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How to Cook Basic Polenta – Mamaliga

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How to cook basic polenta or Romanian mamaliga, creamy or sturdy.


I suppose most of you have at least heard of polenta, but to tell you the truth, I know lots of people who actually never tasted polenta. If you happen to have a Romanian or Italian friend, I am pretty sure you got to taste mamaliga or polenta at least at their house, if not, well, it is time you do.


How to Cook Basic Polenta – Mamaliga



What is polenta?

Polenta is a dish made from coarsely ground cornmeal. Some water and some salt, a little bit of cooking and you’re done. You have an excellent, healthy and delicious meal.

You can have mamaliga or polenta as a side dish for other dishes with sauce or it can be a meal in itself with some cheese and yogurt/creme fraiche/ sour cream on the side.

And the possibilities of making a main dish using polenta are endless. You can make casseroles, you can grill it, you can bake it, you can make cake, you can make polenta chips and so on. It goes well with any kind of meat, any kind of vegetable or dairy product.


How to Cook Basic Polenta – Mamaliga



Polenta or mamaliga is a staple in Romanian cooking. It has always been considered to be peasant food, but trust me, you will find polenta in any household in Romania, villages and cities alike.

Interesting fact I found out while reading about polenta: the reason why it became so popular in the Romanian territories is that hundreds of years ago, when the Romanians were forced to pay tribute towards the Ottoman empire there were taxes to be paid on wheat but not on corn. So the people started cultivating and eating more polenta cooked from coarsely ground cornmeal in order to be able to escape the payment of so much taxes. Clever!

The traditional Romanian polenta is of a sturdier kind, a bit different from the Italian version you might know. That is the way my grandmother cooked her basic polenta and that is how I cook it most of the times myself.

However, every now and then I like to make a softer, creamier polenta, especially when I intend to serve the polenta as a side dish for something with lots of sauce. The cooking procedure is the same, the only difference is the amount of water used.


How to Cook Basic Polenta – Mamaliga



  • I make polenta using only salted water most of the times, but if you like you can use half milk and half water or you can even cook the polenta in vegetable or chicken broth (made with organic bullion cubes).
  • Salt is very important when making polenta. Read the instructions on the polenta packet and add the amount of salt required and maybe ¼ teaspoon more than that. Reduce the amount of salt only if you are cooking the polenta in broth.


  • Fine polenta:

The cornmeal used to make polenta comes in different textures: medium or coarse. Never use fine cornmeal to make polenta, I did once – it was not good.

  • Medium polenta:

From time to time I buy the medium polenta sold in the regular German supermarkets (which by the way is at least twice as pricy as the Turkish cornmeal). It tastes good as well and it has the advantage of being ready in only about 15 minutes.

  • Coarse polenta:

But I usually prefer the coarse cornmeal/polenta I can buy at the Turkish store, it is the kind I used to eat in Romania. It has a longer cooking time – 40 to 50 minutes – than the polenta made of medium ground cornmeal, but it doesn’t matter, there is no extra work involved and I like to think that that is the original mamaliga I know from my childhood.

You decide which one you prefer, just consider the packet’s instructions when you cook the polenta.

  • Instant and ready cooked polenta:

I have heard of instant polenta but never bought it and there is of course the ready cooked polenta, which I swear I won’t buy as long as I live! My grandma would probably turn in her grave if I did!

Update 2019: I bought one packet of ready cooked polenta while on holiday in Italy. I sliced it and fry it in olive oil, then served it cheese and yogurt. It was fine, but I don’t think I would buy it again. It had an weird after taste, which fresh polenta doesn’t have.


How to Cook Basic Polenta – Mamaliga



First of all: it is really satiating.

I cook only 250 g of cornmeal when I make polenta and it is always more than enough for a family of four who really loves polenta.

And there are usually some leftovers which I either eat with milk for breakfast or fry with vegetables and eggs the next day.

And yet 100 g cooked polenta only has 85 calories, I just googled that and instantly decided I will cook polenta even more often than I usually do. 🙂

Polenta is also a good source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin B6 and has no cholesterol.

So, do give polenta a try! For the next two weeks I will only post polenta recipes and I hope you will find something you would like to try.


How to Cook Basic Polenta – Mamaliga

How to cook basic polenta or Romanian mamaliga, creamy or sturdy.
4.77 from 21 votes
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Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Romanian
Prep Time: 2 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 42 minutes
Servings: 4
Calories: 226kcal
Author: Adina


  • Sturdy polenta (Note):
  • 1 2/3 cup coarse cornmeal 250 g
  • 4 1/4 cups water 1 liter
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons fine salt
  • Soft polenta (Note):
  • 1 2/3 cup medium cornmeal 250 g
  • 6 cups water 1.4 liter
  • 1 ½ teaspoons fine salt


  • Heat the water in a large pot but don't let it come to a boil (it helps against the formation of lumps). Add the salt.
  • Slowly add the cornmeal while stirring or whisking (with an egg beater, not a mixer) all the time. A word of caution - be careful when the polenta starts to bubble; if the bubbles are too big, you might get burned – so turn the heat down if that happens.
  • Stir: When all the cornmeal is incorporated, continue stirring or whisking shortly to ensure no lumps. Turn the heat down, place a lid on top, but leave a crack open. Stir every 3 minutes or so, but there is no need to stir all the time.
  • Cook: Read the cooking instructions on the polenta packet to know how long the cornmeal needs to be cooked. I cook the polenta made with coarse cornmeal for 40 to 50 minutes and the polenta made with medium cornmeal for about 15 minutes.
  • Serve immediately or leave to cool if you want to use it another way.


The cooking procedure is the same for both kinds of polenta; you will only need more water to make the softer polenta. You can use either medium or coarse ground cornmeal, but read the packet's instructions to make sure that you know the indicated cooking times.


Serving: 1/4 of the dish | Calories: 226kcal | Carbohydrates: 48g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Sodium: 693mg | Fiber: 5g
Tried this Recipe? Pin it for Later!Mention @adinabeck or tag #WhereIsMySpoon!


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Recipe Rating


Friday 1st of July 2022

Nice recipe, thanks :) Just a thought, corn is a starchy food and I am not sure is 100g of cooked corn meal is just 85 calories. The 250g of dry corn meal in this recipe has almost 900 calories (,480623/). However, it is rich in iron and Thiamine


Sunday 9th of December 2018

i will be trying this recipe tonight ive never had polenta or even heard of it until i spoke to a romanian friend about it recently. i would like more recipies on cooking this in different ways.


Sunday 9th of December 2018

I hope you will like polenta, Sheila, it is something special. Look at Recipes by Ingredient on the blog and then under polenta, you will find some delicious recipes there.

Karyn Thomas

Monday 30th of July 2018

? Best and easiest polenta ever. This is a keeper.

Kim | Low Carb Maven

Monday 30th of January 2017

Mmmm. My mother's family is Italian, so we ate a lot of polenta growing up. My mother always used the coarser ground, too. This looks super. I love how you have done a whole series of polenta recipes. Thanks, Adina.


Friday 20th of January 2017

I love polenta and could eat it almost every night. This creamier version is my favorite. I only fry it if I have leftovers. Fabulous looking polenta!