This Vegan Cheese Polenta with Pesto + Chickpea will be ranked one of the best dishes eaten in your household, believe me! It's based with creamy dairy-free polenta, followed by a tasty homemade pesto sauce, and topped with roasted chickpeas that creates a beautiful texture. This dish surely boasts of bold flavors that marry so well together for one great bowl of goodness. All vegan. Gluten-free, make ahead, + nut-free options.
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Creamy polenta is always a thing that I'm into, although I grew up eating mostly grits. I know that most people aren't as confident that polenta can actually get as ultra creamy as grits, however, this recipe changes your mind! This Vegan Cheese Polenta with Pesto + Chickpea is by far on my favorite things to make in my house around this time of the year and it's a great meatless option for any looking to slowly transition into a more plant-based and/or vegan lifestyle.
This recipe is loaded with healthy plant-based ingredients, including spices and dried herbs, for a cheesy and savory combination you'll love. Paired with a delicious pesto sauce and roasted chickpeas, you have a well-rounded vegan dinner the whole family will enjoy----adults and kids alike.
How to Make Vegan Cheese Polenta with Pesto + Chickpea
To make the chickpeas, you'll toss together the drained + rinsed chickpeas with the olive oil and other seasonings until coated well. Add them to a baking sheet and allow to roast in the oven for 15-20 it until crisp and golden.
Then make your pesto sauce easily by adding everything to a food processor, store in a jar in the fridge until ready to use. Finally, add the polenta to the stovetop with the veggie stock, milk, and seasonings--allowing everything to boil and then simmer as your whisk.
Once done, assemble everything onto a plate or bowl and enjoy!
Ingredients for Vegan Cheese Polenta with Pesto + Chickpea
The three components for this vegan creamy polenta recipe are: the roasted chickpeas, homemade pesto, and the delicious polenta itself.
Here’s what you need to make this Vegan Cheese Polenta with pesto + chickpeas:
Chickpeas. Remove as much moisture from the chickpeas as possible for the crispiest texture.
Dried herbs and spices. I love a combination of salt, black pepper, smoked paprika, garlic, oregano, basil, cumin, etc.
Olive oil. You can also use Grapeseed oil or coconut oil as well. Also, a must in any great pesto.
Basil. This leafy green has bold earthy flavor. You can also add in kale or spinach for a nice leafy green + herb balance.
Walnuts. These are soft enough to blend easily into your pesto to make it fluffy and creamy. For a nut-free option, you can use seeds (i.e. pumpkin, sunflower, etc).
Garlic. I recommend fresh---about 4 cloves will do!
Lemon juice. This helps preserve the bright green color and adds a bright note of citrus.
Nutritional yeast. This helps to give the sauce a “cheesy” flavor. However, if you aren't making this fully vegan, you can use parmesan cheese, mozzarella, etc.
Red pepper flakes. this is optional, but I like bit of heat.
Vegetable stock. You can also use water if you're out of stock, but you may need to season your polenta a bit more with salt.
Plant-based milk. You can use any fave dairy-free milk you like.
Polenta. Use organic corn for the best flavor.
Vegan butter. I like Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks for cooking and baking.
Nutritional yeast. I love using nutritional yeast for a nice "cheesy" flavor, however, you can always use dairy-free cheese shreds.
Garlic powder and salt. For a bit of flavor.
Traditionally, pesto contains nuts. However, you can substitute the walnuts in this recipe with sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds for a nut-free version.
SHOP MY FAVORITE TOOLS FOR COOKING, ESPECIALLY FOR THIS DISH!
Here, I’ve curated a list of cooking + baking essentials that I use to achieve my favorite baked goods or cooked meals, especially with this Vegan Cheese Polenta with Pesto + Chickpea. Everything from my fave baking sheet, parchment paper, food processor, high-powered blender, skillets, and more. SEE THEM HERE!
Why Chickpea? Any Health Benefits?
For those of you who aren’t aware, another name for Chickpeas are Garbanzo Beans. Despite the most recent craze, chickpeas have been around for thousand of years and originate from the Middle East.
Chickpeas have such a great texture and nutty flavor, which allows them to successfully pair well with a lot of other ingredients, especially in vegan and/or vegetarian recipes.
When it comes to the health benefits of Chickpea, here a few awesome reasons why you should probably add this simple ingredient to your diet more often:
Packed with Nutrients + have a moderate amount of calories!
Rich in Plant-Based Proteins!
Support Blood Sugar Control.
Full of Fiber + might aide digestion.
May protect against Chronic Diseases (such as heart Disease, Cancer, Diabetes, etc.)
May Help keep your appetite under control (Think about how protein + fiber helps to slow down digestion, therefore keeping you full longer!).
Why You’ll Love This Vegan Cheese Polenta with Pesto + Chickpea
Bold flavors—Savory + Spicy marry so well together!
Easy to make. Easy weeknight meal option.
Chickpeas are just so delicious as topping!
Uses simple ingredients.
Completely meal-prep friendly!
Great gluten-free and nut-free options for everyone!
Fun cooking activity for entire family.
And just absolutely wholesome and perfect for any kind of weather.
Topping Suggestions for This Polenta with Pesto + Chickpea
I like to add some extra texture to my polenta like this Vegan Cheese Polenta with Pesto + Chickpea. Most people might enjoy this vegan dish as is, which is totally fine. But I wanted to share a few more ideas incase you make this creamy polenta more than once and want to switch things up outside of using roasted chickpeas and/or pesto!
Other topping ideas include:
Roasted broccolini, broccoli, or veggies
Crispy bacon (if you're not plant-based, of course)
Meat (chicken, beef, etc.)
Seafood (Shrimp, lobster, etc.)
Roasted Nuts, such as pecans, hazelnuts or walnuts
Crispy sage leaves
Can I Add More Veggies?
Definitely! This is a great recipe to mix and match the ingredients/toppings. For added nutrients, fiber, and color, add your favorite veggies.
You can add roasted cauliflower, broccoli, bell peppers, asparagus, green peas, roasted herb tomatoes, mushrooms, or leafy greens (kale, spinach, collard greens). All will be delicious! And you can roast the veggies alongside the chickpeas so everything is ready at the same time. And fewer dishes!
How to Store Leftover Polenta with Pesto + Chickpea
Leftover polenta can be kept in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. Re-heat over the stovetop when ready to serve, by adding a bit of milk (¼ cup or so) and stirring until creamy again.
Make-Ahead Vegan Cheese Polenta with Pesto + Chickpea
All ingredients can be made and individually stored as meal prep and assembled + heated when ready to serve.
Can I Make Gluten-Free Vegan Cheese Polenta with Pesto + Chickpea?
Absolutely! To make this recipe entirely GF, simply ensure that the polenta is GF-friendly.
3cupsorganic vegetable stock(You can use water instead, if preferred!)
1cupYour fave plant-based milk
⅓cupnutritional yeast(You can also use dairy-free cheese shreds instead!)
HOMEMADE PESTO SAUCE:
2cupsfresh basil leaves
¼cupExtra virgin olive oil
1teaspoonfreshly-squeezed lemon juice
1teaspoonsmoked paprika, optional
1teaspoonred pepper flakes
½teaspoonred pepper flakes
ROAST THE CHICKPEAS:
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, add the chickpea, olive oil, salt, black pepper, smoked paprika, parsley, oregano, basil, and cumin, stirring them together until well coated.
Add chickpeas to the prepared baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, tossing them mid-way until golden brown and crisp. Once done, remove from the oven and let the cool.
TO MAKE THE PESTO SAUCE:
Add all ingredients into a food processor or blender and process (or blend) until combined and broken down. NOTE: If needed, add a bit of water (1 Tbsp), if too thick. The pesto should be paste-like in consistency.
TO MAKE THE CREAMY POLENTA:
Bring 3 cups veggie stock, milk and salt to a low boil in a large-size pot or dutch oven. Once boiling, whisk in the polenta and cook 15-20 minutes until thickened and most of the liquid has "dried out". Stir in the butter, garlic powder, and nutritional yeast (if using), until melted and the polenta becomes creamy.
In serving bowl(s), spoon the polenta into the bottom of the bowl(s) or plate(s) and top with a spoonful (or two) of pesto followed by the roasted chickpeas. Sprinkle dried parsley (optional) as garnish, if desired and serve immediately.
Tips & Tricks
STORAGE: Leftover polenta can be kept in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. Re-heat over the stovetop when ready to serve, by adding a bit of milk (¼ cup or so) and stirring until creamy again.
MAKE AHEAD: All ingredients can be made and individually stored as meal prep and assembled + heated when ready to serve.
OILS: Instead of using Extra Virgin Olive Oil, you can substitute with Grapeseed Oil, Avocado Oil, or Coconut Oil.
GUTEN-FREE OPTION: To make this recipe entirely GF, simply ensure that the polenta is GF-friendly.
NUT-FREE: Traditionally, pesto contains nuts. However, you can substitute the walnuts in this recipe with sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds for a nut-free version.
EQUIPMENT: Here, I’ve curated a list of cooking + baking essentials that I use to achieve my favorite baked goods or cooked meals, especially with this Vegan Cheese Polenta with Pesto + Chickpea. Everything from my fave baking sheet, parchment paper, food processor, high-powered blender, skillets, and more. SEE THEM HERE!