Everything you need to know to make the perfect vegetarian paella



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Let's talk paella. It's much more than a rice dish, and the supporting ingredients you choose determine which type of paella you are making. The three versions many are already familiar with are the Valencian paella, the seafood paella and the mixed paella.

Thing is, vegetarians who want to enjoy this flavorful dish are out of luck, since all three versions have meat, seafood or both. Before you consider making a rogue vegetable-only paella, however, join us on a mini culinary excursion that offers a little history on the dish.


A study in rice

Regardless of which paella you make, regardless of who considers it to be authentic or who argues that they know for sure that the real thing never has this ingredient or always has those ingredients, all paellas require rice. If you want to keep it real, then use bomba rice. Specialty or gourmet stores may carry it, and you might even score at your local grocery store, but medium-grain rice will do in a pinch. Some purists argue that when making paella, you need to make sure your rice is "always tender and al dente (never mushy), with a caramelized crust on the bottom of the pan, called a socarrat."

According to Fine Cooking, to get socarrat, when you're nearly done cooking your paella, increase the heat and listen for crackling. After one or two minutes it should smell toasty, but (hopefully) not burned. Test with a fork to see if you feel a "bumpy resistance" at the bottom of the pan. That's socarrat. You don't want to spoil your paella, however, and if you're not comfortable taking the chance, just focus on not letting your rice get mushy. It's going to be delicious with or without that caramelized crust.


Origin story

The paella is a regional dish that traces its origins to Valencia, hence the name of the version considered to be the original, the grand master of all paellas.

Depending on where you order it, the Valencia will have different meat ingredients, which sometimes include chicken and chorizo, as well as some vegetables. Many will likely quibble as to which ingredients deem the Valencian paella truly authentic.

Here is one recipe described as orthodox by the blog Foods From Spain. The meat ingredients are chicken and snails. That's right. Snails. And notice it doesn't go crazy with the veggies, either. Tomato, garlic, green lima beans, green beans — it's not overloaded.