Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Vegetarian Paella

There is something so heartwarming about a large paella in the center of a table. Everyone digs in, shares stories about the various other paellas they have had in their travels, with a glass of Sangria, and life is good. 

I remember the night I sat at the bar of a restaurant in Gran Canaria (Canary Islands), Spain and ate one of the best Paellas ever. We grumbled to the chef, whom we had gotten to know well through the years of visiting, that we lacked good Paellas in New York. Chef Juan very generously invited me into his kitchen and taught me his prized Paella Valenciana recipe. What a treat! 

The original Paella is from Valencia, Spain, and had a combination of meat, vegetables, and snails. Today, everyone makes their own version. My favorite one is a Seafood Paella, next to the Vegetarian one. It's a great way to pack in all the vegetables.

Paella is cooked and served in a traditional Paella pan. Fairly easily available, you can buy it in most gourmet grocery stores. In New York, Despaña sells it, along with Kalyustans. I use the carbon steel pans, which require a good scrub after, with a metal sponge, wipe dry, and season with a little olive oil. However, today, non-stick ones are also available. 

Writing a Paella recipe is always a bit tricky, as it depends on the size of your Paella pan. It is sold as 'para dos', 'para cuatro' (for two, for four, etc). The number of people the Paella pan is for is always an even number, but the actual diameter of the pan varies, which is what making writing the recipe tricky. Read the note below on the amount of rice required before adding it all in, keeping in mind, that rice doubles in size as it cooks. 

1/2 cup olive oil
One bulb garlic, peeled, and thinly sliced 
1 Spanish onion, chopped in 1-inch pieces 
1 green pepper, chopped in 1-inch pieces
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon orange food coloring

3 cups of vegetables of your choice, such as carrots, beans, mushrooms, green peas, asparagus 

1 15oz can tomato sauce

1 vegetable bouillon cube
1 generous pinch of saffron 
1 teaspoon Spanish paprika
1 sprig thyme 
Salt, to taste

2–3 handfuls of Spanish paella rice 

Lemon wedges, to garnish

  1. In a Paella pan for 4, heat 1/2 cup olive oil in a pan.
  2. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds, careful not to burn. 
  3. Add onion, green pepper, bay leaf and orange food coloring. Sauté for a minute. 
  4. Add 3 cups of chopped vegetables (carrots, green beans, peas, mushrooms, asparagus etc). Mix with the onions. 
  5. Add the tomato sauce and water to fill the pan to the brim. 
  6. Then, add the saffron, salt to taste, a dried red chili, Spanish paprika, one stock bouillon cube and one sprig of thyme.
  7. Let it come to a boil, and reduce to half. Taste the sauce for salt or any other seasonings
  8. Sprinkle the paella rice evenly over the paella pan. Eyeball the quantity of uncooked rice required based on the paella pan size, and the amount of vegetables added in. Do not mix after you add the rice. 
  9. Let it cook for 10–15 minutes.
  10. Garnish with lemon wedges right before serving

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