Sunday, 26 July 2015

Vegetarian paella

Our favourite vegetarian paella, proudly home-made

Our favourite vegetarian paella is Remy’s in Malvern, Melbourne. We’ve tried to imitate it countless times and never made it close enough. Until tonight, that is, when we followed Omar Allibhoy’s tips which we modified for a vegetarian twist.

Ingredients (for 2-3 people)

Olive oil
½ onion
½ red onion
1 leek (the white part)
Chopped red and green capsicums (or red chilies if you don’t have capsicums)
Carrots, sliced
Mushrooms, sliced
4 garlic, crushed
Green peas or broad beans or lima beans or edamame (or all of these)
Okras, cut into 2 cm ish
Sundried tomatoes
1 tsp smoked paprika powder
Rosemary and thyme
1 crushed or grated tomato, optional
3 cups of vegetable stocks (I put two blocks of stocks)
500 mg saffron, toasted
Chopped parsley
1 cup of callaspara, bomba or valenciana rice
Lemon wedges to serve

See this video for the original recipe from Omar Allibhoy. Our modified version is below. 


1. Toast the saffron for 10-20 seconds by enveloping it with foil and put it on top of the hot paella pan. When you open it later, it should smell lovely and the colour is darker from the untoasted saffron. Set the saffron aside

2. Drizzle olive oil on the pan. When it’s hot, sautee onions on medium heat until they are caramelised (we think caramelising it makes a difference because the broth/sauce becomes more delicious). Add capsicums (or chillies), carrots, mushrooms, and leeks, sautee until well done.

3. Add peas, okra, sundried tomatoes and capers, stir well. 

4. Lower the heat, add garlic for 30 seconds, don’t let it burn

5. Increase heat to medium, add smoked paprika/capsicum powder, some sprigs of rosemary and thyme, and crushed tomato (if using it), cooked for two minutes

6. Add vegetable stock, crush the saffron and scatter it into the stock. Scatter parsley. Let the stock boil.

7. Add rice immediately after the stock boil, distribute it evenly across the pan. Increase the heat to maximum (I put it 8 out of 9 heat, but I should have put it at 9/9). During this process, NEVER stir the rice, or it will release the starch and becomes creamy (this is not risotto). Boil the rice etc. for 10 min or until the water is almost fully absorbed (Omar left some water in the pan before turning the heat down). During this process, you can still turn the pan around or shake the pan a bit to redistribute the heat

8. After 10 min, lower the heat to very low (2 out of 9), put some extra sprigs of rosemary, and cover the pan with aluminium foil. Cook in low heat for 10 min.

9. When 10 min is over, take the pan off the stove and leave the foil lid on for another 10 min. Your paella should be ready by then. Serve with lemon wedges.

We learned several things tonight: paella is definitely not risotto. It’s not supposed to be creamy, it’s supposed to be dry but cooked (better if it becomes caramelised on the bottom). Also: the correct pan matters. We are glad that we bought the expensive paella pan yesterday; it paid off.

Don't wait too long after your stock boils before you scatter the rice. If your stock boils too long without the rice, it will reduce the amount of water you need for the rice to get cooked. 

Our paella didn’t develop the socarrat (the caramelised crust at the bottom of the pan), which might be because our paella pan has a non-stick coating to it. The absence of the socarrat might also be due to the fact that I used 8/9 heat instead of 9/9 heat when cooking the rice. Tonight’s paella already amazing without the socarrat, but we will try better next time. We will also try to find fresh artichoke because it looks amazing in the YouTube video!

Also see the Saffron on Dust site for more tips, it’s pretty useful.

Update 23 May 2016

Recently we've been having friends dining with us, and we got into the habit of serving them paella. Because our pan only yields paella for 3 people, we then use a common Baccarat flat frying pan. It works, but adjustments have to be made. 

Our paella pan (upper right) and the usual Baccarat pan (lower left)

To accommodate 7-8 guests, we use 1 + 1/3 cups of rice (1 full cup + one 1/3 cup, if my writing is unclear) and 4 cups of stock. 

You need to understand the nature of your usual frying pan. Does it absorb heat well, or not? If it does, be careful not to blast the heat too high, or you will risk having the rice under-cooked. If your pan does not absorb heat well, then it's okay to blast it to the highest, lest the rice becomes soggy.

Because our orange Baccarat pan absorbs the heat very well (too well!), we have to reduce the heat slightly when we blast it with the heat during step #7 above. For our Baccarat pan, we use 8/9 heat instead of 9/9 heat. For step #8, we can still use 2/9 heat for 10 min. 

Troubleshooting if heat is too high

Several times I put the heat too high for the Baccarat pan. Now come to think of it, there is a troubleshooting around it. If the 10 min heat-blasting is up, and most of your rice still has white cores (instead of becoming transparent), then you've put the heat too high.

Immediately reduce the heat to the lowest (ours would be 1/9) for 10 min, covered with the aluminium foil. Then take it off the stove for at least 15 min. NEVER open the lid at this stage because you're going to waste the hot vapour under the lid that the rice needs to get cooked!

Or, if you're worried that you've exposed your rice to too much heat, then after the water evaporates, just take it off the stove and leave it for at least 20 min. NEVER open the lid until 20 min is over. To check, just slightly open the lid, so that you don't waste the hot vapour inside. 

I hope this troubleshooting is clear. Drop me a comment if you want to discuss about this. Making delicious paella is possible, even for non-Spaniards like me and my partner. We just have to go through several trials (and blessed are the guests who are so patient to be our nobel 'guinea pigs'...).

Update 3 August 2016:

I just came back from almost a week of holiday in the UK, and it was amazing! I had the chance to cook vegetarian paella for my lovely hosts, which was great. However, the shop we went to didn't have the Calasparra or Bomba rice for paella (they stocked saffron and okra though, so it was great!), hence, I used white (usual) Basmati rice as the replacement. Rachel, my dearest friend, also didn't have a paella pan, so we improvised with a flat low pan, which turned to be perfect for what we needed. The rice:water proportion was still 1:3. Since we had four people, I used 1.25 cups of rice and 3.75 cups of water. 

The flat non-paella pan turned out to work well!

And the paella actually turned out very fine! Just like the paella in Remy's in Melbourne (which, turned out, also used basmati rice, we found out last January!). I just had to be careful that the water wasn't absorbed too much. Rachel has a gas stove, so I blasted it to highest for 9 minutes, then I covered the rice with aluminium foil and lowered the temperature to the lowest gas for 10 min. Then I took the pan off the stove and left it covered for another 10 min. It worked out well. Actually, I should have put more rice (same 1:3 water proportion), cos it was just enough for 4 people, so we couldn't have seconds...

I should have cooked more portion, it was really good!

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