Saturday, March 16, 2013

Rick's Vegetarian Paella

When Ruth and I returned from our Barcelona trip in 2009, she bought me a beautiful 22 inch Paella pan from for Christmas that year.  I made a huge batch of seafood Paella with it for our New Years celebration with our close friends, the Talbots’ and Donaldsons’.  Chock full of clams, mussels, fish, shrimp, squid and lobster tails, it was simply delicious! (The recipe for that seafood paella is posted in my 2010 blog archive.  Now a 22 inch paella pan is just too big for dinners for just Ruth and I, so I asked “Santa Ruth” for a smaller pan so I could make dinner-sized paellas for the two of us.  After our New Years “Meat Fest” with our friends this year, the old body needed a break, so I decided to make a vegetarian paella for dinner.  All I can say is I really didn’t miss the meat and the dish is both delicious, satisfying and easy (if you follow a few simple tips.)  The paella can be made in a cast iron frying pan or non-stick pan if you don’t have a real paella pan.  For best results, you should find a quality Spanish short grain rice, like Calasparra or Bomba, although any good short grain rice will work.  The saffron in the dish, while expensive, is absolutely critical to the taste.  A little saffron goes a long way, and you only need a pinch.  Most good grocery stores, like Graul’s, Eddies or Wegman’s carry it, although you may have to ask for it at the customer service desk.  If you don’t have any saffron, a little tumeric will give the dish the traditional sunflower yellow hue, but not the flavor.


3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
1 sweet onion, sliced
1-1/2 cups mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup short grain rice
1 cup frozen peas
2 tsp smoked paprika (pimenton de vera)
2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley
3 cups vegetable stock or broth
1 pinch saffron, ground into a powder
salt and pepper to taste


Heat 3 Tbs olive oil in a paella or frying pan over medium high heat.  When the oil just starts to smoke slightly, add the sliced sweet onions and saute for 2 minutes.
Add the sliced green peppers.
Add the sweet red bell peppers.
Mince the garlic in a garlic press and add to the pan.  Saute and stir the peppers, onion and garlic for several minutes until the onions just turn translucent and start to brown on the edges.

Use a good Spanish rice, like Calasparra or Bomba if possible.
Measure a cup of rice and pour it over the vegetables in the pan.
Gently work the rice into the vegetables with a wooden spatula and saute the rice with the vegetables for 3 to 5 minutes.
Use a good quality organic or homemade vegetable broth.
Add about 2 cups of broth (or just enough to cover the rice.)  When the broth comes to a boil, lower the heat to a low simmer. You may need to add additional broth later if it is fully absorbed and the rice is still not done.
“Santa Ruth” got me this beautiful Spanish saffron container.  It came with 3 small envelopes of saffron threads inside. Take a pinch of saffron threads and put them in a mortar.

Grind the pinch of saffron threads into a powder with a mortar and pestal. Add 2 teaspoons of smoked paprika to the mortar and mix it with the ground saffron.
Sprinkle the ground saffron and smoked paprika all over the simmering broth and gently stir it in.

Taste the broth and add a little Kosher salt if needed.

Add some fresh ground black pepper to taste.

Simmer the dish for 20 to 30 minutes over medium-low heat until the broth is almost completely absorbed by the rice. Push the grains near the side of the pan into the remaining broth with a spatula so they soften as well, but DO NOT STIR the rest of the pan from this point until the dish is done!  (If you stir it, the starch from the rice will not form the delicate crust (or fond) on the bottom of the pan that is the signature of a good paella!)

Check a few rice grains for doneness.  They should be done “al dente” (cooked through, but still has a little firmness or “tooth” to it) If the rice grains are still too firm in the center, add a little more broth and continue simmering. Remember, DO NOT STIR or you will destroy the fond forming on the bottom of the pan.

When the rice is nearly done “al dente” but the crust is still forming on the bottom of the pan place the sliced mushrooms on top of the rice.

Gently press the mushrooms into the steaming rice.  They will absorb any remaining broth as they cook.
Add the thawed frozen peas over top of the dish.
Take your spatula and check the rice near the center of the pan.  A starchy crust or fond should be developing on the bottom.  At this point, you will need to pay close attention to avoid burning the fond and rice.  Lower the heat and watch carefully.  You want the fond to just turn brown.

When the fond has just browned, turn off the heat and cover the pan with sheets of newspaper for 5 to 10 minutes to trap the steam and complete the cooking process.

Garnish the finished dish with fresh parsley and serve.  

The soft rice and mushrooms will have absorbed all the flavors from the sauted vegetables, broth and saffron.  The crispy crust (fond) on the bottom of the pan adds a delightful crunchy texture through the dish.  Enjoy!

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