One of my favorite things about being a vegetarian is the incredible variety it brings into my diet. Does that make any sense at all? It's true, eating meatless has gotten me to introduce all kinds of new dishes and ingredients into my regular rotation. Here's the thing: no dish is off limits, it just might need a little modification. It's really easier than you think, and when you get into the habit of tweaking recipes to make them vegetarian or vegan on a regular basis, you start to have fun with it and end up exploring all kinds of new dishes.
In this case I took a dish that's actually based around a very non-vegetarian ingredient, chicken (that would be the "pollo") and come up with a work around. Tempeh and some savory seasonings did the job. In fact, I went with poultry seasoning blend as the main flavoring, on the hunch that something used to enhance the flavor of chicken might make an ingredient that's totally not chicken, like tempeh, taste kind of like it is. I loved the result. Don't get me wrong, tempeh as chicken isn't fooling anyone, but that little bit of savory flavor takes it right where it needs to be as a stand-in for chicken. Interestingly enough, poultry seasoning is made up of a bunch of spices I probably wouldn't normally include in a Spanish-influenced dish like this one, but because I was going for a poultry flavor simply to compliment the other components of the dish, it worked out perfectly.
As to those other flavors, there's lots of them. There are a ton of different regional variations on arroz con pollo, and since I'm no expert in any one of them, I went and included my favorite elements from them all. Lots of Latin American recipes include beer for simmering the rice, and I loved the subtle yeasty flavor it gave my version of the dish. Spanish olives give a hint of pungent and salty flavor to offset the relatively mild rice, which is seasoned with a bit of cumin, paprika, and saffron. While I'm normally inclined to spice the heck out of my food, I really enjoyed the mild savory flavors of the spices in this dish. If you're a heat fiend, by all means, feel free to sprinkle in some cayenne pepper or hot sauce to your heart's content.
For the Tempeh Pollo:
For the Rice:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion diced
- 1 red bell pepper diced
- 1 green bell pepper diced
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 2 ½ cups vegetable broth
- 1 12-ounce bottle ale (optional, can be replaced with an additional 1 ½ cups vegetable broth)
- 2 cups long grain white rice
- 2 roma tomatoes seeded and finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ¼ teaspoon saffron threads
- 1 cup pimento-stuffed green olives halved
- Salt and pepper to taste
Make the Tempeh Pollo:
- Stir the vegetable broth, soy sauce, lemon juice, poultry seasoning, liquid smoke, paprika and garlic together in a shallow dish. Add the tempeh and toss to coat. Marinate for at least 30 minutes, tossing every so often to distribute the marinade. (You can begin preparing the rice while the tempeh marinates.)
- Coat the bottom of a large skillet with oil and place it over medium heat. Add the tempeh cubes, along with any excess marinade and cook for about 10 minutes, flipping once or twice to achieve browning on multiple sides.
Make the Rice:
- Coat the bottom of a large pot with olive oil and place it over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion and bell peppers, and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté 1 minute more.
- Add the broth, ale (if using) rice, tomatoes, cumin, paprika and saffron. Stir a few times to incorporate. Raise the heat and bring to a simmer. Lower heat, cover, and simmer until the liquid is fully absorbed, about 20 minutes.
- Remove from heat and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Uncover and fluff a few times with a fork. Stir in the olives, salt, pepper, and tempeh.
- Divide onto plates and serve.