Paella «Reina Sofia»

Well, I suppose that it is paella week at our house. I just couldn’t resist trying out another kind of paella—a vegetarian paella that I have dubbed paella «Reina Sofia», after Spain’s Queen Sofia, who happens to be a vegetarian.

The basic method is the same as that for paella a la valenciana, with the critical difference that there is no 30 minute simmering of the meats with water—after all, there are no meats—but rather you add your rice directly to the sautéed vegetables, allow it to toast lightly, and then add water or broth. In any event, here is a step-by-step guide to the making the dish for 3-4 people:

Step 1: Cut up and and set aside all the vegetables that you will need for Steps 2 through 4 (In professional circles, this is often called the mise en place or the ‘putting into place’ of your ingredients):

Step 2: Set your paella pan on a barbecue with the center burners on high and pour in a generous amount of olive oil—you’ll need more than you may think to properly coat all the vegetables and the rice. If you have a sear burner, then use it, too, as it will help to sauté more quickly and, later on, to help form that wonderful caramelized rice crust at the bottom of the paella (called a socarrat). Add your flavor base of aromatic vegetables, consisting of three peeled and slightly crushed garlic cloves, a chopped onion and a chopped sweet red pepper:

Sauté these vegetables until they begin to soften and caramelize slightly.

Step 3: Then add a small eggplant that has been diced into cubes and sauté those until tender:

(If using a larger, older eggplant, salt the cubes for at least 30 minutes in a colander to remove any bitterness; with a young eggplant, there is no need to do this.)

Step 4: Next, add a handful of cherry or grape tomatoes, a handful of green beans (aka ‘string’ beans) trimmed and cut into two, a handful of peas (frozen is fine) and a handful of baby lima beans. Continue sautéing for a few minutes to allow the vegetables to absorb the flavors of the aromatic vegetables:

Step 5: Clear out a little well in the center of the vegetables and into the well add a tablespoon of pimentón, Spanish paprika (or regular paprika, if you can’t find pimentón). Allow the pimentón to sauté for a few moments and, when you begin to smell its rich, smoky aroma, mix it with the vegetables to coat them nicely. Then add your rice (about 250g or 1/2 lb) and allow it to sauté as well for a few minutes:

Step 6: Next, add enough water or broth to cover the rice by at least 1 cm (1/3 inch) together with some strands of saffron that you have dissolved in a bit of warm water:

Allow the liquid to simmer vigorously (but not boil) until it has been entirely absorbed and you hear a sizzling and then a crackling sound. Check with a spatula or other utensil to see if the liquid has been entirely absorbed and—hopefully—a nice socarrat has begun to form on the bottom of the paella pan. Taste to make sure that the rice is just about cooked. If it is, then remove the pan from the fire and allow it to rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

¡Buen provecho!

NOTES: This recipe is my own ‘invention’—sort of. It is actually an amalgam of the most appealing aspects of the many recipes for vegetarian paella that you will find on Spanish websites. Almost all of them have some common features: aromatics such as onion, garlic and red pepper, as well as eggplant and green beans, and (often) peas and/or beans of some sort. Artichokes also feature often but, being out of season at the moment, I omitted them. And, as mentioned at the outset, all these recipes omit the preliminary simmering and call for the rice to be added directly to the vegetables.

Without the simmering step, which creates the broth for paella a la valenciana, you have some choices to make up for the loss of flavor: you can use vegetable broth or—straying a bit from vegetarian principles—chicken broth. Or you can simply use water, in which case you will want to season well with salt and perhaps add a bit more pimentón for extra flavor.

Speaking of straying from vegetarian principles, there is a humorous (and possibly apocryphal) story about Queen Sofia and King Juan Carlos’ royal visit to Morocco in 2005. The visit was meant to help mend relations between Spain and Morocco in the wake of a territorial dispute over the Isla de Perejil (Parsley Island) off the coast of Morocco. It seems that the Moroccan chefs did not entirely understand what it meant to be a vegetarian, since—as the Queen later told the Spanish press—they insisted on flavoring the ‘vegetarian’ dishes they served the Queen with little bits of meat! But this is nothing too unusual, actually. In Italy, for example, dishes with a bit of pancetta can still be considered magro, or fit for eating on fast days. In cases like this, the meat is considered a kind of condiment rather than truly ‘meat’ as such.

Whatever…

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10 Responses to “Paella «Reina Sofia»”

  1. 29 August 2009 at 00:25 #

    Dear Frank!
    Greetings from Shizuoka, Japan!
    Thank you so much for changing you Comment Page!
    I'm sure it will prove a bonus!
    I didn't know Queen Sofia was vegetarian! In such a meat-eating country like Spain it is slightly surprising!
    Now, that posting of yours will make new friends among vegetarians!
    Congratualtions!
    Cheers,
    Robert-Gilles

  2. 26 August 2009 at 08:47 #

    Hooray for vegetarian paella! I so rarely get a paella … this is definitely going on my list.

  3. 26 August 2009 at 07:46 #

    Hi Frank, theres an award waiting for you on my blog :)

  4. 26 August 2009 at 05:45 #

    I love paella, but gotta atleast have some shrimp:) Love your pictures! That is one well used paella pan.

  5. 26 August 2009 at 05:26 #

    Love the step by step pics and the bits about Reina Sofia. Excellent healthy dish!

  6. cristóbal
    26 August 2009 at 04:58 #

    Creo que me gustaría saborear una paella vegetaria, la primera vez que miré una paella en España, la visión de los langostinos casi me hace …., lei hace poco que originalmente la paella es solo de vegetales.

  7. 26 August 2009 at 03:08 #

    Wow, you're a real connoisseur of paella! :-)

  8. 25 August 2009 at 22:04 #

    your blog very interesting, i hope you come to my blog

  9. 25 August 2009 at 21:40 #

    I love this picture of the family very nice~ is this your parents?

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