Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Vegetarian Paella

So.... I'm still experimenting with my handy dandy rice cooker, and this recipe is a keeper! Not only is it quick and easy, it is also beautiful and delicious! Alas, no photos because my camera is nowhere to be found, but trust me when I say it looks as beautiful as it tastes.

I love paella. Its a comfort food from my childhood for me. When I was a child, my father drove my mother and me all the way from Boston to Mexico to spend the winters. We spent four or five winters traveling around Mexico, until it was time for me to go to grammar school. My mother often told the story of how she was knitting on the beach while watching me dig in the sand, and this delicious aroma kept wafting towards her, making her mouth water. Eventually, she gathered me up, followed her nose, and found a man cooking a huge pan of paella. She described a pan about 3 feet in diameter, set over a wood fire, bubbling away. The fishermen pulled their boats into shore and the seafood that they caught was cleaned right there and tossed into the bubbling mixture. When it was done, Mom purchased a portion and we ate it right there on the beach and she was a paella convert! Her Spanish was passable, and she was an excellent experienced cook, so all she really needed was a list of ingredients, which she charmed out of the man cooking the paella, and we've been eating paella ever since.

Paella is usually made with combination of fish, seafood, and another meat which could be chicken, pork or sausage. In my home while growing up, it was usually fish, seafood, chicken and sausage. It was a festiive, exotic, expensive dish with a real WOW factor, particularly in snowy Boston in the 1950s and 1960s, which was about as far away from sunny Mexico as you can get, so it was reserved for company or special occasions, like my high school graduation party. When I had my own home, I also made paella for guests - it was one of my go-to meals, along with chicken cooked in wine from my grandmother's recipe, kibbe and grape leaves, and an old fashioned pot roast.

But now I am basically a vegetarian, only rarely eating meat or fish, and I have a fridge full of beautifully fresh produce, as well as a nearly new rice cooker...... So, here is what I did:

Vegetarian Paella

2 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 scant tsp Italian herbs (use this rather than Herbes de Provence, because you really need the bite of oregano)
1 tsp sweet paprika (I used smoked)
1 large yellow crookneck squash, in 3/4" cubes
1 large zucchini in 3/4" cubes
1/8 tsp cayenne
2 tsp Vogue Veggie Base powder or other bouillion powder
1 10 oz can Rotel diced tomatoes with green chiles, mild, drained with juice reserved
pinch saffron
1 1/2 C risotto rice (Arborio, Carnaroli, Valencia, or other medium grain rice)
water & tomato juice mixed to make 2 C
1 C frozen peas
1/2 C sliced black olives

Set the cooker to regular white rice cycle and coat the bottom of the pan with the oil. Mix water into the reserved tomato juice until you have 2 C, and then soak the saffron in it while you prepare the vegetables. As you chop the veggies, put them in the hot pan, starting with the onion, and stir. When all the veggies except the peas and olives are in the pot, stir in the rice, then stir in all the herbs, spices and bouilliion powder. Stir in the liquids, making sure that all the ingredients and flavorings are well distributed. Close the pot and reset for the regular white rice cycle. When the cycle finishes, sprinkle the peas and olives on top, close the cover, and let steam for five minutes. Open the cover, stir the peas and olives into the rice, taste for salt and pepper, and eat until you simply can't eat any more!

This was yummy with a glass of white wine and a slice fresh plum clafouti with yogurt and honey for dessert.

Paella can easily be made in very large quantities on top of the stove as well. Simply follow the proportions of rice to liquid to vegetables and follow the cooking times on your bag of rice.

My Mom and I have found that cooking paella the traditional way, much like risotto - in an open pan with liquids being added gradually - takes a variable amount of time to cook, so years ago, she opted to simmer it in a closed pan like cooking a regular pot of rice, with no loss in texture or flavor, but with a reliable cook time. Try it both ways and see what works best for you.


Mimi said...

Wow does this sound yummy!

missingbecheery said...

Oh Mimi, it was heavenly. I ate a ton of it last night and took the rest to work. When I nuked it, the whole lunchroom smelled so heavenly, that I ended up needing to share my lunch. Now, there is not one grain of rice left! I may make it again in a few days -- that's how good it is!

San Francisco Catering said...

Sounds good. I will try it tomorrow night and have some people taste it because clients were asking me for recipes in my San Francisco catering business