One dish that has made its way across almost all Spanish speaking countries is paella, the rice-based recipe that often contains seafood and sausage. The word paella means pan, which is fitting since paella is traditionally made in a skillet. However, it does make the phrase,”paella pan” seem rather redundant, though there is a type of pan with small handles on each side that has become known as just that. The correct word for such a pan is paellera.
Originating in Valencia, on the east coast of Spain, calasparra or bomba rice was traditionally used to prepare the dish. For our version, we decided to forego the rice and replace it with quinoa. Since quinoa is a pseudo-cereal more closely related to spinach, beet root and tumbleweed, and a complete protein, we thought it would keep our recipe healthy.
For years, I had stared at pictures of gorgeous paellas but never ventured to make one. The first time I actually got a taste was at a tapas restaurant in Orange County, CA. It was horrible – bland and tasteless, almost as bad as my salsa dancing. I was abysmally disappointed, and vowed that I would cook a paella bursting with flavor.
When I began to make my own, I found myself feeling apprehensive because I had doubts about how the quinoa would work. I had no plans to precook it because I wanted it to absorb the mixture of seafood, spices and sofrito. Having had a different recipe flop just two night before, my confidence was down. However, I followed my instincts and cooked on. Lucky I did, because my finished paella had a perfect blend of flavors that kept me dreaming about having another serving all night long.
Now, I did break one of my own rules when creating this fantastic cacophony of flavors. I used two processed ingredients. I used a packet of Ducal’s sofrito. I don’t use Goya because one of the first ingredients on the label is MSG. I also used a heaping spoonful of Lawry’s garlic spread. I wouldn’t forego that addition because that is what really made the flavor pop. Blending Puerto Rican sofrito with Mexican spices gave my paella marinero a kiss of fusion that was incomparable to anything I had ever tasted.
When cooking this recipe, don’t get caught up in how many minutes it must cook at each stage. Watch your paella and take cues from the food. You don’t want mushy bell peppers or overcooked seafood. It must cook long enough to soak up most of the broth, as paella is not soup, but not long enough to dry up and stick to the pan.
2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 pkg. Ducal Sofrito Listo
1 green bell pepper, sliced in long strips
1 red bell pepper, sliced in long strips
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
1/2 lb. sliced baby bella or white mushrooms
1 cup chopped cilantro leaves
1/2 cup chopped parsley leaves
1 small sweet onion, diced
4 cloves minced garlic
2 tsp. Lawry’s garlic spread
1 3/4 cups white quinoa
2 cups free range chicken broth (and more on reserve in case your quinoa requires more liquid
2 tbsp. azafran (Spanish saffron)
2 tsp. Mexican oregano
1 tsp. cumin
1/4 cup pimiento
1/3 cup Spanish olives
1 tbsp. capers
1 chile de Árbol, finely diced
1 lb. calamari tentacles and tubes (sliced into rings)
1 cup almond milk or almond/coconut milk blend
1/2 lb. medium shrimp (heads on or off)
1/2 lb. mussels, rinsed and beards removed
1. At least 1 hour before preparing the paella, rinse the calamari tubes and tentacles and soak them in a bowl full of almond milk. This will soften the calamari and stop it from tasting rubbery.
2. In a paellera or large non-stick skillet, add olive oil, sofrito packet, bell peppers, onion, garlic, garlic spread, mushrooms, tomatoes, cilantro and parsley. Simmer over medium low heat for about 3 – 4 minutes, or until the bell peppers and onions begin to soften slightly. This will make your sofrito base.
3. Add the chicken broth. Simmer for another 3- 4 minutes.
4. Add the quinoa, mixing it gently into the sofrito broth. Reduce heat to low, cover and let simmer for 4-5 minutes. Watch the paella closely, and add more reserved broth if too much liquid evaporates.
5. After 5 minutes, add the olives, capers, pimiento, oregano, cumin and chile de árbol. Continue to simmer until the quinoa has opened and softened, maybe 2-4 minutes more.
6. Drain the calamari and rinse all residue of almond milk off. Add the calamari, shrimp and mussels to the pan and simmer until the shrimps turn pink and the mussels open, maybe 5 minutes. Do not overcook as your seafood will become hard, chewy and unpalatable.
7. Garnish with parsley sprigs and lemon quarters. Serve from the skillet it was cooked in. Enjoy this tasty quinoa paella!
Note: Using other kinds of seafood such as clams, lobster meat, langostinos, salt cod, octopus, etc… is always acceptable. This low fat, high protein dish is healthy faire, coming in at about 350 calories per 1 cup serving. It is low fat when prepared as directed, and should be healthy for many following restricted diets due to health conditions. However, as always, check with your doctor or nutritional expert before consuming any food that you have questions about.