I love paella but never used to cook it as I thought it was really complicated and that frying without oil would make it rather challenging. I thought it would create a washing up nightmare with baked-on rice that only a stick of dynamite would shift 😉 Turns out none of those assumptions were correct.
In fact, the first time I ever cooked paella was in the campervan! Madness you might think but it’s a great one-pot meal and as long as you can find the space to chop all the veggies (on that occasion, outside) then there’s no excuse to give it a go! Tastes even better if you can eat it in the sunshine at the end of a day exploring, but that’s not an essential ingredient 😊
There are a few key things you need for a successful paella:
- A good pan. A proper non-stick frying pan works well. As does an enamelled cast iron dish like this one I have from Procook. I’ve tried it with a small paella pan I picked up at a car boot sale but the outcome was not good. Without a non-stick surface we ended up with a lot of crusty sticking and charcoal. Not good. I ended up throwing the pan away.
- Paella rice. Refined white rice is not my normal go to on a whole-food plant-based diet, but if you want paella, you need the right rice. I’ll explain why below
- Courage! Once the stock has been poured into the pan and the rice is cooking on a simmer, you have to leave it alone. And trust the cooking gods that it’s the rice that’s cooking, not the base of the pan burning. No stirring or fiddling. Walk away and set the timer for 10 minutes if your self control is not strong enough.
You can buy paella rice – sometimes referred to as bomba – in most large supermarkets. It’s a refined short grain rice which means it absorbs fluid more readily than long grain rice, becoming plump and a little sticky. It releases more starch than long grain rice and has less fibre.
Wholegrain rice retains more fibre than both short and long grain rice. But if you tried to use it in paella it would take way too long to cook and would be more likely to stick to the pan and burn, both frustrating. So whilst ordinarily I would recommend wholegrain over white, the odd white rice packed with lots of lovely veggies won’t do too much harm.
Traditional paella recipes use saffron to give the rice a lovely yellow hue. If you have some, great. However, it also the most expensive spice in the world, so turmeric is a good alternative – and much more affordable. Plus it has additional anti-inflammatory properties which are always useful when you’re eating for health. Make sure you add a good grinding of black pepper to provide the piperine required to absorb these beneficial phytonutrients.
This paella is a great way to eat a rainbow meal using a variety of vegetables. And variety is key for gut health too. By adding in a lovely selection of ingredients you’re giving your cells, gut microbiome and tastebuds a right treat. You can use the veggies in the recipe or whichever ones you prefer or have to hand. I usually add peas to my mix but last time used some edamame beans I’d picked up from the local community fridge (available to all to reduce food waste). They provided a great texture as well as some extra plant protein.
Talking of protein, I’ve added smoked tofu to the mix to provide some more plant protein. As I age, I’m becoming more aware of the need to ensure I eat a good amount every day. This is for muscle and bone health, particularly important once menopause hits, but also for everyone to age well. You can miss it out if you wish, or use cooked chickpeas as another plant-protein option.
I do hope you give this super tasty vegan paella recipe a go. It’s a super tasty rainbow meal that’s naturally gluten free (as long as the stock is), very satisfying and not as scary to cook as you might think! Don’t forget to let me know how you get on.
- Good quality large non-stick pan
- ½ medium red onion finely chopped
- ½ medium orange bell pepper deseeded and finely chopped
- ½ medium green bell pepper deseeded and finely chopped
- 1 small courgette diced
- 1 medium tomato diced
- 6 small mushrooms washed and sliced
- 1 clove garlic grated
- 120 grams paella rice
- 400 ml vegetable stock
- 2 strands saffron OR
- 1/8 tsp ground turmeric
- ½ tsp dried thyme
- ½ tsp smoked paprika
- 100 grams defrosted peas OR
- 100 grams edamame beans
- 150 grams smoked tofu optional but good
- black pepper
- chopped parsley optional
- lemon wedges
- Heat a couple of tablespoons of water in the base of your non-stick pan. Add the onion and diced peppers. Saute for 5 minutes until they start to soften.
- Add the courgette, tomato and garlic and continue to cook for a couple of minutes on a medium heat stirring from time to time to make sure the veggies don't stick.
- Whilst the veggies are cooking, make up the vegetable stock. Add the saffron strands (if using) or ground turmeric and stir well.
- Pop the thyme and smoked paprika into the pan and mix well then pour in the paella rice. Season with black pepper. Stir to combine with the veggies then spread it out so it covers the base of the pan. Simmer for 2 minutes.
- Pour in 3/4 of the vegetable stock, making sure the stock reaches all parts of the pan. Bring to a simmer and then leave it to simmer until all the stock is absorbed - this is the scary bit! Keep an eye on it but don't touch.
- Once most of the stock has been absorbed, add the pea or edamame beans to the pan along with the smoked tofu if using. Press into the rice but DO NOT STIR. Pour in the remaining stock and leave to simmer once more until all the stock has been absorbed and the rice is cooked once tested.
- Take the pan off the heat and leave to rest for 10 minutes - pop a lid on to keep warm. This will finish plumping up the rice.
- Serve with a chopped parsley if you have it and a lemon wedge on the side.