Cooking Class: Vegetable Paella

img_4279Before adopting this plant-based style of living, I considered myself a pretty good cook. I never had any formal chef’s training, but I didn’t let that get in the way of a culinary challenge. I always got great pleasure from sharing a meal with family and friends. Most times, the meals were just wholesome, everyday dishes handed down from my mom and grandmother. And once in a while, the meals were “epic”. Lately, I’ve been in the mood for something delicious and different. An image of Paella must have crossed my laptop because this is what I’ve been dwelling on. I recall making a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated magazine many years ago that falls under the “epic” category. I made this one time when my parents came to visit and I still get a warm feeling remembering how much they enjoyed it. I decided to borrow the Cook’s Illustrated technique and added a few tricks of my own. The basic preparation is to make a “sofrito” of onions, garlic, and tomatoes; add rice, stock, wine, red bell peppers and other vegetables. The sofrito is cooked on the stove, then the rest of the ingredients are added and cooked in the oven. I chose to use artichoke hearts, cremini mushrooms and peas as my add-ins. What’s nice about this recipe is that it is versatile. You can keep it simple by just making rice, bell peppers and peas; or you can experiment with different vegetables.  A popular version of paella is made with seafood, so I might use oyster mushrooms or king oyster mushrooms and add some nori seaweed dust for a little taste of the sea. Chickpeas or fava beans would make a nice addition as well. Whether you consider yourself a novice or an accomplished cook, this recipe for Vegetable Paella is within your reach. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Paella Vegetables

Paella Vegetables

Vegi-curious Paella

Olive oil, as needed (optional – see note)
1 can whole artichoke heart
Smoked paprika
1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into ½” slices
8 oz. white button or cremini mushrooms, cut in half
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 can diced tomatoes, drained and minced
2 cups medium grain rice (Valencia, Goya, Canilla)
½ teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
3 cups light vegetable broth (or Better Than Bouillon No-Chicken stock)
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 dried bay leaf
½ cup frozen peas, thawed
Salt to taste
Fresh parsley for garnish

Preheat oven to 350F.

Drain artichoke hearts and cut into halves or quarters. Place on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with smoked paprika and set aside.

Lightly coat a Dutch oven with oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add pepper strips and cook, stirring occasionally until skin begins to get charred (about 3 to 4 minutes).Transfer to baking sheet along with artichokes.

Re-coat Dutch oven with oil if desired and add the mushrooms. Cook on medium-high, stirring often. You want to cook just long enough to brown the exterior of the mushrooms but not cook them completely (about 3 minutes).Transfer to baking sheet along with artichokes and peppers.

Re-coat Dutch oven with oil if desired and add onions. Cook over medium-high heat until softened; add garlic and cook another minute. Stir in tomatoes and continue cooking until tomatoes start to darken and thicken, about 3 minutes. Add rice and stir until grains are well coated. Add broth, wine, bay leaf and salt and bring to boil. Cover Dutch oven and place on rack in the lower third of the oven. Cook until the rice absorbs almost all of the liquid, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Scatter peas on top of rice; then arrange pepper strips, artichoke hearts and mushrooms on top of peas. Cover and return to oven for another 10 minutes.

*Note: you can omit the oil and cook the vegetables using water, about 2 tablespoons at a time.

If “soccarat”, the browned rice on the bottom of the pan, is desired, place Dutch oven, uncovered, over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, rotating the pot for even browning. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for about 5 minutes. Garnish with parsley.

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