I’ve been vegetarian for over three decades, like to cook, and have sought to propagate the idea of compassionate animal care by simply serving everybody I know the tastiest vegetarian dishes I can make.
Those who know me, but don’t know me well, occasionally ask me at this time of the year, “So are you having Tofurky for Thanksgiving?”
I realize we are creatures of habit and more akin to Pavlov’s dogs than we care to acknowledge, but for the life of me I could never understand why vegetarians or non-vegetarians would choose to eat turkey when there are so many more flavorful dishes to enjoy. Beyond the question of suitability of over-processed soy foods, beyond the issue of yogic balance and moderation, why would you go out of your way to overeat something as bland as turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes? This, I’ve never been able to figure out.
So, with my tip to the hat to all those people who, when gathered around an obese dead bird at Thanksgiving, endured jokes from me (such as asking “How’s the cadaver?”) here is my vegetarian Spanish paella, presented as a play in two acts, a climax and a denouement. It’s guaranteed to be faster in cooking, tastier in eating, and more in line with the yogic concept of ahimsa. This is my own version, which substitutes the shellfish and seafood for bright, colorful vegetables, and adds pinto beans for further texture and to balance out the protein content:
Ricardo’s Vegetarian Paella
Prologue: The beans: overnight plus 1 hour of separate cooking
- Pre-soak 2 cups of pinto beans overnight
- Rinse and drain the beans and toss them into 5 cups of boiling water for 1 hour or until cooked. Keep the water just at boiling level with the lid on so as to not let much of it evaporate: we’ll need it for the rice.
The First Act: Sautéing the onions: 5 minutes
- In a large 5-quart (liter) pan, drop 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, and over medium heat sauté 1 large coarsely chopped yellow onion until golden – 4 or 5 minutes.
- Optionally: add 5-6 strands of saffron to the onions while they’re cooking; saffron is expensive and sometimes harder to find, so you can also skip this and instead use turmeric in the step below.
The Second Act: Tossing in the rice and everything else: about 1 hour
- Add 5 cloves of minced garlic, and sauté, stirring often, for another minute.
- Add 2 cups of brown rice and sauté for 1 minute, stirring often. I like short-grain organic brown rice for this dish, but any other kind of brown rice will also do.
- Add to the pan 4 cups of water from the beans, 2 tablespoons of paprika, half a teaspoon of turmeric (if you didn’t use the saffron), 1 tablespoon of black pepper, 1 teaspoon of red pepper, 1 large, coarsely chopped tomato, 1 16-ounce bag of frozen peas (not canned – they’ll be mushy), 3 chopped fresh or frozen bell peppers (the more colors, the better), 8 ounces of kalamata olives (other black olives okay too so long as they’re not from cans – they’ll have no flavor). Optionally: 1 – 2 tablespoons of salt, or to your preference. Cover, bring to a boil, and go talk with the guests while the paella simmers for 50-60 minutes or until the rice is done. Do not stir while cooking – it’ll tend to make the rice gummy.
The Climax: 1 minute
- When the rice is done and mostly dry, add 16 ounces of quartered artichoke hearts, the beans you cooked separately (drained), transfer everything to a large serving bowl and mix well.
The Denouement: 1 minute
- Add more extra virgin olive oil to the serving bowl, to bring out the flavor, and serve.
Serves… well, serves four, unless they’re pigging out and you’re hoping for leftovers – in which case, you might want to double everything in the recipe.
Photo credit: miche11e