Savory Kimchi Polenta

Kimchi Polenta
Kimchi Polenta Loaf: Slice and Bake/Fry

A dear friend came to visit for the week before my daughter was born in June, and she brought with her a jar of kimchi that was empty except for the brine. The jar sat there in my fridge door for two months while we tended the baby, worked, and visited family. I finally decided to put it to use a few nights ago, on a slightly cooler evening between climate-magnified heat waves. But instead of incorporating it into a sauce or dressing, as I would usually, I tried a new medium for that delicious kimchi pungency: polenta.

Finding The Veganomicon recipe for broccoli polenta in my mid-20s was a milestone in my kitchen history, and the dish has remained a favorite of mine, usually paired with a white bean-tomato stew and some fresh herbs . I often broil up a big pan of it when a friend comes to town, always to rave reviews, or when I’m craving something simultaneously sweet and savory, green and hearty, comforting yet slightly out-of-the-ordinary.

Combining polenta with the depth, heat, and acidity of kimchi brine felt like an obvious, if unusual, move. It was also a good way to advance two of my recent culinary aspirations:

  • Reducing food waste
  • Making the most of my recent bulk order from Maine Grains

But more on these points next week!

Kimchi Polenta

Add some heat and depth to the satisfying corn classic.
Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time30 minutes
Cooling Time (optional)3 hours
Total Time1 hour 35 minutes
Course: Appetizer, Main Course
Cuisine: Italian, Korean
Diet: Vegan
Keyword: Grains, Zero-Waste
Servings: 4
Calories: 200kcal
Cost: $6


  • 1 Medium or large pot
  • 1 Loaf, brownie, or muffin pan
  • 1 Skillet or baking tray


  • 1 jar leftover kimchi juice approx. 1/2 cup (or approx. half the jar of actual kimchi, in place of spinach below)
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup polenta
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce or liquid aminos, etc.
  • 1/2 cup frozen spinach optional


  • Pour the kimchi juice into a large measuring cup and add water to get 3 cups total.
  • Add the kimchi juice and water mixture to a pot and bring to a boil.
  • Gradually whisk in the polenta (or use a fork to stir it in), trying to avoid any big clumps or sticking to the sides of the pot. Stir in the frozen spinach, if desired, and boil on medium-high or medium for approx. 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
  • Remove from heat and stir in the sesame oil and soy sauce.
  • Transfer the mixture, while hot, to a bread or brownie pan. Use the back of a wooden spoon to press the mixture into the corners of the pan and flatten the top.
  • If you're short on time or want to eat the polenta soon, set the oven to broil and place the pan directly in the oven to crisp the top (this will leave the polenta soft and creamy inside). Watch it closely and serve hot after the top starts to brown/crisp.
    To make the polenta into baked or fried steaks (my preferred method), let the polenta cool partially on the counter and then transfer to the fridge or freezer if you want to speed up the cooling. When the polenta is thoroughly cooled, slice it into bars approx. 3/4 inch wide (or run a knife around the edges of the muffin tin and pry/tilt out the cups of polenta). Fry in a skillet with a little oil or bake in the oven at 400 for 20 minutes or until the pieces begin to brown/crisp.
  • Serve on a bed of greens (e.g., arugula) and/or with a side of roasted tofu/tempeh (east to throw in alongside the polenta steaks.

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