutons, almost the whole package, again reserving a little of it for thickening the stew. Once the polenta is fully cooked, spoon it out into a thin layer in a large baking dish coated with olive oil. Once it has cooled and hardened, cut the polenta into small, crouton-size squares and pan fry in olive oil. Pan fry the croutons until they're crispy on the outside and soft in the center. Serve them sprinkled over the stew. Enjoy!

More Recipes From Jilly:

Crispy Broccoli Cheddar Jalapeno Quinoa Fritters. A Healthier Riff on Jalapeno Poppers


  1. Jill, this is such a comfort food! Love the Mexican flavors infusing the beans, chopped bell peppers, carrots, onions and other veggies - all in one stew. And polenta is my best friend!

    1. Thank you so much Julia...coming from you this is a compliment as you're the master of comfort food. The new look of your blog is wonderful too!