May Day found me blissful and grateful at the fitness spa Rancho La Puerta, arguably the first “eco” resort. The Ranch, as it is known by it’s legions of repeat guests was co-founded in 1940, by Deborah Szekely, who was in residence and celebrating her 95th birthday. The facilities and lodgings are sprinkled amidst world-class gardens. The Ranch practices sustainable organic gardening and resource conservation, and it leads the way in environmental protection and education efforts in the region.
I had been to the Ranch before, first about 15 years ago and then again last summer as a guest of Jill Nussinow, the Veggie Queen, who was speaking on nutrition. This time I was coming as the Visiting Guest Chef.
When I got my invitation to be a guest culinary instructor at the Ranch’s Kitchen that Sings, La Cocina Que Canta, it took me 10 seconds to answer YES! While I am a very good savory cook, I haven’t developed recipes for full meals in years but I eagerly took the the opportunity to do so.
Each of the two menus I put together was composed of a starter, salad, main, grain, two vegetables, and a dessert, and I was to use what would be in the Ranch’s organic garden that week. In fact, the students in the cooking classes go to Tres Estrellas, the organic garden that is right outside the door to meet Salvador Tinajero and pick the vegetables and edible flowers we used in class. Fresh!
I wanted to share one the recipes we made, sensational, easy and really delicious not-fried Millet Polenta Fries. It turns out that the alkalizing grain millet is thought to be the original polenta, which I like to dip in the Creamy Hemp Dill Dressing we made another night to dress the grilled radicchio The dressing is my variation of one by Chad Sarno in the Plant-Based Professional Course at Rouxbe. I made the dressing a bit more spa compliant and used more herbs to suit my taste. That’s the beauty of savory food. It’s easier to change these recipes than it is for batter-based desserts.
I am going to make these Baked Millet Polenta Fries for Mother’s Day. Maybe you will, too.
Oh, and not incidentally, the Ganache Glazed Chocolate Cake to Live For that was our dessert was a huge hit!
Baked Millet Polenta Fries
- 1 cup millet
- 3 cups vegetable stock, room temperature, more as needed
- salt and pepper to taste note: most commercial broth is salty; do not add salt
- Optional: For flavored fries: add aromatics, to the broth such chili flakes, cumin, curry to taste Oil or oil spray for the pan and top of the fries
Dry toast millet in a heavy bottom medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly for 3 to 4 minutes, until the millet is lightly aromatic and just starting to make popping sounds. Remove from the heat.
Pour the millet into a fine mesh strainer-- do not wash the saucepan – and rinse the millet until the water runs clear.
Pour the millet back into the saucepan. Add the stock, and spices if using, and heat to a boil over medium high heat. When the liquid boils, lower the heat to a simmer. Cover, leaving the lid ajar and simmer 25 to 30 minutes, or until all of the liquid is absorbed. Remove the cover a few times and stir while the millet cooks. Add more stock if the millet seems dry before it is finished cooking to creamy.
When the millet is cooked, turn off the heat and allow to stand for 5 minutes, covered. Lightly oil or spray the sides and bottom of a 9x9-inch baking pan.
Spoon the polenta into the pan. Smooth the top with a damp spatula. Set aside to cool and set, which will happen in 15 to 20 minutes. Refrigerate 15 to 30 minutes until cold. The top will feel firm. Preheat the oven to 450°F while the polenta sets, or refrigerate at this point for up to 2 days.
Cook the fries: Line a baking sheet with parchment. Oil or spray lightly.
Loosen the sides of the polenta from the pan. Turn the pan over onto a cutting board. The bottom of the polenta will be damp. Cut the square into quarters, and them cut into sticks of your preferred size.
Use a spatula to transfer the sticks, bottom side up, to the prepared pan leaving a bit of room between. Spray lightly with a cooking spray. Bake 15 minutes, remove from the oven and carefully turn the fries over. Bake another 10 minutes. Repeat until the fries are lightly browned edges and crispy.
Serve hot with any sauce or dipping condiment.
The set polenta can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.