Vegetarian Paella

 
gluten free and vegan vegetarian paella

Roasted artichokes, peppers, olives and green beans are the stars of the show in this smoky, saffron infused rice dish made extra creamy with the addition of coconut milk. Vegan and gluten free, it will easily feed a crowd.

comfort • main course • summer


 
vegan, gluten free paella made with brown rice and roasted vegetables

I have never been to Spain and I have never had a proper paella — that is to say, one prepared in an actual paella pan with actual paella rice — so I cannot attest to the authenticity of this dish. I can, however, assure you that it is immensely delicious and a pleasure both to eat and to make.

If you are relatively new the concept of paella, it is a traditional rice dish originating from the east coast of Spain, often attributed to the city of Valencia. It’s name comes from the old French for ‘frying pan’; a reference to the round shallow metal dish that paella is traditionally cooked in. Typically, the dish is prepared over open flames where the rice is cooked slowly, lending a distinctively smoky flavor and certain crispiness of the rice where it sears to the sides of the pan.

Often containing seafood, the dish can also be made with vegetables or other types of meat but almost always includes olive oil, green beans, saffron, smoked paprika and a short grain rice known as bomba.

 
smoky, saffron infused vegetarian paella, perfect for feeding a crowd
 

Instead of the traditional bomba rice, however, I have subbed in short-grain brown rice which has a lovely, nutty flavor and chewy texture and far more nutritious value. The rice is simmered slowly in a tomato infused coconut broth seasoned heavily with smoked paprika, saffron and a hefty pinch of cayenne. What you end up with at the end of an hour is a tender, creamy and flavorful rice full of heat and intoxicating smokiness with a sunset glow the color of a ripe apricot.

If you’ve not used saffron before, you may be alarmed when you’re asked to shell out a $20 or more for just a tiny tin of the stuff, but that tin will bump around in your cupboard for years as you only ever need to use a very small pinch at a time. In the Flavor Thesaurus, Niki Segnit describes it in the following way, which I think is rather lovely:

Saffron combines the flavors of sea air, sweet dried grass and a hint of rusting metal — it’s the spice equivilant of Darek Jarman’s garden on the bleak rocky beach at Dungeness, defiantly strange and beautiful.
— Niki Segnit

Also, it’s worth noting that the harvest of saffron is possibly one of the most labor intensive and meticulous processes you could imagine, with harvesters hand plucking individual stigmas from crocus flowers that have only just opened. It takes 70,000 crocus flowers to produce just one pound of saffron, so that tends to put things into perspective. Whatever you do, don’t skip out on it as it’s ‘defiantly strange and beautiful’ presence is absolutely essential to the deliciousness of this dish.

 
roasted vegetables for vegetarian paella
 

Finally, the vegetables. The first time I made paella, I added the vegetables along with the rice, popped on the lid and cooked everything together, as my recipe instructed. However, this resulted in tender, beautifully cooked rice and vegetables that had been pulverized into mushy nothingness. I mean, no body like a limp green bean so clearly I had to rethink things. Sautéing the vegetables separately and adding them at the end did work, but I still felt that something was missing. So then, I tried roasting and wallah! The high heat of the oven intensifies the natural sweetness in the vegetables and pairs so perfectly with the smoky heat of the rice. It’s magic, and works so well with the sweet peppers just coming into ripeness this time of year.

From start to finish, it takes just a little over an hour and most of that is cooking time where you can sit and read a book or do the washing up if you’re feeling ambitious. It’s the perfect meal for a dinner party or feeding a crowd, especially as it’s gluten free and vegan status means that everyone will be able to enjoy it. Do let me know what you think if you try it

 
vegetarian paella with roasted peppers, olives, artichokes and beans
 

Vegetarian Paella

Total time: 80 minutes

 

Serves 6 - 8

For the rice:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil

  • one yellow onion, finely chopped

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika

  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

  • 2 cups (500 g) chopped heirloom tomatoes

  • 2 cups (425 g) short-grain brown rice

  • 14 oz (400 ml) can of coconut milk

  • 1.5 cups (355 ml) water or vegetable stock

  • 1.5 tsp sea salt

  • pinch of saffron

For the roasted vegetables:

  • 1 14 oz can artichoke hearts

  • 1 cup (180 g) kalamata olives

  • 1 yellow pepper, sliced

  • 1 red pepper, sliced

  • 1 orange pepper, sliced

  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • freshly ground pepper

  • 8 oz (250 g) green beans, topped and tailed

  • juice and zest of 1 lemon

To garnish:

  • Fresh basil or parsley

  • lemon wedges

 

For the rice:

  • In a large Dutch oven or saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook a few minutes, until just beginning to soften and then add the garlic, smoked paprika and cayenne. Cook for just a flash more (about 30 seconds or so) to coat the onion in the spices and then add the tomatoes.

  • Cook the tomato mixture for a few minutes, until the tomatoes have begun releasing their juices and then add the rice. Stir will to coat the rice before adding the coconut milk, vegetable stock, salt and saffron.

  • Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 50 - 55 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so to prevent sticking. If the rice seems very dry and is catching on the bottom of the pan towards the end of the cooking time, you can add more water in 1/4 cup increments as needed, but it should finish cooking just at the right time, with most of the liquid absorbed.

  • Remove from heat, and check for seasoning, adding more salt, cayenne or smoked paprika until it tastes exactly how you like it.

For the vegetables:

  • Preheat the oven 400 degrees F.

  • In a large bowl, toss all your vegetables except for the green beans with the salt, pepper, lemon zest and a drizzle of olive oil before transferring to a baking tray lined with parchment or a silicone baking mat.

  • Roast for 25 minutes, then add the green beans to the tray and roast for an additional 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and slightly caught on the edges here and there.

  • Remove from the oven and squeeze over the juice of 1 lemon.

To serve:

  • Place a generous serving of rice in each person’s bowl. Top with the roasted vegetables, some fresh basil or parsley and another squeeze of lemon. Enjoy!

Note:

I happened to make this at a time of year when heirloom tomatoes were abundant at the farmer’s markets. Their intense flavor really takes this dish to the next level, but if it’s not tomato season or you don’t happen to have any to hand, canned chopped tomatoes can be subbed in instead.


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saffron:

Dutch Oven:

Milo Food52 x Milo Cast Iron Cookware - Food52 White & Brass , Dutch Oven, 5.5QT

smoked paprika: