Forget everything you think you know about paella. You make it with seafood, right? No, traditional paella, as prepared in its birthplace — Spain’s Valencia province — contains just two proteins: rabbit and snails. Like many of the world’s great rice dishes (pilaf comes to mind), you cook it on the stove or in the oven. Wrong again: The authentic way to cook paella is over an open orange wood or grapevine fire. (The wood subtly smokes the rice, adding flavor nuances you simply can’t achieve indoors.) The good news is that the process translates easily to a grill or campfire. Here’s a plant-based paella bursting with bright Spanish flavors. The chickpeas provide the protein. Yes, I know, tradition calls for cooking the veggies right in the paella pan, not directly on the grill, but live fire intensifies their color and flavor.
Special Kitchen Equipment: Can be grilled over charcoal or gas, but tastes best grilled over wood or a wood-enhanced fire. If you’re enhancing a charcoal or gas fire, you’ll need hardwood chunks or chips (unsoaked). You’ll also need wooden toothpicks; a wire grill basket or vegetable grate; a 16-inch paella pan or large cast-iron skillet; and a long- handled stirring implement, like a grill hoe.
Prepare the vegetables, using the instructions here as a general guideline: If using an artichoke, cut the points off the leaves. Trim 1/8 inch off the bottom of the stem. Cut the artichoke from crown to stem into 6 wedges (if using small artichokes, cut them in half). Cut out and discard the fibrous choke. Rub the cut sides with the half lemon to keep them from discoloring. Blanch the artichoke wedges or halves in boiling salted water for about 3 minutes, then drain in a colander and blot dry.
If using the onion, cut it from top to bottom into 6 wedges. Pin each crosswise with a toothpick (this keeps the wedges from falling apart).
If using broccolini, trim off the ends and separate it into stalks. If using zucchini, cut it in half lengthwise.Lightly brush the artichokes, onion, broccolini (or zucchini), green beans, corn, Padrón peppers and cherry tomatoes with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, set up your grill for direct grilling and build a hot fire. Ideally, you’ll work over a grapevine or orange wood fire. If enhancing a charcoal fire, add the wood chunks or chips to the coals; if enhancing a gas fire, place the chunks or chips in your grill’s smoker box or place chunks under the grate directly over one or more burners. Brush or scrape the grill grate clean and oil it well.
Arrange the oiled seasoned vegetables on the grill (smaller vegetables like green beans, shishitos and cherry tomatoes should be in a grill basket or on a vegetable grate) and grill until darkly browned on all sides, 2 to 4 minutes per side. Don’t worry about cooking them through — they’ll finish cooking in the paella.
Transfer the vegetables to a cutting board. Remove the toothpicks from the onions. Cut the broccolini or zucchini into 2-inch pieces. Cut the corn crosswise into 1-inch rounds with a chef’s knife or cleaver. The veggies can be grilled and prepped ahead to this stage. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day.
To finish the paella, place the paella pan over the fire. Add 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil and heat until shimmering. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook over high heat, stirring with a long-handled implement, like a grill hoe or long- handled wooden spoon, until the onions begin to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, parsley (save 1 tablespoon for garnish), diced tomato, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper and cook for 2 minutes more. Add oil as needed. If the mixture — called a sofrito — starts to burn, slide the pan to a cooler part of the grill. Note: The Spanish wouldn’t brown the sofrito, but you’ll get more flavor if you do.Stir in the rice and sauté until the grains look shiny, about 1 minute. Stir in the soaked saffron (with its liquid) and wine and boil for 2 minutes.
Stir in 6 cups of stock, or more as needed to cover the rice with liquid. Adjust the heat (by moving the paella pan closer to or farther away from the hot part of the fire) to obtain a gentle simmer. Gently simmer the rice for 10 minutes.
Stir in the artichokes and corn and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining grilled vegetables and the chickpeas. Continue cooking the paella until the rice is al dente, about 20 minutes in all, stirring occasionally. Add more stock (1/2 cup at a time) as needed. Add salt and pepper to taste: The paella should be highly seasoned.
If you get it right, all the liquid will cook out and the bottom of the rice will turn into a crisp savory crust called socarrat. Sprinkle the paella with the remaining parsley, garnish with lemon wedges (if using) and serve straight from the pan.
Excerpted from “How to Grill Vegetables” by Steven Raichlen, photographs by Steven Randazzo. Workman Publishing © 2021.
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