Saturday, October 2, 2010

And We're Back: Vegan Paella

So I'm sure you've noticed the distinct lack of blog postings in the month of September. I tried, I really did. But working 25 out of the 30 days in the month, plus many of the nights, took its toll on my blogging career. I did my best to still cook as many nights as I could, and to take pictures of the food as much as possible. I'll try to catch up over time by mixing posts of things I'm making now with posts of things I made last month.

A few weeks ago, I made the mistake of asking J one night what dishes he would like me to make that week. Not so much dishes I've made before, but random ideas of things he thought I should try. He listed off an interesting collection of items, most of which I actually did try. One of the more daunting ones was this one: Vegan Paella. I have no idea why or how this idea came into his head. I don't actually know for sure if he or I have ever actually eaten paella in our lives. Everyone sort of knows what it is...a rice dish, usually with seafood like mussels in it and saffron or something among the spices. Tomatoes maybe? I'm showing my ignorance here, but I really didn't even know where to begin.

I started by googling Vegan Paella and reading as many recipes as I could find. As is usually the case, I decided to take my favorite parts from all the recipes to create one big super-recipe. This dish is not nearly as complicated as it first seemed to me. In fact, as I'm writing this, I'm also compiling my grocery list for this week and I think I'm going to make this again. Start by gathering all the ingredients:

2 cups paella rice (I'm not sure if this is necessary but I was sufficiently convinced by everything I read that you have to buy special rice. I bought this one online)
3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
3 artichokes, trimmed, cleaned, and quartered
12 or so green beans, trimmed
1 onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, pressed
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 cup frozen green peas
pinch of saffron (the good stuff, not the powder)
4 cups vegetable broth
crushed hot pepper flakes

The first step is to clean the artichoke hearts. Now, call me crazy but I had never done this before. I followed these simple directions:
1. Remove all leaves
2. Trim the end of the stem
3. Use a paring knife to remove all of the course stuff around the base of the heart
4. Peel the stem and any last bits of thick skin on the heart
5. Remove all of the the hairy choke with a sharp spoon
7. Put heart in a bowl of water with a squeeze of lemon juice to prevent browning

Doing all of this is pretty easy, but time consuming and it felt wasteful. By the time I was done with this step, I was loudly complaining to J from the kitchen about how stupid artichokes are and how I'm not using them next time. I even went so far as to take a snarky photo of (left) the part of the artichoke you don't use and (right) the part of the artichoke you do actually use. Needless to say to you artichoke enthusiasts out there, when I ate this finished dish, I completely changed my tune. Who cares how long it takes to clean them? I LOVE artichokes! Don't make this dish without them, I promise you will agree after you taste them.

Next quarter the artichokes and trim the green beans. Saute the two of them together in a little olive oil with salt and pepper until somewhat tender but not completely done. Meanwhile, heat the vegetable broth with the pinch of saffron (about 10 threads) until it simmers.

In a large pan (a paella pan or something
sort of like it), saute onion, garlic and bell pepper in 2 Tbsp. of olive oil for about 4-5 minutes. Add the rice and saute 4-5 minutes longer. Add chopped tomatoes and peas with salt and pepper to taste. Stir and then add all of the hot vegetable broth to the pan. The concept of paella is pretty much the opposite of risotto. Instead of adding the broth gradually and stirring constantly, you add the broth all at once and never stir. Let the pan simmer for about 8-10 minutes until the broth no longer covers the rice mixture. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook another 8-10 minutes until the liquid looks mostly absorbed. Sneak a bit of the rice from just below the surface. If it doesn't taste done, continue cooking a few more minutes.

When the rice tastes mostly done, add the artichokes and green beans to the top of the dish. (You can see I made a silly design, but that's obviously not necessary!) Sprinkle a little crushed chili flakes and cover the dish with aluminum foil and cook for about 3 more minutes to assure that the top layer of rice is completely cooked. From what I've read, this last step is by far the most important. The goal of a perfect paella is to create a delicious crust on the bottom, while somehow not burning it. The last step is to turn up the heat to medium high and cook for another 2-3 minutes. You can actually hear a little bit of a crackling sound as the rice crisps up. The better your crust turns out will probably depend on how much of a dare devil you are. I left it on long enough to create a crust, but I'll probably wait a little longer next time.

This dish was incredibly delicious. Other than cleaning the artichokes, it was seriously not very difficult at all. And it looks amazingly elegant. J couldn't believe that this was something homemade when I showed it to him. This is something I will absolutely be making for company in the future. And with all the juicy and delicious vegetables, there is absolutely no need for the traditional seafood. If you try one unusual recipe this week, make it this one! And if anyone can tell me a supermarket in the Bay Area that carries paella rice, please tell me!

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