Quinoa-Polenta & BBQ Sauce

I recently ordered baked polenta and quinoa at a vegan restaurant, and I just loved the combination! As soon as I got home I started experimenting, and came up with my own version, as well as a sweet and spicy BBQ sauce to go along with it. Enjoy!



Even though I love to cook, I’m not a fan of spending an hour in the kitchen for one recipe, which may be the reason I’ve never cooked with polenta. Most recipes require a lengthy cooking time (45 minutes or so) and near constant stirring, along the lines of risotto.

Traditional polenta recipes usually call for chicken stock, butter, milk, cheese, and salt. I left all these out in favor of water and a few herbs and spices. While my version may not be traditional, it’s faster, easier and tastes great.

2-1/2 cups water
½ cup organic medium- or coarse-grind cornmeal
½ cup uncooked (dry) quinoa
2 teaspoons granulated garlic
1-1/2 teaspoons granulated onion
1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano (or Mexican spice blend)
1 teaspoon chili powder

1. Place all ingredients into a saucepan, and on high heat bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cook for 20 minutes covered, stirring 2 or 3 times during (replacing the lid each time).

2. When done simmering, the batter should be very thick. Spread into an 8×8-inch square pan lined with parchment paper. Cook at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until the top crust is deeper in color but not browned (see photo below). Cut into 4-6 pieces.

Preparation: 5 minutes
Cooking: 20 minutes.
Serves: 4-6


Above: The unbaked batter spread into a parchment paper-lined square baking dish (left), and a piece after cooking (right). See my Zucchini Bread recipe for a tutorial on lining a pan with parchment paper.

BBQ Sauce

The trick with developing a BBQ Sauce recipe is to avoid ending up with glorified ketchup. BBQ sauce basically starts out as ketchup, but it should end up being so much more. I started with typical BBQ sauce ingredients: tomato paste, mustard, vinegar, and spices, but avoided other typical ingredients such as Worcestershire sauce and liquid smoke, since both often contain high fructose corn syrup, hydrolyzed soy protein, caramel coloring, sugar, anchovies, oil, and/or salt.

To achieve the rich, dark color and earthy taste (not overly acidic), I used black beans and few raisins (which also added sweetness and tanginess). Additionally, most BBQ recipes have a lot of ingredients, around 10 in addition to ketchup, and that is just way too much! So I tried to keep the ingredient list on the shorter side. I also discovered that simmering the sauce really makes a difference by avoiding the ketchup-y taste and bringing the flavors into harmony.

1-1/2 cups water
1 can (6-oz.) tomato paste
½ cup black beans (drained, rinsed)
¼ cup brown raisins
2 tablespoons stone-ground mustard
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon apple cider or brown rice vinegar
¾ teaspoon granulated garlic
¾ teaspoon granulated onion

1. Place all ingredients into a blender and blend for 1-2 minutes, until smooth. Pour into a saucepan.

2. On medium heat, bring to just almost boiling then reduce to a low simmer and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve hot or cold.

Preparation: 10 minutes
Cooking: 15 minutes.
Makes: about 2 cups


Above: Polenta-Quinoa and BBQ Sauce with water-sautéed veggies: onions, zucchini, red bell pepper, and mushrooms, and some diced avocado.


Above: Quinoa-Polenta sliced into small squares or thin bars makes a great snack or appetizer, warm or cold.


Above: You can also bake the batter in a round dish or pan for a Quinoa-Polenta pie!


Above: Baked polenta cut into small squares with sautéed, curried vegetables. Polenta is coarsely or finely ground cornmeal boiled with water or stock into a porridge and eaten directly, or baked or grilled. The term “polenta” may refer either to the ingredient (the cornmeal) or a dish made with it (porridge, baked or grilled).

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  1. Marilyn says

    I’ve never been that great of a cook, so going plant-based has been a challenging but rewarding transition in my life. Finding recipes like yours, with minimal & common ingredients to make something delicious is great! Thank you!

  2. Heidi says

    This sounds amazing. I was curious if you can mention what vegan restaurant you went to? my hubby and I are in Santa Rosa and haven’t really found to many places to go, especially ones that might have an oil free option. Thanks for what you do. :-)

    • says

      Hi Heidi, it was in Tucson at the Tasteful Kitchen. :) Try Slice of Life in Sebastopol (10 minutes from Santa Rosa), you can ask for oil-free items there, even fries. :)

    • says

      Hi Heidi,
      My husband and I are also in S.R. and have found a few good restaurants that do oil free. East West Cafe has a few items on their menu and there are quite a few Mexican restaurants that have McDougall menus (no oil and no animal products) also Gary Chu’s downtown on 5th street has a McDougall menu. I’m up for compiling a list so if you have any favorites let me know.

      • Karen says

        Hi, We love the East West Cafe in SR. They will also make some entrees oil-free if asked, such as a stir fry or they can leave out the sauce on a dish. They were more than accommodating and the server was able to suggest viable choices once I mentioned that I was looking for oil-free. This was easier than trying to figure out what might be oil-free just by looking at the menu. Bon appetit!

    • says

      Hi Abby, polenta is very versatile. It can be harder and rubbery, or softer and smooth. My recipe is somewhere in between. :)

  3. says

    Cathy, last night I made just a polenta crust and left it in the oven for over half hour but it never got drier in the middle. Didn’t really like it. Does yours cook more evenly in the middle? Your recipe is very different, as I just cooked polenta and water and it was very bland. I put mine in a glass pan lined with parchment.

    • says

      Hi Mary, no, mine does not get dry in the middle. That was not my goal; I wanted it to be a little crusty on top but softer in the middle when taken out of the oven. If you want to dry it out more, you can try cooking it even longer or letting it set up before cooking. Most recipes I looked at were very simple and I’m imagining pretty bland in flavor, so I added some herbs/spices. But typically I’d be eating it with something on top, so it doesn’t need a lot of big flavor on its own. Feel free to add in any herbs/spices/ingredients you like. :)

  4. Jo-Anne Joyce says

    Looks and sounds fantastic, Cathy. Will try this for dinner tonight while my omnivore family is having burgers!

  5. Patrick says

    Cathy, I have a cupboard stocked with organic polenta from Argentina – the brand is “de la Estancia” – which is ground finer than most other corn meal/polenta and which I prefer. It creates a creamy, yet still textured polenta. Because it is grown more slowly, it is higher in protein and lower in starch, and therefore cooks very fast. I liked this version of polenta so much I bought six 1 lb packages on Amazon, so I am really pleased to find another wholesome recipe – thank you!

    One recipe variation I’ve created is to saute mushrooms in veggie stock and a bit of wine, drain them, then combine them with the polenta just as it’s setting up. Delish!

    • Doreen Karp says

      I’m interested in learning how to cook with polenta… so what are some other recipe ideas.
      I normally buy the ready made polenta in a tube.

      • says

        Hi Doreen, that’s my first polenta dish, oh and a pizza crust. But I would search recipes online and see what you can come up with. It seems like a pretty forgiving food. :)

  6. pjacobs says

    I made this tonight but used rosemary and red pepper flakes mixed into the polenta and quinoa because I was going Italian with it. I made a fat free, very garlicky marinara and water sauteed some mushrooms and spinach and piled it all on. It was filling and delicious. My best friend came over for dinner and loved it too and wants to make the polenta/quinoa base for her kids. They’re picky but she thinks they’ll like.

    This was my second time making one of your recipes and both of them turned out great.

  7. says

    I made the polenta/quinoa mix in my rice cooker and it came out great. Much easier than watching a pot on the stove. Loved the recipe!

  8. says

    This sounds absolutely fabulous! Can’t wait to try it. I saw the picture on your FB page and had to come check out what it was. Thanks!

  9. says

    That looks amazing! Unfortunately I have an allergy to corn, but I will put my thinking cap on and see how I can make a non corn based polenta because this recipe looks so inviting. Any suggestions?

      • says

        Hi Cathy, Thanks for the millet suggestion! I have been .experimenting with making a corn free version of the polenta and here is the version that finally worked well:
        3.5 cups water
        1/2 cup millet
        1/2 quinoa, rinsed
        your choice of spices
        1/4 cup quinoa flakes
        2 tsp ground flax.

        Put the water, millet, quinoa and your choice of spices into the saucepan and stir. Cook 15 minutes, stirring 2-3 times. Then add the quinoa flakes and flax. Stir constantly for 2-3 minutes then remove from heat. Pour into a 8 by 8 inch square pyrex dish. Using a spoon, press the thick mixture into the pan. Bake 20 minutes at 400 degrees. Let cool and then cut into pieces.

        It worked great with your BBQ sauce and it almost looks like real polenta..something I can’t eat due to a corn allergy. It stays together nicely, and is not crumbly. My kids ate it too!

  10. G. Scott says

    Made this today for lunch. Served with a scoop of mashed potatoes on top of the cake and heated up frozen mixed veggies. With a big ladle full of the BBQ sauce it was delicious.

  11. Kay says

    I tried this recipe for dinner last nite and sadly the polenta did not do very well. Mine looked nothing like the picture. It did not bake up well. So I put it in a frying pan and cooked it some more. I really did not have much hope for this dish but surprisingly, when assembled it was very tasty!! The BBQ sauce was very good and I topped it all with steamed veggies. I am looking forward to the leftovers!!

  12. says

    How long do you think this BBQ sauce would keep? My husband loves BBQ sauce and if I could make one that we can have on hand, it would be so much better than the store bought ones he uses.

  13. Lynn says

    I am so happy with this barbeque sauce! I am never going to have to buy expensive barbeque sauce again. I always fell for the marketing message that made you believe that there is a secret recipe for making great barbeque sauce.Thank you for creating this recipe!

    (The polenta was fantastic also!)

  14. says

    Hi Cathy. My husband and I recently transitioned to McDougall after years of what I thought was very healthy eating although including “healthy” oils and some poultry & fish. Even back then honestly we ate more veggies than most vegans I’ve seen. But this new way of eating has been a challenge w/cooking. I don’t have a lot of time so find ourselves eating no cheese frozen pizza and frozen vegan burgers ways more often than I’d like. We ate much more spinach and brocolli (and other veggies besides potatoes) before for some strange reason. So I am *trying* to learn new recipes & glad to find your site.

    Regular polenta cooked in veggie broth with stir-fried / fresh onions, mushrooms & spinach, topped w/chopped fresh tomatoes, and mixed all together, is also delicious. This is our Sunday morning breakfast (with OJ mixed w/half fresh lemonade made using stevia as a sweetener). Delicious breakfast!

  15. Ali says

    Sounds very tasty. Would love it if you can make videos of your recipes for us who don’t know how to cook at all :)

  16. Kathleen says

    I made this recipe this week and it immediately became one of our favorites! Thanks, Cathy! I’m not always a big fan of polenta but with the quinoa it is super. I braised my veggies and loaded them up on top and the BBQ sauce is scrumptious! My husband wants to put this BBQ sauce on everything…haha! We love this recipe and I will be making it over and over, I know! SO GOOD!! Love your cooking! Thank you for all you do to help us!!

  17. says

    Hey, I just wondered if you rinsed the quinoa,, I have always followed this rule since I was told it a bitterness exists if you do not. I love the mix of corn and quinoa,, and or millet. The last version I made was with mushroom and thyme served with my tomato and chili sauce. I also love to make sweet polenta using sweet spices and dried fruit,,,, etc dried pumpkin flakes, cranberries, pecan and orange zest,, served warm with icecream of your choice [dairy or dairy free as u wish :] As a Brit it kinda reminds me of the “stick to your ribs” type of desert we had at home in the winter- even more so if dribbled with Tate and Lyle Golden Syrup,,, if u have not tried this,, u need too. Thanx for your recipe.

    • says

      Hi Garry, I’ve never rinsed my quinoa. I tried it once and didn’t notice a difference. I also heard it is washed more thoroughly nowadays before it’s packaged. MMM, nice variations…thanks for the ideas and feedback!

    • says

      I understood that the reason for washing quinoa is that there is a substance on it that causes a Quinoa allergy. Hopefully, it is as you say Cathy – washed thoroughly before it’s packaged.

      Thanks for the recipe, Cathy. Last night someone bought me a vegan takeaway (take-out), with Quinoa and Polenta cake, on roasted carrot hummus with organic beet ketchup (delicious!) with avocado and rocket leaves. I was going to heat it and thought I’d taste it first – it was amazing and I just had to finish it – sadly there was nothing left to heat. This is what drew me to your recipe.

  18. Ellen Oberlin says

    Hi Cathy,

    Thank you for your fine work. I really enjoy your recipes.

    I made the crust tonight and enjoyed it so much that I wondered what it would be like as crackers. Spread thinner and spiced to go with the dip you have might be a good replacement for something to hold bean dips for a potluck or party. Fried or even baked chips don’t really do it for me and cut up raw vegetables don’t always seem to get an enthusiastic response. Hearty crackers with ingredients that contribute nutritionally with no oil – I’m on a hunt. You don’t have one do you?

    Best wishes,

  19. Susan Vickers says

    Made a double batch of your BBQ sauce last night. Just wanted to let you know how good it was on Cauliflower wings!!! Excellent recipe (as usual)!

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