Recently the paella [pah-yel-uh or pah-yeh-uh] got a special mention and grabbed eyeballs at the Oscars thanks to Natalie Portman. Chef Wolfgang Puck who produced food for the Governers Ball Bash held in honour of the winners made a vegetarian (vegan) paella for Ms. Portman who happens to be vegan and also won the best actress for Black Swan. For those who eye vegan diet with suspicion and imagine that it is deficient in calcium or vitamins, I must mention that she looked radiant, healthy and beautiful even in her advanced pregnancy stage.
Since I had made a Spanish sauce just sometime before the Oscars, I was inspired to make a paella the very next day after I read the article.
I followed the process given by Chef Puck but used ingredients available in my kitchen. I stash a good amount of stock in the freezer every weekend made with left over, sad looking veggies, and I already had the frito so things were much easier for me. Since I had some fennel stalks from the soup I made a few days back, my stock also had a good amount of fennel stalks this time so it proved ideal for the dish. I made the paella twice over the week, once for dinner and once for lunch. My family loves any rice dish and I love anything that is one pot!
The traditional paella consists of two parts – the sofrito, and the rice with vegetables. Sofrito is the term for the tomato sauce and the sauce I posted last time serves the purpose beautifully! The rice and vegetables are something you choose. The preferred choice for the rice used in a paella, I gather is bomba which is a short grained variety that expands in width on cooking rather than in length. Based on the characteristics I substituted with the local short grained, plump and flavourful variety called ‘ambemohar’. It works well and like the bomba, requires three times water while cooking. Much better than basmati which needs only two and does not really plump up. My paella uses a lot of herbs because for me any rice dish is all about fresh flavours – think basil, thyme or parsley!
Dish: Spanish Paella
Yield: Not really enough for four, if you like it as much as we did!
Olive oil (Light or extra light) – 3 tablespoons
Garlic cloves – 2, chopped
White part of two leeks – sliced into thin rings
Half of a big yellow bell pepper, washed, cut into half, deseeded, and diced small
Half of a big green bell pepper, same as above.
Half of a big red bell pepper, treated the same way
One big red chilli (used for stuffed pickle), chopped (optional, I needed this one!)
Paella rice (I used ambemohar) – 1.5 cups, not rinsed!
Cayenne pepper powder (optional) – I added to my taste.
Powdered pink salt – as per taste
Carrots and zucchini – cut into thin rings and blanched in salted water.
Heat a big wok or pan. Pour 3 tablespoons of light olive oil. When hot, add garlic cloves. Stir fry for a minute and add the chopped leeks.
Fry for a minute or two till transluscent and then add the peppers. After stir frying and letting them cook well with a pinch of salt till done, add 2 cups of your spanish tomato sauce.
Keep stirring and cooking till it comes together into a paste. Add the rice and stir well to coat. In European cooking apparently the rice is not washed before adding. I used to find it odd earlier but having done this quite a few times, I no longer have a sense of foreboding about putting in the rice dry. I still spread it on a towel and wipe dry because I in my head the rice is not clean enough otherwise! Maybe I do have a foreboding after all!
While the rice is being stirred, heat your stock. When the sauce has coated the rice well, add three cups of hot stock. I do not add it cold as the temperature of the cooked food changes drastically and the vegetables tend to get overcooked. Also it is a time saver!
Stir everything in the pan. Check seasoning and adjust. I also added a teaspoon of jalapeno chilli powder for some much needed heat. Bring to a boil. Turn the heat to medium and let cook in simmering heat, without stirring any more. When the water is absorbed and the rice is cooked, shake the pan and check if there is water still in the vessel. Reduce heat and cook till water is absorbed, the kitchen is aromatic and the rice just starts smelling toasty in the pan. If you feel that the water was not enough add about half a cup of boiling water/stock and continue cooking till it reaches the above stage. Put off fire. Cover the vessel and let rest for five minutes to let the flavours meld.
Before serving top with blanched vegetables and a dash of olive oil. This is not a traditional topping and you can substitute with peppers or leeks or what you think would taste nice. I have to restrain myself heavily from adding fried cashews which goes in all Indian rice dishes! This one does not require it but I am always tempted to do it.
Serve hot. Being me, I could not control myself anymore. We had it with potato chips!
In not time we polished off the paella.