Hands down, one of the best things about living in Europe is having the rest of Europe at our fingertips. When we lived in Vancouver we might have driven up to Whistler or down to Seattle for a weekend, but now we can nip over to Barcelona when the mood strikes.
One of my favorite things to do in Spain is to wander around the local food markets. There are amazing displays of fresh produce and cheeses and spices, and food counters where you'll find old Spanish men and women drinking red wine and eating calamari at nine o'clock in the morning. We always restock on our favorite Spanish smoked paprika and saffron, then sidle up to a food counter for some tapas. Spain isn't the most vegetarian-friendly country, but you can usually get a vegetarian paella if you're willing to wait for it.
This vegan paella may not be totally traditional, but I promise you what it lacks in authenticity it more than makes up for in flavor. I've replaced the classic Calasparra rice with short-grain brown rice to turn out a more healthful paella. This increases the cooking time a bit, but otherwise I honestly couldn't note any real difference in the taste or texture. Cubes of smoked tofu take the place of the traditional chorizo to keep things vegan, and a blend of peppers, carrot, fennel, and peas pack some good nutrition into this one-pan meal. It's worth seeking out good-quality saffron and sherry for this recipe, as they add considerable flavor.
I learned on a trip to the south of Spain that it is considered mortally offensive to the cook if you add salt to your paella, but if you feel that it needs a little extra punch, we won't tell anyone.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small red onion finely diced
- 1 small red bell pepper sliced into strips
- 1 small yellow bell pepper sliced into strips
- 1 small green bell pepper sliced into strips
- 1 small fennel bulb sliced into strips
- 1 large carrot peeled and sliced diagonally
- 3 garlic cloves peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 cup short-grain brown rice
- 4 ounces smoked tofu cubed
- ½ cup good quality dry sherry
- 1 teaspoon saffron threads
- 2 ½ cups hot vegetable broth
- 12 mini plum tomatoes halved
- ½ cup frozen peas
- ¼ cup flat-leaf parsley chopped
- 1 lemon sliced into wedges
- Heat the olive oil in a large cast-iron or nonstick skillet (or paella pan, if you have one) over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the red onion and sauté for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add the peppers, fennel, and carrot and continue to sauté for 5-6 minutes, until the veggies are softened and the onion is slightly golden. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
- Add the bay leaves, smoked paprika, turmeric, and cayenne to the vegetables and stir well to combine, and then add the rice and cubed tofu and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.
- Add the sherry and the saffron threads and stir to combine. Bring the liquid to a boil, and allow it to simmer for a minute, until reduced by about half, then add the vegetable broth.
- Reduce the heat to low, cover with a lid or foil, and let the mixture simmer for approximately 30 minutes. Do not stir the rice. After 30 minutes, remove the lid or foil, and test the rice without stirring the rice and vegetables too much. Add a bit of salt to the paella if needed.
- Scatter the halved tomatoes and peas over the top and replace the lid. Leave the mixture to rest for 10-15 minutes. At this point the rice should be cooked — some of the bits on top may have a bit of crunch left but as long as the majority of the rice is well cooked that's okay.
- Remove the cover and sprinkle with parsley. Serve hot with lemon wedges on the side.