Happy new year everyone!
We’re already well into January and on our way to longer and lighter days. After weeks of indulging in holiday treats, I’m up for fresh veg-packed food, with a hint of the sunshine that’s carefully peeking through the clouds as I’m writing this. So for those of you who are looking for inspiration for Veganuary, and for everyone who’s simply in the mood for some full-flavoured comfort food, may I suggest a firm favourite of mine: paella! This vegan version of the classic Valencian rice dish is creamy and comforting, while packed with plant-based goodness at the same time.
The creaminess comes from the use of special short-grained paella rice. Simmered in stock, it absorbs every bit of flavour and just the right amount of liquid to turn out beautifully soft and moist. Before adding the rice, I flavoured the stock with bay leaves, fried onion and garlic and finely chopped green peppers and fennel. The cooked veg add depth of flavour and a slight sweet touch to the mixture, as well as making the rice base a bit lighter. The addition of paprika, saffron and a dash of sherry add an instant Spanish sunny feel.
To this base you can add almost anything you like. Traditionally, paella is often made with meat or sea food or a mixture of both. But if you decide to leave these out, there’s a range of delicious plant-based add-ins to choose from. In this version I picked a combination of sweet grilled peppers, slightly sour artichoke hearts, juicy wilted spinach, tender double-podded broad beans for protein and chopped flat-leaf parsley and fennel fronds for freshness. With the prospect of a plate like this for dinner, for me this week couldn’t start any better.
I hope the new year started well for you too. Did you set it off with special intentions or more or less vigorous new year’s resolutions? As I’m not one for drastic alterations starting particularly on January 1st, my intentions for this year are a continuation of what I’ve been aiming for in the past one. To invest time in meaningful connections with my family, friends, neighbours and the people I happen to meet that could use a smile. To have an open heart for those in need of care and support. And to cook delicious food along the way.
May this year be an inspirational one and have good things in store for all of you.
Vegan paella with lots of veg – serves 4
- 2 red bell peppers, halved and deseeded
- 2 yellow bell peppers, halved and deseeded
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, finely diced
- 1 large fennel bulb, finely diced, fronds reserved for garnish
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tsp. paprika
- ½ tsp. saffron threads
- 250 g short-grain paella rice
- 200 ml dry sherry
- 1 l. hot vegetable stock, homemade or from cubes
- 2 bay leaves
- 400 g tin of artichoke hearts in water, drained and quartered
- 2 large handfuls of spinach leaves
- 450 g broad beans, blanched and double-podded
- juice of 1 lemon
- bunch of flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
Heat the oven grill to its highest setting.
Line a baking sheet with aluminium foil. Put the halved red and yellow bell peppers on the baking sheet, cut side down, and place them directly under the grill. Grill the peppers for 5 minutes, until the skins are charred and blistered. Transfer the peppers to a bowl. Cover with cling film and leave to cool. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel them and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Keep covered until using.
Heat the olive oil in a large cast-iron pan or a heavy-bottomed frying pan. Over a medium heat, cook the onion pieces for 10 minutes. Stir in the chopped fennel and green pepper and cook for another 6-7 minutes. Now add the garlic and paprika en fry for a final minute until the garlic is fragrant and done.
Get your hot stock ready. Tip in the saffron threads and leave to infuse until using.
Turn up the heat under the pan. Add the rice and stir until the grains are toasted and covered in a thin layer of the oil. Pour in the sherry and let it boil a minute for the alcohol to evaporate, then add the stock and the bay leaves. Lower the heat. Leave the rice to cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
Place the quartered artichoke hearts and spinach leaves on top of the rice. Let the mixture cook for 5 minutes more, then turn off the heat. Cover the pan and leave the rice to stand for a final 5 minutes, allowing it to absorb the last of the cooking liquid.
Stir the grilled pepper pieces through the rice, along with the double-podded broad beans and the lemon juice. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Serve the paella scattered with the parsley and reserved fennel fronds and sprinkled with freshly ground black pepper to your liking.