There are few dishes as flavor-packed, comforting, and vibrant as paella. This vegan mushroom paella packs a rich punch of flavor thanks to a sofrito base, hearty mushrooms, and artichoke hearts. It's cooked to perfection with lots of tender rice at the center of the skillet and that delectable golden-brown paella crust at the edges.
There are few dishes as flavor-packed, comforting, and vibrant as paella. A quick google search for "paella" or even "vegan paella" unveils thousands of recipes, each of which approach the dish with a subtly different technique. That said, there seem to be a few elements that most consider to be fundamental to the dish . . .
1| The type of pan matters. Paella is the Valencian word for "pan", which makes perfect sense given that this rice-based dish is a one-pan meal. There is such a thing as a "paella pan" but a cast iron skillet works well too.
2| All paellas start with a sofrito (i.e., flavor base) of chopped or julienned veggies cooked in oil.The vegetables caramelize as they cook in the oil, taking on deeper, richer flavors. Thus, the sofrito serves as an important flavor building block in paella. A basic sofrito almost always includes tomatoes and garlic but onions and red bell peppers are sometimes added as well.
3| Unlike stirring-intensive, one-pan rice dishes (e.g., Risotto), for paella, once you add the rice and broth to the pan, you stir it once and leave it alone. Risotto = stir it like it's hot; Paella = forget it exists.
4| Speaking of rice, short-grain, highly-absorbent rice is vital to achieving the right texture, look, and feel. If you use a longer, less absorbent type of rice, you run the risk of creating a mushy, gummy paella. No one wants that. Bomba is often the go-to paella rice in Spain; however, Arborio rice works well too.
5| The Socarrat. Considered by many to be the most delectable portion of paella, socarrat is the crunchy, golden-brown rice crust that forms along the bottom and sides of the pan as the rice cooks. Depending on the type of pan and the heat used, the socarrat either naturally develops throughout cooking (another reason not to stir) or the heat is turned up for the last 60 seconds of cooking to gently caramelize and toast the rice on the bottom of the pan.
6| Saffron. The thread-like spice flavors the dish and infuses it with that beloved golden hue. It's all too appropriate that saffron is considered to be the "gold standard" paella spice given its steep price tag. I was grateful to find a teaspoon of saffron for $2.99 at a small neighborhood grocer, so I did use it for this recipe. However, feel free to omit or substitute with a pinch of ground turmeric.
I had mushroom paella on my to-make list for nearly a year, but always felt intimated by the dish. However, after a prolonged period of dilly-dallying, a surge of determination washed over me late last week, and I decided that this would be the week I'd finally tackle it.
Now that I'm on the flipside of my paella woes, I've realized that there's nothing to fear (except maybe the sudden urge to devour an entire skillet full of the stuff).
To make this vegan mushroom paella, you'll start by dry cooking the mushrooms. I used a combination of baby bella (i.e., cremini), button, and porcini mushrooms, but feel free to mix and match as you please.
Dry cooking intensifies the mushrooms' flavor, ensures a hearty, meaty texture, and seasons the pan to boot. Once the mushrooms are just about done cooking, you'll season them with a bit of olive oil and parsley. Then, scoop them out of the pan and set aside.
Next, you'll get to work on that flavorful sofrito.
I made the sofrito with a combination of julienned red bell pepper and red onion, diced tomatoes, and lots of garlic to infuse the paella with as much flavor as possible.
Cook those veggies until they're tender and caramelized.
Next, stir in quartered artichoke hearts and cook for just a minute or two more before adding the Arborio rice. Gently stir-fry the rice until it just begins to turn translucent. Then, add plenty of vegetable broth, a small amount of water, and a generous pinch of saffron. Stir once and leave it alone.
The rice will begin to puff up about 10 minutes into cooking. At that point, you'll add the mushrooms back to the pan and gently stir and continue to cook for another 10 minutes, or until the rice is tender. Then, remove the pan from the heat, loosely cover it with foil, and allow the paella to rest for 10 minutes.
And the last step? Uncover that beautiful paella and season it to taste with sea salt, fresh parsley, and a generous spritz of fresh lemon juice. Perfection.
- 1 ½ pounds button or cremini mushrooms, baby bella, or a mix of both, stemmed and left whole or quartered (depending on size)
- 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, reconstituted and drained (optional)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnishing
- 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and julienned
- 1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
- 1 medium red onion, julienned (about 2 cups)
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 to 2 teaspoons smoked paprika, depending on desired smokiness
- 1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
- 1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
- 2 cups uncooked Arborio rice
- 4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
- 1 cup filtered water
- 1 teaspoon saffron threads (optional but recommended)
- 2 lemons, halved (for spritzing)
- Heat a large (12-inch diameter), well-seasoned cast iron skillet over high heat. Once the pan is hot, add the only the button and cremini mushrooms, reduce the heat to medium-high, and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, nudging them around as needed to prevent burning. It will initially seem like the mushrooms will burn but this is about the point when they will release their liquid. Continue cooking until there is just the tiniest amount of mushroom liquid remaining in the pan and the mushrooms have a deep golden-brown glisten to them. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and add the porcini mushrooms, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and the parsley. Cook for another 2 minutes, or until the parsley wilts, stirring frequently. Remove from the pan and reserve.
- Make the sofrito. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in the pan over medium heat, and add the red bell pepper and 1 teaspoon sea salt. Cook for 4 minutes, or until the pepper just starts to become tender, stirring occasionally. Add the onion and cook for 3 minutes, or until just beginning to soften. Then, add the garlic and paprika and cook for 1 minute to caramelize the garlic. Stir in the diced tomatoes and cook for another 4 minutes, or until just beginning to caramelize, stirring occasionally.
- Add the artichokes and cook for 2 minutes to soften slightly. Then, add the arborio rice and cook for 1 minute, or until just beginning to turn translucent, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and add the vegetable broth, water, and saffron threads (if using). Carefully stir to distribute the broth, and let the rice simmer, uncovered and untouched*, for 10 minutes, or until it just begins to absorb the broth. Then, add the cooked mushrooms and gently stir to distribute throughout the rice. Level out the rice and continue to cook for another 10 to 12 minutes, or until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is fluffy and tender.
- If the rice hasn't developed a crust (along the bottom and sides of the pan) by the time it's done cooking, increase the heat to high for 30 to 60 seconds, or until you begin to smell the rice toasting at the bottom of the pan.
- Remove the pan from the heat, loosely cover with foil, and let rest for 10 minutes.
- Season to taste with more sea salt and parsley. Spritz with the lemons.
- Serve immediately, ensuring that each portion gets a bit of the rice from the top and center of the pan plus a bit of that flavorful, golden-brown crust from the bottom and sides. Refrigerate leftovers.
Rebecca @ Strength and Sunshine says
O I learned so much more about paella!
Such a beautiful vegan paella! Love it all!
Celeste Jackson says
Thank you for the background on Paella...I had no idea! and certainly didn't know it's all made in the same pan. Can't wait to try this version....especially because the seafood was never really my favorite part however I adore mushrooms!
My pleasure! Honestly, it was so neat to learn about some of the history and techniques behind it all. The depth of the traditions around this one dish is absolutely fascinating. Hope you enjoy this variation!
Looks fabulous Ashely, I might add some pernod and fennel, as suggested in this Basque (non-vegan) version: http://apartment34.com/2016/08/time-to-try-a-taste-of-spain/
Thanks, Katy! I haven't cooked with Pernod before, but I think fennel would be a lovely addition. Would love to know how it turns out if you have time to share!
Oh my goodness, this is AMAZING!! I made it for dinner tonight, and the hubs and I LOVED it!! Thank you so much for the wonderful recipe!!! :)
So happy to hear it was such a hit! Thanks for taking the time to come back and share your kind feedback—it means so much! xo
Patricia R says
Sounds amazing and it was my husband's favorite pre-vegan dish. I had given up on it and now I plan to surprise him. I don't have a cast iron skillet. Can I use a nonstick skillet?
david anderson says
i went to julia child for a minor update and added 1/2 teaspoon of thyme, 1/2 teaspoon of oregano, and 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper.
i will add frozen peas next time, 5 minutes from the end.
nice recipe though.
david anderson says
and 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander...sorry
Glad you enjoyed it, David! Thanks for taking the time to share your additions.
Nancy Alvarado says
Hello, I have a question over this. I made this recipe and did not turned well. What should be the consistency of the rice? Mine was mushy and crunchy at the same time. I followed the Recipe except I did not had a cast iron skillet. I am so sad cause the dish is kind of expensive.
Hi, Nancy! So sorry to hear it didn't turn out for you. The consistency of the rice should be tender and fluffy (except for the browned crunchy bits along the bottom and wall of the pan). As noted in the post and recipe, the type of pan very much matters for paella, and without a cast iron skillet or paella pan, it's very difficult to achieve the proper results for the recipe (especially when it comes to the texture and doneness of the rice). A cast iron skillet gets much hotter than a standard skillet and heats evenly throughout, allowing for a more steady, even cooking of the rice. Unfortunately, without using a cast iron skillet, I can't vouch for the results.
Beautiful storytelling and presentation. Thank you very much for this amazing vegan recipe!
Lisa Hendrickson says
Can you make this ahead of time?
Hi, Lisa! You can make it ahead of time. The crispy brown bits that develop against the pan won't stay crisp but as long as you're okay with that, it's fine to prepare ahead and reheat. Enjoy!
This came out great, thank you! We added Kalimanta olives, garbanzo beans, and frozen peas at the end. Delicious!
So glad you enjoyed it, Janet! Thanks for taking the time to let me know.
Donna Berglin says
I tried this recipe and loved much of it but 1 teaspoon is too much saffron. Most recipes using saffron call for a pinch. I took the leftovers and added them to a brothy white bean soup to take down the strong saffron flavor and it was delicious. Even if the saffron isn't too strong, this was a good second meal.
saute onion and garlic
1 tablespoon of cumin
1 qt. vegetable broth
2 cans of rinsed white kidney beans
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper.
Thanks for sharing your feedback, Donna! I find that the flavor of saffron is quite subtle and mild, and traditional Spanish paella recipes often call for 1 teaspoon or two generous pinches of saffron threads since it's the main spice seasoning the dish which is why 1 teaspoon is used here. Of course, everyone's tastes are different and I very much appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts. I'm glad you enjoyed the dish even if the saffron flavor was a bit too strong!
Heidi Jaime says
This was so so so so so so so good! I tried making paella years and years ago, after studying abroad in Spain, and it was a huge mess and disappointment, but THIS PAELLA... IS the REAL DEAL, and so so so delicious! Thank you so much for this recipe and the tips! Que Deliciosa!
I'd like to add asparagus. When should I add it?
Hi, Lexi. I'd add them either with the mushrooms or sofrito and cook until desired tenderness is reached. Enjoy!
Thanks for sharing the paella gospel with this awesome recipe! One of the advantages of having a Spanish catering business is that we can easily accommodate vegan and gluten-free diets with veggie-based paella. (Nobody should feel deprived just because of their dietary restrictions.) Try throwing in some fava beans for extra protein!
I absolutely love your recipe! I am writing vegetarian recipe round ups on my blog in 2019 for people who are trying to make more meat-free meals (everyone has to start somewhere). I would love to feature you. You can check out my blog (for beginner environmentalists) at sunshineguerrilla.com. Is it alright if I share this link to your recipe?
Hi, Barbara! Thanks for the kind feedback. Absolutely, please feel free to share a link back to my recipe in your recipe round-up. Thanks for the support!
We have made this for company and it was a big hit! Do you have any recommendations on cooking time for using brown short grain rice?
So glad you're enjoying the recipe, Holly! I haven't tried it with short-grain brown rice yet, but I will absolutely let you know if I do. Off the cuff, I'm guessing the cooking time will be a touch longer and more liquid might be required as well.
I just purchased a 17” paella pan. Do you think this recipe will work in it?
Oh wow! That's wonderful and HUGE! I think it should work but you'll definitely want to cut back on cooking time for all steps as you'll have much more surface area, which leads to speedier cooking.
While I appreciate this recipe it really falls flat. The flavor is one note and not very comprehensive or in depth. It is okay at best. If you have more spices you love in your meal don't be afraid to throw them in because the recipe could really use a facelift.
Hi, Nydia! I'm so sorry that you didn't find the recipe to be flavorful. Did you find it to be lacking in flavor compared to other paella dishes or just in general? I ask because paella typically isn't a very "spiced" dish since the only spice in it (saffron) doesn't have much flavor. Rather it's the sofrito and salt and vegetables (or meat/seafood) that bring it to life. I'd love to hear more of your insights as I always strive to make my recipes as appealing and flavorful as possible. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and rating—appreciate it.
I'm really looking forward to trying this! Just wondering if brown rice works.
Hi, Lisa! So glad you're planning to try the recipe. I haven't made this with brown rice myself, so I'm reluctant to say that it works. I think it should turn out ok, just can't say for certain. If you give it a try and have time to report back, I'd love to know how it goes. Happy cooking!
I just made this dish and it turned out great! I didn’t use saffron because it was too expensive, but I added Beyond meat vegan sausage to it. It was not as difficult to make as it seemed at first to someone like me who doesn’t cook often, and my kitchen smelled wonderful. I’ll be making this again. Thank you!
So happy to hear you enjoyed the recipe, Kaha! And wonderful idea to add Beyond sausage to it—will have to try this myself.
Thank you so much for sharing this recipe! I tried it first a year or two ago and I keep coming back to it, making minor adjustments (I have added sun-dried tomatoes and banana blossom in the past) for variety. Will be making this again tonight and have been looking forward to it all day!
I'm happy to hear you've enjoyed the recipe so many times, Meike! Banana blossoms sound like an amazing addition—how fun. Thanks for taking time out of your day to share your thoughts and feedback—means so much. Happy cooking to you!