Paella! One of my favorite colorful dishes of all time. Loaded with lots of seasonal rainbow vegetables, saffron-infused rice, and plenty of flavors, this vegetarian paella is incredibly easy to make and ready in just 30 minutes. And you don’t even need a paella pan to cook it. Any large skillet will work!
Ready to cook this comforting and fun Spanish dish?
The first time I tried the original paella, I was in Menorca, a beautiful small Spanish island in the Mediterranean sea. The restaurant cooked a proper version, and we had to wait about 40 minutes for them to cook it on an open fire in a traditional paellera.
And when I tried the first bite, all I could think was, “Oh my God!.” So flavorful, moist, yet had a golden crunchy bottom. Incredible!
Vegetarian Paella Recipe
Spanish will be the first one to tell you that paella is all about being flexible with the ingredients you have around you. It’s not about tradition. It’s more about creating a fun meal that can be enjoyed with family and friends, either for an easy midweek dinner around the table or for a festive gathering.
But first things first.
What is paella?
Paella is a Spanish dish that was born in the Valencia region (in southeast Spain). Today paella is one of Spain’s most recognized national foods, and there are several variations, including seafood paella, chicken paella, mixed paella, and a vegetarian version.
But not many of you might know that the traditional Spanish paella made in Valencia included duck, rabbit, snails (yes, snails – yikes), onions, beans, and tomatoes.
And do you know what paella means? It means “frying pan,” which is what you need to make the perfect paella.
Ingredients you’ll need
No matter what variation you will cook, the main ingredients you’ll need for paella are rice, saffron, broth, and vegetables. With paella there is no right or wrong, each place and family have their own traditions and depending on the season, you can mix and match different produce. So feel free to let your imagination go wild and use anything you have available (including leftovers!).
The ingredients I used in this vegetarian paella are:
- Rice: more on this later.
- Saffron: With its sweet, floral taste, saffron gives paella its earthy complex flavor and golden yellow color. You better pick the best quality saffron you can find. I saw some recipes that substitute saffron for turmeric. I couldn’t believe it! As much as I love turmeric (and its lower price) – no, you cannot make paella with it. Some things are not negotiable! If you are on a tight budget, use saffron powder instead.
- Vegetable broth: As with risotto, the rice will absorb all its flavor from the broth. Make sure to use a high-quality vegetable broth. Or better still, make your own by adding carrots, greens, celery, onions, garlic, a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper to a simmering pot filled with water. Let it cook for 45 minutes to an hour, and check the seasoning before adding it to the paella.
- Vegetables: And of course, we need lots of veggies! I used red bell pepper, artichoke hearts, green peas, tomatoes, olives, carrots, and spinach. But feel free to use anything else you have available, like fresh asparagus, green beans, zucchini, and even beans or chickpeas, for a boost in protein.
- Chopped garlic and onion: Essential to create the basic layer.
- Lemon wedges: Paella is always served with lemon wedges in Spain. But do not squeeze the lemon before you try it! Lemon juice is only used to give a bit of extra acidity if needed, and it’s up to your guest whether to use it or not.
The best rice to use for paella
Authentic paella uses a Spanish rice called:
- Bomba rice – or arroz bomba.
Arroz in Spanish means rice, and Bomba means bomb. It’s called bomb rice because the little, short rounded grains will expand up to 3 times while cooking by absorbing lots of water (normal rice usually absorbs twice its volume in water), forming little rounded bombs. How cool is that?
Other names for this typical rice are:
- Valencia rice – or arroz de Valencia.
- Calasparra rice – or arroz Calasparra.
Where to buy paella rice: You can easily find it on Amazon, World Market, or any international food market or grocery store. Look for anything labeled as Bomba, Valencia rice, paella rice, or Calasparra rice.
Substitution for Spanish rice: I would strongly suggest trying to get the right rice to cook paella, but if you can’t find it, an alternative is arborio rice – the same I use for risotto. I tried using it a couple of times, and it turned out ok. Medium grain rice works well too.
But do not use brown rice, long-grain rice, basmati rice, or any other type of rice! Basmati rice cooks too fast, long-grain rice isn’t starchy enough, and brown rice tasks too long to cook which means your veggies will turn into an overcooked mush!
Important: Do not wash the rice before cooking. Spanish rice is not like basmati rice. You want to keep all the starch in there.
How to make Spanish vegetarian paella
- Steep the saffron: If using saffron threads, soak the saffron in a small bowl with a little warm broth. This helps the saffron releasing its color and flavor. You can skip this step if you are using saffron powder and add it directly to the pan in step 3.
- Sauté: Add some olive oil to a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onion is translucent. I used a 12-inch pan for this recipe (4 servings). You want to make sure you use the biggest pan you have. The rice needs to be spread as much as possible to ensure it cooks evenly without stirring.
- Add the vegetables: At this point, add chopped bell peppers, carrots, and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes. Then add the frozen peas, black olives (I love Kalamata olives), spinach, and rice. Mix and stir well, cook the rice for a couple of minutes, then add the saffron.
- Add the broth: Pour the hot broth slowly in the pan, making sure it’s evenly distributed. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat to medium and let it cook uncovered. Top with the artichokes. And whatever you do, do not stir the rice.
- Cook: Let the vegetable paella cook for 15-18 minutes. After 10 minutes, check the rice. If needed, add more broth, 1/4 cup at a time. The cooking time of each type of rice will be slightly different, so give it a little taste after 15 minutes. Increase the heath for the last couple of minutes to ensure you get a crispy bottom.
- Cover and let it rest: Remove the pan from the heat, top with some halved cherry tomatoes, and cover it with a lid or tin foil. Do not skip this step. Let it rest for 5-10 minutes. Resting will allow the paella to finish cooking, absorbed any remaining moist, and round out its flavors.
- Serve: Garnish with fresh parsley and lemon wedges before serving.
How Much Rice To Make Per Person
I’ve seen some recipes that use as little as 1/4 cup (50g) of rice per person! If you cook this vegetarian paella as a starter, maybe. But paella is often served as the main dish, and it’s a great centerpiece for gatherings and special occasions. My take is that you need at least 1/3 cup of rice plus 1 tablespoon per person (75g), and in this recipe, I used a bit more because paella leftovers are divine.
And remember: if you are cooking paella for plenty of people, you can use several pans or a giant one. It’s so much fun to make paella with friends!
Do I need a paella pan?
Traditional paella pans (also known as paelleras) are large, round pans usually made of carbon steel. They are great because they absorb and distribute heat very well. But they rust quite easily, and they need to be treated before and after each use. For everyday cooking, you can opt for stainless steel or enameled paelleras.
But you know what’s great? You don’t actually need a paella pan to cook paella. Any large skillet or pan is good as long as it’s shallow and big enough to let you distribute your rice in a thin layer (around 3/5″/2cm deep before adding broth).
TIP: Try to avoid a non-stick pan. One of the best things about paella is what’s called socarat. A thin toasted layer of goodness, made from the caramelized rice that starts to stick to the bottom of the pan. And if you only have a non-stick pan, try turning on the heat to the max for the last minute or two of cooking (after all the broth is absorbed) to allow the socarat to form. It’s so so good!
Vegetarian Paella Cooking Tips And F.A.Q.
Spanish rice is the traditional rice used for any type of paella. It’s also called Bomba rice, Valencia rice, or Calasparra rice. If you can’t find it, you can substitute it with arborio rice or medium-grain rice.
Do not use brown rice, long-grain rice, basmati rice, or any other type of rice! They cook too fast or too slow compared to the veggies, and they just don’t work.
I normally use 1 cup of rice to 3 cups of broth. But each rice is different, and the heat settings you use can change the speed of absorption. So the amount of liquid you need might vary slightly. The best trick I have is to add 3 cups of broth to the rice straight away and then add the rest of the broth if needed, 1/3 cup at the time. It’s much better to keep an eye on your paella to reach the perfect consistency than to end up with overcooked, mushy rice!
If you use any other type of rice, you might need to reduce the broth amount as other types of rice absorb less water while cooking. But use the same trick as above. Simply add a bit at a time!
If you have it, use a paella pan. But any large shallow skillet or pan will work. For 4 people, I used a 12-inch pan. If you need to cook more paella, use a larger skillet or use 2 pans.
Traditionally paella is cooked on an open fire. This gives the rice a smokey aromatic flavor. If you have a BBQ cooking paella on the grill will help to recreate that authentic taste. Saffron is another essential add-on. Use saffron threads for the best results, but saffron powder can be an option.TIP: You can add 1/2 teaspoon of sweet smoked paprika to add a hint of smokiness to your paella.
The short answer is no. I mean, it’s your vegetarian paella, and you can do what you like, but turmeric in paella is a big no-no for me. If you don’t have saffron, use some tomato paste instead. It won’t have the typical golden color, but the taste would be much closer to the original Spanish tradition.
The traditional Spanish paella made in Valencia in the 18th century included duck, rabbit, snails, onions, beans, and tomatoes. But I think I’ll stick with this vegetable option!
The main difference between paella and risotto is in the preparation. Paella is much more hands-off. All you have to remember with paella is never to stir it. After you add the broth, you bring it to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and let it simmer away. In paella, the rice remains quite separate and creates a crust at the bottom.
Risotto has a higher starch content, and by stirring it for 20 minutes, the starch is released in the pot and creates a creamy, rich consistency.
I wouldn’t say paella is the best rice dish for meal prep. But it’s delicious warm or even cold, especially in the heat of summer, so a great idea is to double up on the recipe and save the rest. I remember sitting on a beach in Spain, eating cold paella leftovers…so amazing. Who knew cold paella could be so good?
Keep any leftovers in the fridge for up to 3 days.
What I love about this easy vegetarian paella recipe
- It’s made with one pot
- Full of veggies
- And it also happens to be vegan
- Adaptable: you can use any veggies you like
- Perfect for a weeknight dinner or gatherings with friends
More delicious dinner recipes you’ll love
- Asparagus Risotto
- One-Pan Mexican Quinoa
- Stir-Fry Noodles With Crispy Tofu
- Tuscan Kale Pesto Pasta
- Creamy Tomato Pasta With Herbs
- Creamy Mushroom Pasta
You can also check out these quick and easy dinner recipes for more inspiration. They are so convenient to make: you can cook them in 30 minutes or less.
And if you try this vegetable paella recipe, please leave a comment and a rating and let me know how much you liked it!
Vegetarian Paella (Ready in 30 Minutes!)
- Large Skillet or Paella Pan
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 onion - diced
- 1 red bell pepper - washed and chopped into ribbons
- 2 carrots - chopped into cubes
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes - halved
- 2 cup spinach - chopped
- 1 cup green peas - fresh or frozen
- 1 can/jar (14 oz) artichoke hearts in water - drained and quartered
- 1/2 cup black olives - (Kalamata olives work great)
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika - optional
- 1 teaspoon saffron threads - (note 1)
- 1 ½ cups Spanish rice - (note 2 and 3)
- 4 1/2 cups vegetable broth - hot (note 4 and 5)
- 1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley - chopped
- salt - to taste
- lemon wedges - to serve
- Heath the vegetable broth.
- If using saffron threads, soak the saffron in a small bowl with 4 tablespoons of broth and let it sit for 10 minutes to steep.
- Add some olive oil to a large skillet on medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onion is translucent.
- At this point, add bell peppers, carrots, and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes—season with a bit of salt. Then add the frozen peas, olives, spinach, and finally rice. Mix and stir well, cook the rice for a couple of minutes, then add the saffron.
- Pour 3 1/2 cups of hot broth slowly in the pan, making sure it’s evenly distributed. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat to medium and let it cook uncovered. Top with the artichokes. Never stir the rice.
- Let the vegetable paella cook for 15-18 minutes. After 10 minutes, check the rice. If needed, add more broth, 1/3 cup at a time. Increase the heat during the last couple of minutes to create a crispy bottom.
- Remove the pan from the heat, top with some cherry tomatoes, and cover it with a lid or tin foil and let the paella rest for 5-10 minutes (note 7).
- Garnish with the fresh chopped parsley and lemon wedges before serving.
Did you make this recipe? Tag @gatheringdreams on Instagram. I want to see it!