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It took several months of seeing polenta on the grocery store shelves throughout Chile before breaking down and buying some for our meals. I don’t have an aversion to polenta. Not at all. I love polenta, but for some reason, I just don’t cook with it very often. But all that has changed now since I whipped up this Mexican Polenta Bowl while visiting Parque Patagonia, one of Doug Thompkins parks along the Carretera Austral in Chile. It was the only nature park in all of Patagonia that we could find where we could visit with Sora.
The park was not near anything and located along a horrible, rocky, dusty, hilly gravel road. It took us hours to “cycle” ten kilometers. I put cycle in quotation marks because what we really did was push. We pushed for hours. As soon as we descended a hill, we had to get off our bikes and push uphill. We couldn’t even pedal down some of the downhills because they were so slippery, and in fact, I took a pretty epic spill down a particularly steep hill.
It seemed we would never arrive to this park. There were no signs and few cars. There was nothing around except guanaco, the Patagonian cousin of the llama and alpaca.
We really hoped that we were on the right path.
What seemed like hours later, we arrived at the park entrance, where we were informed the campground was located another several kilometers down an even worse road than what we had just traveled. This road was rocks. Big rocks over which we had to drag our bikes, after having already dragged our bikes over shitty roads for hours.
We were less than amused. I rebelled and followed the guanaco path through the field. I didn’t care if they came and told me I had to take the dirt road. I would tell them to make a navigable road, with a few choice words.
Fortunately, no one even saw us on the guanaco path, but it did take us about 45 minutes to travel just a few kilometers. Gotta love bike pushing.
I will say that the effort led us to one of the most beautiful campsites we have ever seen. Completely isolated in the middle of the park with wild guanaco prancing around, views of the hillsides off in the distance, and without a doubt, the most delightfully clean camp showers I have ever seen that let out wonderful hot water.
By the time we arrived, I was exhausted and the last thing I wanted to do was make dinner, but we had to eat. Fortunately, I had been able to find black beans in the last big town through which we had traveled. Canned beans are not always easy to come by in South America. Or, often if we do find them, they also have some sort of pork product ruining my thrill of finding beans I don’t have to cook from scratch.
I also had and onion, pepper, tomato and avocado. And the polenta. All the ingredients to test out a Mexican polenta bowl. It would be fast, easy, and filling. Win, win, win.
Polenta is a perfect cycle touring food.
It’s quick to make.
Best of all, I knew it would come together in a snap. An easy sauté of the veggies and 15 minutes cooking the polenta and dinner would be ready. Maybe even before night hit. I was so pleased with how well this meal came together. It was flavorful and required hardly any effort. Score.
It’s since become a touring staple that I’ve made countless times…when I can find canned black beans…
I hope you enjoy this Mexican Polenta Bowl!
- 1 cup polenta
- 4 cups water
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 yellow onion diced
- 2 cloves of garlic minced
- 1 hot pepper whatever kind you like, depending on how spicy you like things, minced
- 1 green bell pepper diced
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
- 1 cup of tomatoes about 2-3 tomatoes, depending on the size
- 1 15- oz can of black beans drained and rinsed
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Bring water to a boil. Once it's boiling, add the salt and olive oil.
- Add the polenta in a stream (as shown in photo), turn the heat down to low and stir frequently with a wooden spoon. Cover when not stirring and prepare your vegetables in between stirring. I'm too impatient to allow the polenta to cook for longer than 15 or so minutes, but if you want to leave it for longer, it will get creamier.
- Set aside and cover while you cook your vegetables.
- Sauté onion, garlic, and hot pepper together in a pan. Stir frequently until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Add the pepper and sauté another 4-5 minutes.
- Add the cumin and chili powder and stir until everything in the pan is coated, about 1 minute.
- Add the tomatoes along with the black beans and 1/4 - 1/2 cup of water and bring to a simmer. Let simmer for a few minutes until the tomatoes have released some of their juices.
- Serve over the polenta in a bowl and top with sliced avocado.
If the polenta solidifies by the time your veggies have finished, return to heat and add a bit of water and stir.