I never had any paella before turning vegan or even vegetarian. Growing up in eighties and early nineties Belgium, one’s food on average did not get much more exotic than, let’s say, a pineapple topped pizza with a charred black olive in the middle. (An olive which I always immediately discarded and made me esteem its kind quite lowly for quite some time to come. That’s what I thought olives generically were supposed to look and taste like.) It was a time when broccoli had not become mainstream; neither had things like hummus or sun-dried tomatoes, all of which are part of our staple nowadays.
But even if paella had been a commonplace dish back then, I am sure I would have kindly declined every invitation to have some. Paella usually contains seafood (though each Spanish region most certainly has its own variation and key ingredients). And I happen to dislike (nearly) all things stemming from the sea’s salty waves. So even before turning vegetarian (and later vegan), seafood and fish were a no-go for me.
In the light of the above, it might seem utterly ironic that one of the first dishes I mastered as a vegetarian, was paella. Over the course of years the initially basic dish has become one which does not fail to convince vegans and non-vegans alike. Instead of seafood, my version contains cashews (for the bite), tangy, brine-cured, firmly textured Kalamata olives, and samphire. Although samphire is a sea vegetable, I actually do like it. Its salty taste is not overpowering, yet adds just that little extra which finishes the dish.
So this is how it goes.
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, pressed
- 1/2 – 1 tsp cumin
- 1/2 – 1 tsp curcuma
- 1 – 2 tsp sweet paprika (feel free to use a dash of smoked paprika)
- a few pinches of saffron
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 cups short-grain rice (such as calasparra rice; though feel free to use what type you have at hand. I’m not ashamed to admit that I often use arborio or carnaroli rice instead).
- 4-6 cups vegetable stock, or more if necessary. Substitute 1/2 cup of the broth with sherry, if desired
- 2-3 tomatoes, diced
- 1 red bell pepper, finely diced
- 1 green bell pepper, finely diced
- 3/4 – 1 cup grilled artichoke hearts
- 1/2 – 3/4 cup cashews
- 1/2 – 3/4 cup frozen peas
- 1/2 kalamata olives
- 1 cup samphire (blanched during 30 seconds)
- a splash of lemon juice
- some finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil; add the spices after 2 minutes and stir.
- After 1-2 more minutes, add the rice, and stir, so that the rice is evenly coated by the spices.
- Pour in the liquid (don’t add everything at once; you can add more later if necessary) and stir shortly
- Add in the vegetables (except for the samphire, peas and olives) and mix them unter the rice.
- Lower the heat and let simmer until all liquid has been absorbed. Add more if necessary. In principle you needn’t stir the paëlla in the meantime.
- Add the remaining ingredients and stir to distribute them evenly.