Recipe: summery vegan paella

Image description: Paella in a pan.

I, like most, have been stuck in lockdown for over four months now and I, like most, am going a little stir-crazy. I miss the outdoors, I long for a Spanish summer, and, more than anything, I just need to change it up. What am I cooking for dinner, Mum? It’s got to be a vegan paella…

Having this paella literally brightened up my day — the colours are enough to make your mouth water. Plus, if you eat this with the windows cracked open and your eyes closed on a nice summer’s day, you could almost be in Valencia. Vibrant, healthy, fun, and oozing Spanish vibes, with this recipe you too can have summer on a (vegan) budget.

The two secrets to paella

The secret to paella is saffron. You make a stock with the saffron and cook the rice in it. However, worth more than gold gram for gram, saffron isn’t exactly cheap — but you don’t need vast quantities of it for a good paella. After hours of spreadsheet manipulation I can confirm that if you buy your saffron reasonably cheaply, its addition to this recipe will only be about 50p — just don’t spill it on the floor! Nevertheless, saffron is not necessary if it’s out of budget: paprika, thyme or turmeric all make for great replacements.

Another secret to cooking paella is the pan. That said, few of us have traditional paella pans lying about, so the key here will be to “improvise, adapt, overcome”. Personally, I get the widest frying pan or wok I have and hope for the best. The idea is very wide and not very deep.

Serving and other information

I’m going to claim that this recipe serves four. This recipe may be rather liberal in its portion-sizes compared to others, but frankly, I think it’s more accurate. Maybe it’s just me and my family but “serves 4” does not serve 4 anymore.

Oh, and a note on the rice: traditionally, you should use paella rice or Valencia rice rather than arborio rice. But I cook with arborio rice because I can (and because we have it in the house). Arborio, which is meant to be used for a risotto, makes for a creamier paella. Personally, that’s to my taste. That said, the difference between risotto and paella is that for a risotto you ladle in the stock and stir it in, ladle by ladle. For a paella, the stock goes in all at once, and no stirring after that. So you can go sit and enjoy a good book while the paella’s on…

This recipe is lovely and healthy, with all your five-a-day in there! Based on a single Tesco’s trip, my calculations suggest the entire recipe costs no more than £6 for all four participants — coming in at an amazing £1.50 per person. Much cheaper than a trip to Spain, anyway. And probably a lot healthier too.


Paella rice: 500g (alternatively, Valencia/risotto/arborio rice—and if you don’t have either of those, use unwashed short-grain rice)

Onions: 3 (I recommend using red onions)

Garlic: 4-5 cloves, crushed

Bell peppers: 2-3 medium-sized in a variety of colours (or the ‘gram)

Green beans: about 150g (or half a packet)

Chopped tomatoes: one tin

Tomatoes: 4 fresh, medium-sized plum tomatoes, chopped

Frozen Peas: 100g (or by sight/whatever room is left in the pan, since it’s the last thing to go in)

Vegan Stock: 1.5l of water with 3 stock cubes (for 500g of rice; scale up and down accordingly)

Saffron: ‘a healthy pinch’ (if like me you haven’t the faintest clue what that means, I’d recommend about 0.2g—it’s more an art than a science, I must admit)

Lemon: 2 lemons (1 squeezed, 1 sliced)

Oil of preference (I recommend olive oil): a couple splashes

OPTIONAL: artichoke: if you’ve got some lying about, add it!

OPTIONAL: white wine: 100ml (I don’t drink so I don’t use white wine. I experimented with vinegar once and it went horribly wrong. Now I stick to adding a full lemon’s worth of lemon juice)

OPTIONAL: handful flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Salt and pepper: to taste

Method: 1 hr 15 mins; serves 4

  1. Dice the onions, slice the bell peppers reasonably small, and halve or third the green beans.
  2. Add your splash of oil to the pan and wait for it to heat up. Add the onions, peppers and green beans. Cook on medium-high heat for 8-10 minutes until the beans are soft and the onion translucent.
  3. While step 2 cooks away, heat up 1.5l of water. Once boiling, add the saffron (carefully!) or equivalent, and stir in. Add the vegan stock cubes. Cover with lid.
  4. Add the garlic, crushed. Add any spices or herbs you’re using. Add a healthy amount of salt and pepper, to taste. Stir in for 2 more minutes.
  5. Turn down to medium heat. Add the rice, and mix about for 1-2 minutes.
  6. (OPTIONAL: add the white wine, if you’re using, and stir in.)
  7. Add the chopped fresh tomatoes and stir for 2 minutes. Add the tinned tomatoes, and stir in.
  8. Add the juice of a whole lemon. Use a fork to really get as much as you can.
  9. Give everything a big old stir, because once you’ve added the stock, no more stirring!
  10. Pour in the stock slowly, stirring gently. Give it one more stir and then leave it be on medium heat. It should take about 30 minutes from this point but this is very much a look-and-see sort of thing because different hobs have different temperatures. You may need to top up the liquid if you boiled it off a little fast. Check every ten minutes.
  11. Once it looks like the rice has absorbed most of the liquid, add the frozen peas and cook for another 3 minutes.
  12. Turn down the heat and let it rest for another 5 minutes to soak up some more liquid.
  13. Scatter the parsley on the top. Serve with wedges of the second lemon. Season to taste.
  14. Et voilà! Summer is served.

Image Credit: Jamie Slagel