They say that some people crave their childhood comfort food; something full of carbs and cheese like pizza, cheesy garlic bread or macaroni and cheese. For me, it’s anything with beans, enchilada sauce and a little (OR A LOT) of oozy-gooey melted cheese.
My Mom started making this Mayan Sweet Potato Polenta Bake (or casserole) when I was in high school. She loved to experiment with flavors and test out recipes, often times for people at the church potluck. After a few years, we started referring to them as Lynn’s (my mom) taste testers because they simply couldn’t get enough of her food. Sometimes I’d even have her take them some of my creations, just so I could get opinions from someone other than her.
This recipe was always, always a crowd pleaser. There must have been something special about the combination of all of the ingredients in a single pan. The sweet and spicy flavors melded together in perfect harmony to create a dish that you simply CANNOT stop eating.
So, you must be wondering what makes up this recipe and why it’s oh-so-addicting, right?
POLENTA! The polenta is the base of the recipe, and it’s mixed with a little water to create a creamy base that turns golden brown on the bottom as it cooks. Hot damn. I used Ancient Harvest Polenta, a new find that I didn’t know they created until a few months ago. I can tell you that I’ll absolutely be using it more!
There’s also a nice layer of creamy refried beans, onions, garlic, bell peppers and a quick homemade red chile sauce (or enchilada sauce). Plus CHEESE! Doesn’t that sound absolutely fantastic? Plus it’s nutritious, vegetarian, wholesome and naturally gluten free.
I can’t wait for you to make it. I’m sure Mama AK will be checking the comments out, so let me know if you make it!
If you make anything from AK, be sure to tag #ambitiouskitchen on Instagram — I love seeing your creations and featuring followers! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Snapchat (username: ambitiouskitch).
Mom's Mayan Sweet Potato Polenta Bake
A recipe for my Mom's vegetarian Mayan polenta bake with layers of sweet potato, refried beans, polenta, red chile sauce and cheese. This comforting dish is creamy, sweet, spicy, and incredible!
- FOR THE SAUCE:
- 1 - 15 oz can tomato sauce
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- FOR THE PEPPER MIXTURE:
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- FOR THE BAKE:
- 1 tube Ancient Harvest Traditional Polenta
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 - 15 oz can vegetarian refried beans
- 1 large sweet potato, very thinly sliced
- 1 cup shredded colby jack cheese
- For garnish: cilantro and avocado
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 inch pan with nonstick spray and set aside.
Make the sauce: Add tomato sauce, water, chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt and cayenne pepper to a medium saucepan and place over medium heat. Bring to a low boil then reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes or until tomato sauce thickens up a bit.
Saute the onions and peppers: In a separate skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil over medium high heat. Once oil is hot, add in garlic, onion and red pepper. Saute for 5-7 minutes or until onions are translucent and peppers are tender. Remove from heat and set aside.
To make the bake: In a separate medium bowl, add in polenta and a few tablespoons of water. Use your hands to mash the polenta and break it up again. Transfer to prepared pan and press into the bottom of the pan, creating a base for the bake.
Next spread half of the refried beans, slices of the sweet potato, onion/pepper mixture, half of the sauce and 1/2 cup of cheese. Then spread the remaining refried beans on top, the rest of the sweet potatoes, the other half of the sauce and remaining 1/2 cup of cheese.
Cover pan with foil and bake for 1 hour or until sweet potatoes are tender when poked with a fork. Serves 8.
This post is sponsored by Ancient Harvest. All opinions, recipes and text are my own. Thanks for continuing to support AK and the brands that help make this site possible!
I always forget about polenta, but it’s so good! This looks like an awesome way to enjoy it. Plus, mom recipes are always the best recipes.
what happened to the nutrition information you used to put up? That was so helpful!
I do put them up for 95% of recipes, this one just got away from me and I forgot to insert it into the post. It’s up now! 🙂
Monique, this looks incredible!! All that melty cheese!!!
Thanks Gaby!! Xo
this sounds so tasty and hearty and cozy! mmm. i recently found out how easy it is to make polenta from scratch, and i think it’d be fun to use it here (then again, who knows what will actually happen – the tube is so convienient!).
finally got around to making this and it was delicious! my mom likened it to tamale pie, and i thought it tasted like chili. perfect for fall/winter (probably not for summer but still tasty!). my biggest takeaway: make sure you cover the pan with foil. i forgot, and my sweet potatoes cooked through fine, but the cheese got a little tough.
Sounds like the apple didn’t fall from the tree with you and your Mom’s love of cooking and sharing your food passion!! I love it! I think it’s very special that you are sharing this recipe with all of us so that we can be Lynn’s taste testers from her recipe 🙂
Thanks for doing what you do!!!
Oh yum yum yum! Perfect comfort food, and I’m guessing this makes for fantastic leftovers! Relish, thanks Monique 🙂
I’ve never thought of pairing polenta with these Mexican-inspired flavors. I love it! Plus, anytime I can incorporate sweet potatoes into a dish I’m in!
What a fun meal idea, I can definitely see why it’s a big hit!
This would be a potluck winner for sure.
Mmm I love polenta! This looks great!
This looks divine! I discovered polenta a few years ago and never looked back. Love the texture and versatility of it. Thanks for the dinner inspiration!
Oh this looks so good and comforting!
This looks so fricken amazing! I love polenta so much!!
This is the kind of casserole I can get down with! Nothing beats polenta as far as comfort food and LOVE that it’s the base of this 🙂
I am SO in love with this one. I’ve bookmarked it to try out this week. It’s gorgeous. I don’t eat enough polenta, I need to change that, stat
Ummmm I would go face deep in this delicious casserole. I use polenta a lot but have never thought to throw it in a casserole. I need this in my life ASAP!
Sounds great. I want to make it for a potluck this weekend but I would have to travel with it. Do you think it would hold up well being assembled in the morning, but not baked until evening?
Made this tonight and it was FABULOUS! What an awesome vegetarian dish! Can’t wait for leftovers 🙂 Thank you!
From the Dept. of Serendipity: I used to work with the lovely Mama AK and remember her making this for the office–and I of course remember how yummy it was! So this morning at the store I was in a rush and bought the Kashi ‘Mayan Harvest Bake,’ which reminded me of the very dish your Mom made, which in turn made me think about Ambitious Kitchen and how I needed to check it out, see how it’s grown, etc..
I come to the website and whaddya know: saw this front and center! My lucky day. Can’t wait to make this and the many other recipes on here. Please tell Mama AK that Andrea says hello!
I will tell her hello! 🙂
Just came across your site. What a treasure trove of “deliciousness”.
Just made this and it’s a hit! Prep time was nearly an hour for me and cooking time was closer to two. I didn’t get a golden brown polenta either. Do you think it’s bc I used an 8×11 glass dish? It was still yummy tho! I tell people abt your site all the time!!
OMG this was amazing…i couldn’t stop thinking about how good it was later! One of the best dishes I’ve ever made. As a vegetarian i’m constantly searching for new recipes and this will be a regular for me from now on!
I just loved this. I have eaten it everyday for the last 4 days and I’m so sad it’s gone. My 3yr old ate it for several meals too with some sour cream to kill the spice. I don’t have a 9×9 so I used a 7×11 and a 5″ ramekin. I don’t think it would have fit in a 9×9 unless it was pretty deep. Definitely will be making this again and again.
Do you think the recipe would still be good if I were to replace the refried beans with vegetarian chili? I have a can that will expire soon and would love to use it 😉 thanks!
This is delicious!!! I made this today and my Tex Mex Taste Buds are thrilled! I can’t wait to have the leftovers this weekend 🙂 Thank You!
We dont have tubes of polenta in New Zealand. How much polenta would one use if cooking it from scratch?
You think I could freeze this dish, and pull out and heat and serve? Looking to make some dishes I can stash in the freezer for a friend who is pregnant with twins and due soon- to put in her freezer! Thanks!
Hi there! I am making this recipe for my office which is a mixture of vegan and non vegan. Do you think it would still be good if the non-vegans were to put the cheese on afterwards? Also what are your thoughts on subbing the cheese all together for nutritional yeast. Thank you!
Love this dish! I had to cook it awhile longer than on the recipe to get the sweet potatoes tender! I had to turn up my oven a bit and cook it for about 1 and a half hours. I do live at altitude, ~5000-6000 ft so maybe that has something to do with it?
The altitude is probably the culprit here! So glad you enjoyed after some extra cooking 🙂
And I would say that if you only have an 8×8 dish that it’s a little small to fit everything and some of the juices spilled over into the oven.
I’ve been trying to go more plant-based recently and found this lovely recipe! I didn’t use the cayenne because I’m a weakling and can’t handle anything spicy but this dish was still really good and didn’t taste like it was missing anything. The only caveat was that the sweet potatoes were still hard after baking so I after serving I quickly microwaved the portions to be eaten to cook the sweet potato more. Next time I think I’ll precook the sweet potato so it’ll be softer. Other than that, it was super yummy and I will definitely make it again 🙂
I’m so glad you enjoyed! Make sure that the sweet potato is sliced super thin – that will help it cook all the way through 🙂
This is super delicious! Just for others’ reference, my sweet potatoes (very thin) weren’t even close to done after an hour. Next time I will try pumping up the heat a bit.
Hmmm they should definitely be done after a full hour! Not sure what could be happening. But I’m glad you enjoyed!
I really wanted to fully like this recipe since it was so different from my typical recipes, but it felt like it was lacking something. My meat-loving husband asked for seconds and was happy with it. I felt like black beans would have been better than refried and maybe a small can of fire roasted diced green chilies would have helped deepen the flavors. It was my first time using tubed polenta but I now want to find more ways to use it. I, too, had to cook mine for 1 hour 20 min before the sweet potato was soft enough to eat. I did my best to slice it thin but unless you’re using a mandoline slicer, it’s difficult to be accurate on every cut. Perhaps, partially precooking it would have helped. I rated it a 4 because my husband liked it and I thought it has the potential to be exceptional. I know others commenters here loved it and I don’t want to discourage others from trying it. Thank you for helping me try new things Monique.
I’m glad you gave this one a try! Let me know if you do try it with black beans and green chilies. Noted on the sweet potatoes as well!
Sliced sweet potatoes very thin. Def not cooked after an hour in a 9×9 square metal pan. Back in oven uncovered and raising temp to 375. Hope it will be ready soon without burning/over cooking the polenta layer. I’m starving!!!!
How did it turn out?
Hands down one of my favorite AK recipes! The sweetness of the polenta with the enchilada sauce is a party in your mouth. So, so good!
Absolutely! glad you loved it 🙂