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 1/2 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.