Tuesday, February 17, 2015
9 Days of Valentine's: Part 8...
And on the eighth day we broke from our French/Italian inspired menu and went Spanish with Paella. I can’t say I ever ate paella before. As I’ve mentioned I wasn’t a big fan of seafood growing up, and my exposure to Spanish food was limited to mostly Tex-Mex creations. Even when I grew up and started cooking for myself I never found the idea of Paella all that exciting. But a vegan paella? Well, why the heck not?
I used the recipe from Annie and Dan Shannon’s book “Betty Goes Vegan” It was simple and thought there were a few separate steps the recipe actually came together relatively quickly and without much fuss. I liked that. I’ve seen other vegan paella recipes that are either ultra simple - to the point of not needing a recipe - or way too complicated. The Shannon’s recipe seemed to have just the right level of down-home comfort, mixed with fancy-complication.
Now, in case you didn’t know outside of Spain paella is considered the national dish of Spain, though most Spaniards consider paella to be a regional Valencia dish. Paella has a long history in the country with ancient roots, and many variations and stories or origin - considered by food historians to be a union of two important cultures Roman, and Arab. There are three common types of paella - and variations on each. One is the traditional Valencia Paella, containing meat, greens, and beans. Seafood Paella which contains seafood, and vegetables. Then Mixed Paella which is more of a ‘free-style’ dish that can include anything from meat and seafood to greens other vegetables and beans.
I would classify the Shannon’s recipe as Paella Mixto, since it used Vegan Shrimp, Vegan Italian Sausage, Rice, Artichoke, Faux Chicken and Wine Broth, Red Bell Pepper, Garlic, Green Beans, tomatoes and spices. One of the classic features of paella is also that when cooked over an open flame the rice on the bottom of the pan gets crispy and this is the most prized part of any good paella. Of course when you bake a paella - as the Shannon’s recipe does’ a crispy rice crust is harder to come by, but the paella was still delicious, and I’m a bit grateful for the non-crispy rice. I have too many old fillings I’d be afraid of cracking on rock-hard kernels of rice.
So, this was my first experience both cooking and eating a paella. I fond the experience of cooking it really enjoyable. I loved every minute in my kitchen preparing the vegetables and vegan meats, layering everything together and smelling it as it baked. There was something really satisfying about creating and eating this ancient dish for the first time, like I was inspiring some Roman-Moorish alchemy in my kitchen. However despite the fun I had cooking, I did not find the dish to be as delicious as I’d hoped. I don’t think this is the fault of paella in particular or the Shannon’s recipe specifically, I think this has more to do with the fact that I don’t think I’m really all that fond of Vegan Shrimp. They’re too realistic for me, they’re too much like actual shrimp that it kind of creeps me out. Since I was never big on seafood to begin with, the fact that they’re so real isn’t really a selling point for me.
That being said I would most definitely make paella again, and I would even use the Shannon’s recipe again but next time I’ll leave out the vegan shrimp and replace it with more sausage or some vegan chicken instead.
Check back tomorrow to see what we had on Day 9 our final day of celebration. I’ll give you a hint, it’s Italian!