I had made a spanish sauce just sometime before the Oscars. So, when I saw a recipe that was crafted specially for Ms. Natalie Portman this paella had to happen.
I followed the process given by Chef Puck using available ingredients. 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 I was sorted. My stock 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.
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; a short grained variety that expands in width on cooking rather than in length. I decided to go with the local short grained, plump and flavourful variety called ‘ambemohar’. It works well and like the bomba, requires three times water while cooking. My paella uses a lot of herbs because for me any rice dish is all about fresh flavours – think basil, thyme or parsley.
Recipe: Spanish Paella
Yield: Serves 3
Spanish Tomato Sauce – 2 cups
Vegan stock (made with fennel bulbs too, preferably) – 3 to 4 cups
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 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.
While the rice is being stirred, heat the stock, if cold. When the sauce has coated the rice well, add three cups of hot stock.
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.