Vegan Quinoa Paella

Right now this is one of my favorite things to make when I really want to impress parents or houseguests or celebrate a birthday or non-birthday or whatever. Nothing’s better than feeding people delicious food, and this one blows the mind. Mmmm, actually, talking about this will be difficult to do right now. I just finished eating the leftovers of a slightly quicker version I made last night, and I’m afraid I might just go sneak some more bites after this write-up…

Living in Buenos Aires, it’s impossible to eat completely vegetarian, much less vegan. Well, it’s possible, I guess, but ill-advised. The meat and dairy here are just too effin’ good. Still, I have a sensitive tummy, and too much meat makes Annette a very unhappy and tired girl. So I found a version of this recipe online when looking for something vegan and chock-full of veggies. It’s nothing like an actual Spanish paella dish (*drool*), but seriously yummy in its own regard. Don’t expect in this recipe any attempts at replacing the saffron-y or seafood-y goodness of a Spanish paella (if you haven’t had a Spanish paella, go to a Spanish restaurant with the million friends you have and order this for your table right now). This paella, however, totally does the trick for a super healthy meal. Quinoa is practically a miracle grain - a complete protein with a ton of nutrients and amino acids; it’s easy to digest and even gluten-free! Though fairly protein-heavy, this meal is at least balanced by a ton of energizing vegetables. And it’s vegan and unbelievably delicious.

The paella is pretty easy to prepare for the most part. Most of the time is spent chopping vegetables, and the tofu can be fried quickly. Just cut tofu into strips, lay them in a single layer in hot oil and flip over once a side has browned. Don’t forget to add soy sauce for flavor! I like my tofu pretty crispy, because it adds a nice texture to the softer quinoa. A recipe I follow loosely for a Twice-fried Tofu is below. As hastily and incompletely as I make this, it still ends up delicious. It's really very difficult to mess up Fried Tofu.

Really, what I love sooo much about this dish is the variety of textures. It’s most like a paella in this way, I guess, which I’m completely fine with. It’s like a texture rainbow party; I can’t get enough of it. OMG and the leftovers are even better, especially if you fry extra tofu with them. As for the veggies, you can pretty much add whatever you’d like. I’m sure this would be amazing with broccoli florets and other greens. The possibilities are endless when you are already pretty much raping all that a paella traditionally is. Yay!

The quicker version I made last night is basically just whatever vegetables I had at the time, parsley instead of cilantro (because cilantro is almost impossible to find in the city), and no tofu or chickpeas or artichoke hearts. It wasn’t the same, but still yummy. The version below probably takes about a half hour to 45 minutes prepping and blanching and frying, and about 20 minutes cooking.

Vegan Quinoa Paella
(Recipe adapted from What the hell_does_a vegan eat anyway?)

1 tb olive oil
1 small red onion (I’ve only used yellow, but it’s delicious either way)
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained

1 tb smoked paprika
salt and pepper

1.5 cups water

1 red bell pepper (you can roast them or just put them in, sliced in strips)
1 cup green beans, blanched for 2-3 minutes
3 or 4 artichoke hearts, drained and sliced
15 oz. can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
tofu, fried (Twice-fried tofu recipe below)
2 large or 3 small ears of corn
1 tbs cilantro, chopped (I use a lot more because I am obsessed with cilantro)
chopped almonds for garnish
4 or so lemon wedges

1. Chop veggies. (I like to put them in little size-appropriate bowls and organize them according to when I will add them, because this kind of stuff is fun to me.)

2. Bring water to boil in pot (for green beans).

3. Rinse and drain quinoa.

4. Blanche green beans.

5. Fry tofu, put aside.

6. In a large saute pan, on medium-low heat, add oil and sauté onions for 3-4 minutes, then add garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes more.

7. Add quinoa and sauté for 2-3 minutes (you want to toast the quinoa a little bit in this part).

8. Add paprika, salt and pepper and stir. Then add water, bring to a boil, reduce and then simmer for 10-12 minutes until quinoa is cooked.

9. Add bell pepper, green beans, chickpeas, artichoke hearts and fried tofu on top of quinoa, cook for another 2-3 minutes until heated through.

10. Garish with almonds and cilantro. Serve with lemons.

I’d say this serves about 4-5 people with a high chance of leftovers.

Twice-Fried Tofu
Recipe from What the hell_does_a vegan eat anyway?

16 oz. extra-firm tofu cut into eight rectangular cutlets
canola oil

Cut the tofu into eight individual cutlets.

If you're smoking the tofu, add the hickory chips to your smoker box and process for 20-30 minutes. Remove the tofu from smoker box.

Over med-high heat add the canola oil and pan-fry until golden brown on both sides (about 8 minutes). Remove from pan and let cool for at least 10 minutes. Or, you can refrigerate the tofu at this point, up to a day in advance.

Slice the tofu diagonally into strips about a 1/4" thick. Add about 1 tsp. of canola oil to the pan, and return to med-high heat, turning occasionally for 3-5 minutes. Lower the heat to low, add tamari to taste (about 1 tbs.) and continue to cook for an addition 1-2 minutes until the tofu begins to get crispy.

If you don't have a smoker, you can add 1 tsp. of smoked paprika right after the tamari.

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