Vegetable paella

Paella3This filling rice dish is jammed with veggies and would be great for a dinner party—Guests will oo and ahh as it is magnificently served tableside, accompanied by a favorite spanish red. Or if you are greedy gobblers—as Mr Ikkanda and I are—serve it for two and score lunch-time leftovers for the week. By chopping and bowling all the veggies ahead of time, the cooking was a stress-free, made-for-TV, snap. With thanks to my brother-in-law, Guy, who inspired this paella dinner with his own amazing paella evening. Guy marinated and roasted his veggies ahead of time, which was a brilliant idea. He also chose different ingredients, which is the beauty of this dish: The recipe can be easily customized to include vegetables that are available locally/in season/to your tastes.

Rice is the world’s most important staple food. It is grown in 115 countries and is the primary source of protein for millions of people. But rice production is tricky: The water footprint associated with rice production is one of the highest for crop production in the world. Water is needed to prepare a field (saturating the soil for one month prior to planting) and then maintain a standing layer of water of the paddy field that is later drained. Rice grown in monsoon-prone/wet areas, such as Vietnam and South Asia, contribute minimally to water scarcity. Rice from Egypt, India, Pakistan, Thailand or the USA have a potentially higher environmental cost. Interestingly, the Arborio rice I used in my paella was from Lundberg Family Farms, in the USA. They claim to “Eco-Farm” their rice, by practicing water-conserving irrigation, as well as other ecological programs. The USA Rice Federation is spending considerable funding to address the environmental impacts of rice production by developing computer programs that alert farmers when to drain their fields, leveling fields (which supposedly saves on water use) and investigating the feasibility of furrow– (as opposed to flood-) irrigated rice—Good research that will hopefully benefit other countries.

So, why is rice so popular? Rice is inexpensive, easy to prepare, versatile, filling and a good source of protein, which is why it makes up 20% of the world’s dietary energy supply. Rice is very low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. Brown rice trumps white rice in fiber content, vitamin B and E. Purple rice is thought to have antioxidant properties, and red and black varieties are thought to reduce the development of atherosclerotic plaques induced by cholesterol. However, contrary to popular understanding, the nutritional content of rice is poor; Rice does not provide necessary amino acids and other nutrients, and should be served alongside vitamin-rich vegetables. In rice-dependant societies such as Ethiopia and India, children do not survive common diseases because their immune systems are under-developed—They are not getting the necessary vitamins they need from their diet of just rice. This is why we see ‘enriched rice’ on grocery shelves, which is rice mixed with an assortment of vitamins and nutrients. This is better, but not great, because this enrichment can be ‘washed off’ when rinsed.

The Golden Rice Project is researching how to better enrich rice with vitamin A. Vitamin A Deficiency is one of the most damaging and dangerous micronutrient deficiencies. In 2012 the World Health Organization reported that about 250 million preschool children are affected by VAD, and that providing those children with vitamin A could prevent about a third of all under-five deaths, up to 2.7 million children. To read more about this project, see here.

This recipe serves about six to eight.
30 minutes prep, plus 1 hour cooking.

6 tomatoes, cored and cut into wedges
Kosher salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
1 large bulb fennel, cut into wedges
8 baby artichoke hearts*
1 yellow squash, cut into discs
1 zucchini, cut into discs
4 ounces green beans, topped and tailed
2 1/2 cups short-grain paella rice or Arborio rice
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon tarragon
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup capers, drained
1/4 cup roasted red peppers, cut into strips
2 cups dry white wine
3 cups vegetable stock
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

* I halved baby artichokes in my paella; they looked impressive, but they did not cook through. In future I would trim them down to just the hearts, or even use marinated hearts from a jar which may be easier/cheaper/more flavorful.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Prepare the tomatoes and place in a medium bowl. Season with salt and olive oil. Set aside.
Heat 2 teaspoons of salt in a 12-inch ovenproof skillet/paella pan for 2-3 minutes over a medium heat.
Add 1/4 cup olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add in the diced onion, garlic, paprika, cayenne and tarragon. Stir in tomato paste. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes.
Add the fennel and cook until lightly browned on one side, about 5 minutes.
Flip the fennel and add the artichokes, zucchini and squash. Cover and cook for 6 minutes.
Pour in the wine and simmer for about 5 minutes, until half the wine has evaporated.
Stir in the rice and 1 3/4 teaspoons salt.
Add the vegetable stock. Increase the heat to high and boil for 2 to 3 minutes.
Scatter the green beans and 2 tablespoons capers over the rice.
Remove the pan from the heat and arrange the tomatoes on top in a pretty way as if you are making a fruit tart (unlike I did!). Drizzle with tomato juices.
Carefully transfer the paella to the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
Scatter the remaining 2 tablespoons capers and peppers over the paella.
Turn off the oven but leave the paella inside to continue cooking for 20-25 minutes, until the rice is tender.
Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.

Recipe adapted from this one.



A.K. Chapagain a, A.Y. Hoekstra. The blue, green and grey water footprint of rice from production and consumption perspectives.


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