Winter vegetable paella
A simple, one-pan rice, inspired in Spanish paella, that can be made with your favourite seasonal vegetables and enjoyed family-style.
- 220 gr round short-grain rice (Bomba, Valencia, Senia, Bahia or Calasparra varieties work well) 1 cup
- 700-750 ml water or vegetable broth (if using both, combine half-half)
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion
- 1 leek
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 small carrots
- 7-8 mushrooms
- 8 small artichoke hearts
- 50 gr frozen green peas
- 4-5 tbsp tomato sofrito or sauce or 2-3 ripe tomatoes, grated
- 1/2 nori seaweed sheet + 1 tsp water
- 1/4 tsp saffron powder
- 1-2 fresh rosemary sprigs
- Fresh parsley, chopped finely
- Lemon slices
Set a cast iron pan to medium heat, pour a generous amount of olive oil and once hot, add the finely chopped onion and leek.
Once these have softened, add the chopped garlic and mix well. Cook for 2-3 minutes then push the fried ingredients to the sides, add the chopped carrots to the centre of the pan. You can repeat this process as you add more ingredients.
Once the carrots are a little golden on the sides, add the chopped mushrooms. Once they’ve fried on the pan for about 2 minutes, bring up the heat to medium high, allowing the ingredients to cook in the mushroom water.
Add the artichoke hearts, chopped in half or bite-size. Fry them on all sides until they are lightly toasted. In the meantime, start heating up the water or broth-water mix in a saucepan at low heat, covered.
Once the artichoke hearts are golden brown, add the frozen green peas, tomato sauce (the simplest you can find – avoid any with additional flavours) or grated tomato, and the softened nori seaweed. If using grated tomatoes, make sure to use ripe ones and add a teaspoon of sugar to balance the sourness. If using saffron, add it now.
Mix well until all ingredients are coated. Cook for a few minutes then add the rice.
Pour the water or broth, shake the pan a bit to ensure the rice and vegetables are evenly spread. You can also gently mix with a spoon. The tradition says to not stir it anymore after adding the liquid, so this is a good time to taste the broth and adjust with salt or a little lemon juice. You can add one or two rosemary sprigs to give it a little extra flavour.
Bring to a boil to high heat, then reduce to medium-high and cook for 5 mins. Lower heat to medium-low and cook for another 13 mins or until the rice is al dente.
Taste the rice. If it’s still a little hard, add some water (always hot).
Turn off the heat, cover with tin foil or newspaper and let it rest for 5-10 mins. Serve immediately. You can sprinkle some chopped fresh parsley on top and serve with a slice of lemon on the side.
- If using grated tomatoes in the sofrito base, make sure to use ripe ones. If they’re not too ripe, add 1 tsp of sugar to balance the sourness.
- Feel free to sub for any vegetables you prefer or have in your home already. This is a great zero-waste dish, where you can use leftover bits of veggies that might be lying around in your fridge.
- Traditional paella is made in an actual “paella” pan (wider, metalic). If you have one of those at home, use that one! Cast iron pan works really well when making a 3-5 person rice, but you can use your preferred pan.
This paella recipe has been cook at home a lot for the past few years. It all started with a friend of my dad, he is from the US and vegan. He visited Barcelona and my parents weren’t sure what to make for him (as they’ll usually think of something meay or fishy to serve to guests). My suggestion was to keep it simple: take a dish you’ve made many times, and make a vegan version of it. So they took our regular fish paella and made it a vegetable one. And oh my, what a success! So much so, that we’ve been making it week in, week out, for the past 3-4 years.
A few weeks ago, I proposed a couple of Spanish recipes to Sylvia, to share a little piece of our culinary tradition on her website Feasting At Home (if you don’t know it, you should really check it out). I discovered her blog and recipes while I was living in Dublin a few years ago, and until today she has been one of my biggest sources of inspiration when it comes to food, cooking and living seasonally. I couldn’t be happier that this recipe is on her site, inspiring people to make this dish.
What is paella and where does it come from?
Paella is a well-known Spanish dish, originally from the region we now call Valencia. The word paella actually means ‘pan’ in Valencian (Catalan), and it refers to the wide, flat pan in which this rice dish is cooked. Although paella is generally understood as any dry rice cooked with different ingredients, there is a traditional Valencian recipe that calls for specific ones: olive oil, chicken, rabbit, green beans, garrofó beans, tomato, water (not broth), salt, saffron (as natural colouring) and rice.
Some of Spain’s history is reflected in this dish: the use of rice in the Mediterranean area only began after rice itself arrived in the region from Asia. However, rice wasn’t grown in large quantities in Spain until the Arabs arrived to the Peninsula at the beginning of the 8th century, as rice was a big part of their diets. The Arabs also brought with them the use of many other ingredients and spices, such as saffron – another essential ingredient in paella.
Paella was originally called “Valencian rice” and the people from that region were praised (and still are) for their mastery of cooking rice in delicious ways.
How many kinds of paella exist?
As many as people walking on this planet, I would say. Like with many other traditional dishes, each region interprets paella in their own way. Some Mediterranean coastal regions love using fresh prawns, muscles, clams, squid and sometimes lobster. In many areas it is common to use different types of meat (lamb ribs, rabbit, pork) combined with beans, artichokes or other veggies. In some places they actually combine both meat and fish – this is known as mar y montaña (sea and mountain).
The recipe here is not a traditional Valencian one, but an interpretation of paella based on seasonal ingredients and available resources.
How do people traditionally enjoy this dish?
The original way of cooking paella is outdoors, over a fire, by burning orange tree wood (common in Valencia). Nowadays, most families and friends will still cook it outdoors, but instead of fire, they will use an outdoors gas stove. The professionals will argue that this doesn’t compare to a real woodfire, but it is a nice option as well if a real fire is not available. The truth is that many people might not even have access to cooking outdoors, so families nowadays cook paella in their kitchen, over gas or regular stove. The main reason for making it outdoors is not just for the coziness of the process, but because paellas (the cooking pan) are usually very wide and quite large, so most kitchens are not equipped with a big enough stove that will spread the heat equally.
Paella is a family-style dish and, although it can be eaten any day of the week, it’s usually cooked when there is a gathering of family or friends, a special occasion, or during the weekend, when there is more time to spend cooking while you have a glass of wine or beer as you gather around and watch the vegetables and rice cook.
For convenience, this recipe is a reduced version (3-4 people) of regular paella, which usually serves 8, 10 or even dozens of people. Our version today can be cooked on a pan (cast iron works really well) on a regular stove.
This paella is about seasonality and local ingredients. The vegetables used in this recipe are just an example of what you could add during the Winter, but you don’t have to limit yourself to them. You can be creative and pick your favourite vegetables, or those that are available to you right now where you live.
In the Spring you could use asparagus and fresh green peas, and in the Summer you could add green pepper to the initial sofrito and some sliced red pepper and green beans to your paella.
Ultimately, making it yours and sharing it with the people you love is what paella is really about.
Key tips to make a delicious paella
TIP 1: Mise en place. I recommend that you do a proper mise en place before you start (have all ingredients chopped and ready before you start cooking). That way, you’ll be able to pay attention to each ingredient as you cook it.
TIP 2: Sofrito. One of the key things about a flavourful paella is starting with a good sofrito. Sofrito means “fried” in Spanish and it is the base for many dishes, giving them a rich and deep flavour. It usually consists of finely chopped onions, garlic and grated tomato (or tomato sauce), cooked in some olive oil, until soft and lightly golden.For this paella, we will be making a sofrito with onion, leek and garlic as our base (we will add the tomato later on).
TIP 3: Add previously heated water (or broth).While the ingredients are frying on the pan, start heating up the water or broth mix in a saucepan at low heat. Cover to allow it to heat up in less time. Avoid adding room-temperature water or broth to the pan, it will cut and slow down the cooking process.
If using broth, choose a high quality one. If you can only find stock cubes, simply use water alone.
TIP 4: The rice variety is important when preparing paella. I recommend using a Spanish bomba or Valencian variety. Senia, Bahia or Calasparra work well. If you can’t find any of these at the store, choose a round, short-grain rice. I’ve read that Arborio (risotto) rice can also work well, but I’ve never tried it myself. What you are looking for is a rice variety that soaks up all the flavours but that also allows for longer periods of cooking without becoming mushy too quickly.
TIP 5: Taste the rice before turning off the heat, if it still needs a little more time, add some extra water or broth (always hot) and let it cook for a 2-3 more minutes.
TIP 6: Creating sucarrat. One of the most anticipated and craved parts of this dish is the sucarrat. This is the bottom part of the rice which has caramelized and is slightly toasted and crunchy, if cooked correctly. This is considered, by some, the tastiest part and it is a friendly gesture to offer it to someone at your table.
This recipe is part of the #FoodWasteKitchen series, where the aim is to showcase beautiful, delicious dishes that can “save” any leftover ingredients that may be lying around in your fridge.
Paella, especially this freestyled version of it, is a great example of a way of using up the little bits and pieces of onion, leeks, peppers, zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms… that otherwise might go off and end up in the trash – something that can be so easily avoided!
This recipe is part of the #FoodWasteKitchen series.
💡 Try this: open your fridge & pantry, see what you have, then make your own paella.
I know that many of us want to reduce food waste, and make the most out of what we buy and store in our homes. We need easy, accessible solutions and ideas to do so. With this recipe, I continue the #FoodWasteKitchen, a series of recipes that aim to give you inspiration on how to use what is left in your fridge, in smart and delicious ways.
Other #FoodWasteKitchen ideas
Crepes – You can prepare this quite easily and in no time, then fry whatever veggies lie in your fridge. You can also make them with chickpea (gram) flour – here is a recipe for that.
A bake – Here is one that we’ve made many times. You can change and mix up the ingredients you put inside, no need to follow the recipe as it is.
Tacos – You can modify and use so many different ingredients. Option to make it gluten-free if you use corn tortillas.
Quesadillas – Same principles as tacos, but bigger, flatter and with cheese.
A quiche – Similar to a bake, another great way to throw in whatever leftovers you might have, mix it with a little egg, milk and cheese, and enjoy!
An omelette – In Spain, potato omelette is very common, but why should you keep it to just potato? You could make it out of almost anything!
A Buddha bowl – This is a bowl filled with a wide variety of ingredients: veggies, beans, grains, any green leaves, nuts, seeds…
Gyozas – I’m starting to see a pattern here… I guess anything you can stuff or fill, is a food waste-friendly dish.
Broth – If your leftover veggies are just scraps, and you really can’t make anything out of them… The good old broth is always an option.
IN YOUR KITCHEN
If you try this recipe, please let me know how it went in the comments section.
If you share it on social media, tag me @silvia.cooks and use #SilviaCooks and #FoodWasteKitchen.