This Paella recipe is super easy to customize based on what you have available in your fridge, pantry, or freezer, and it’s a great dinner option because you really don’t have to do anything for most of the cooking time. What could be better than a dinner that you get to dump a bunch of things into a pan and then go watch a TV show or take a little cat-nap?!? Read more to learn about what is Paella!
Paella, meaning “frying pan” in Valencian, gets its name from the traditional pan used to cook the seasoned and loaded rice dish over an open fire. However, when we think about paella we picture the meal itself which is vibrant, loaded with all sorts of things, and has that crispy rice bottom crust that makes this more than just another rice dish. Not everyone is going to have a paella pan nor have the ability to cook over an open fire. I mean, you could pile up some charcoal on your kitchen floor, but who wants to deal with an insurance claim that you have to file just for paella? Not this guy. So, instead, I just use my biggest frying pan.
Alright, since we’ve already taken the paella out of the paella, we might as well go the step further and omit the commonly included meat. You may know paella here in America as being covered with shrimp and other seafood, but traditionally this dish features chicken, pork, snails, and/or rabbit. Essentially it’s a rice dish loaded with all the things. To veganize this I basically just omitted the meat and added chickpeas for a protein. Clever. Amiright.
Making a paella really doesn’t take a lot of work but it does require time to cook. There’s also the key ingredients of Trust and Patience, because one of the best parts of paella is the socarrat, or the crispy rice on the bottom of the pan. Getting that crisp layer requires a hands off period where you don’t stir, flip, mix, or really do anything. That’s where that trust and patience comes in. Just cover the pan and walk away.
Typically a paella will be a golden yellow color from the addition of saffron. But, let’s be honest, who stocks saffron in their pantry? And unless you’re dropping bank, you’re more than likely not getting genuine saffron so why bother. Saffron threads are the stamens from the crocus flower. It takes roughly 150 flowers to produce an ounce of saffron which makes it one of the most expensive foods on the planet! The price is between $5-10K per pound. It is also a food source that relies on underpaying harvesters to gently pick the three stamens per flower during the one week of bloom a year. Sure, you can find that tiny box of saffron at your grocery store, but unless there’s a country of origin listed, generally Iran or Spain, you can be certain that it’s really even saffron. Suppliers often add in threaded and died bark to mimic the look and dye of saffron. It’s shitty, but, just like with honey, a lot of food isn’t truly regulated, and when you’re trying to save money you need to be aware that cheap can and probably means fake. So, let’s just skip the saffron for this dish and save it for an anniversary or date night.
The main flavors in this vegan paella are the nutty and fragrant arborio rice, which has a higher starch content and gets softer and stickier than jasmine, basmati, or a brown variety, and earthy flavors from the spices and herbs paired to the veggies. Can you substitute things? Sure. Try to stick to a combination of earthy flavors with some bright ones like the acidic artichoke hearts and lemon. To mimic the open fire aromas and flavor in the traditional dish I used smoked paprika and a little liquid smoke. I tend to prefer the hickory liquid smoke for most recipes and a little bottle will last a long time. It’s great to have on hand because it adds a little extra flavor to a sauce or dish.
- Large non-stick pan, paella pan, or enamel lined dutch oven
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon paprika (or smoked paprika)
- 1 1/2 cups arborio rice (could use jasmine rice)
- 14 ounces petite diced tomato or crushed
- 4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
- 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
- 1 medium red bell pepper, cut into strips
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon ground rosemary (optional)
- 14 ounces canned chickpeas, drained
- 14 ounces canned artichoke hearts, quartered
- 8 ounces button or baby bella mushrooms. sliced
- Fresh cracked pepper to taste
- Garnish with lemon wedges and chopped parsley or cilantro
- In a large frying pan, enamel lined Dutch oven, or an actual paella pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over high heat until it just begins to shimmer. Add the chopped onion and garlic to the heated pan, stir immediately, and cook undisturbed for 1 minute. Stir in the turmeric and paprikas. Cook for 30 seconds while stirring. Mix in the rice until it is completely colored with the spices.
- Pour in the tomato, liquid smoke, and vegetable broth. Bring to a simmer, then lightly stir in the red pepper slices, salt, thyme, chickpeas, and artichoke hearts. Drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil on top, but don’t stir in. Reduce heat to low and cook undisturbed and uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes. Once you can see that the liquid has been absorbed turn the heat up to high and cook for 2-3 minutes. The goal is to create a crust of cooked rice on the bottom which will be served with the paella.
- Turn off heat and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.
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