A fresh, flavorful Spanish vegan paella packed with veggies like leeks, onions, bell peppers, mushrooms and tomatoes, with tofu standing in for the seafood. It's a vibrant pop of nutrition and flavor, all in one dish--and it's one pot.
I have a thing for Paella, and can you blame me? There's something so, grrr, red blooded about Spanish food. And when it's a Vegan Paella, a one-pot package deal with so many goodies tucked in, one just can't help but fall in love.
Okay, I'd better rein myself in, but then again this Vegetable Paella is definitely a dish to get all hot and bothered about. It's delicious and there is so much goodness here from the rice and the lima beans and the red peppers and the tofu that your tastebuds will want to wear high heels and do the flamenco.
Paella is a popular dish around my home because, like I've told you before, Desi will eat rice in just about any form. And when the house smells as great as it does when I'm making this, he is definitely interested. More than. Better still, this is not just a perfect dinner but it makes for perfect brown-bag eats for both of us the next day.
I used some beans in my Vegan Paella which are traditional, especially in Valencia, the Spanish city where Paella originated, and other traditionally used ingredients, like onions and red peppers and sausage (vegan, of course).
But my recipe is also very simple and comes together rather quickly, because hey, I get it: we are not living in the 18th century where sultry senoritas could languidly saute and simmer and then serve it all up without a hair out of place.
I'm off to serve mine, and I can't believe I waited this long before wiping it off the face of the earth. And oh, if you're a parent, Jay loved this despite the mushrooms, so I'd put it in the kid-friendly box.
Tips and tricks for making the best vegan paella
- For an authentic tasting paella without the mussels and the clams and the chicken and the sausage, you will need ingredients that will pack in flavor and umami. In this paella that comes from mushrooms, tomato paste, smoked paprika and, to some extent, the wine, which is optional, but really nice here.
- I also like adding some "seafood tofu" to my paella for the protein and flavor. That's just tofu tossed with a few spices like paprika, garlic powder, salt and black pepper and some Old Bay seasoning, if you have it (it's usually used to season seafood but is perfectly vegan on its own and adds a nice, oceany flavor). I then pan-fry or air-fry the tofu (I much prefer air-frying as it's more hands-off and gives a great result.)
- Add the tofu to the paella pan in the last few minutes of cooking, so it absorbs some of the flavors of the rice while retaining its firmness.
- I like adding lima beans that are frozen or canned and therefore don't require much cooking to my paella when I have them on hand. I didn't use them this time but if you want an extra hit of protein and fiber add them to the paella. If you use canned lima beans make sure you drain them first before adding them to the pot.
The most authentic varieties of rice to use for paella would be a shortgrain rice cultivated in Spain, like bomba rice or calasparra rice. You can easily find these online, but I used arborio rice, which I keep on hand for risottos and makes a perfectly acceptable replacement.
Not at all. While paella pans can be found easily here in the United States, and some are reasonably priced, I am a big believer in using what you already have in your kitchen and making it work. For the paella, I use my biggest, widest skillet and it works perfectly. Just don't use a pot with high sides and make sure the skillet is big enough to hold all the veggies, rice and liquid.
Socarrat is the layer of "scorched," caramelized rice at the bottom of the pan that gets brown and crispy and adds a unique flavor dimension all its own. This is a technique also used in other global cuisines that eat rice abundantly, including Persian, Chinese and Latin American.
To create a soccarat in your paella, cook the paella on a high flame in the last five or 10 minutes, but keep your nose engaged to ensure it doesn't burn.
More tasty rice dishes
For the "seafood" tofu
For the paella rice
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 6 cloves garlic (minced)
- 1 small onion (finely diced)
- 1 leek (cleaned of all grit, then white and green parts chopped. Optional)
- 2 medium bell peppers (any color, finely diced)
- 8 oz crimini mushrooms (sliced. Button mushrooms or portobello mushrooms are fine too)
- ¼ cup white wine (optional)
- 2 medium tomatoes (diced)
- 1 heaping tbsp tomato paste
- 16 oz lima beans (frozen or canned. Drain if using canned. Optional)
- 2 teaspoon oregano
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon cayenne
- 1 cup arborio rice
- 2½ cups vegetable stock (or water)
- A generous pinch saffron
- Salt to taste
- 1 bunch parsley (chopped)
Make the tofu
- Toss the tofu with the garlic, paprika, Old Bay seasoning, if using, and salt and black pepper.
- Heat 2 teaspoon oil in a paella pan or any wide skillet. Add the tofu in a single layer and cook, stirring so all sides come in contact with the pan and get lightly golden brown. This is much better done in the air fryer. If using the air fryer, toss the tofu in the oil along with the other spices, place in the air fryer basket and air fry 16 minutes at 400 degrees. Toss the cubes around halfway through to ensure they all cook and crisp up evenly.
Make the paella rice
- Heat the oil. Add the garlic, onions, leeks and bell peppers. Season with salt and ground black pepper and saute until the onions are soft and translucent.
- Add the mushrooms and the wine, if using. Cook until most of the moisture in the pot has evaporated, then add the tomatoes, tomato paste and lima beans, if using.
- Mix well, add the oregano, smoked paprika and cayenne and stir in. Then add the rice and stir it in until it's merged in with the veggies and spices.
- Add the rice to the skillet and cook, stirring, until the grains appear translucent, a couple of minutes. Add the vegetable stock or water to the pot, add salt to taste (the water should taste saltier than you want your rice to be) and mix well. Let the rice cook, uncovered, until the stock or water boils. Add the saffron strands and stir them in lightly.
- Cover the pot and let the rice cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Uncover the pot, place the tofu on top, cover again, and let the rice cook another 10 minutes. If you want the layer of burnt rice, socarrat, at the bottom, turn up the heat in the last five minutes of cooking.
- Let the rice stand, covered, for 10 minutes, then open, fluff gently with a fork, and serve, garnished with parsley.
Love this vegan paella? Check out more vegan rice recipes at Holy Cow Vegan!