Quick Vegetarian Paella

February 26, 2008

Sacromonte/Albayzin (Grenada, Spain)
View of Alhambra from the Sacromonte
Photograph © John Willer and used with permission. 

Honey, let’s play “Caveman!”

Cave hotels are beautiful, bright and clean.  I know because I stayed in one once, though not for a honeymoon! There are cave hotels in Turkey, Greece, and southern Spain , among others.   Imagine sending Sam and Harry to a cave in the Albayzin/Sacromonte area of Grenada, Spain, where the whitewashed cave homes are built into and stacked against the hills directly across from spectacular, 14th century  Alhambra palace and grounds.

A cave is a wonderful place to escape the afternoon glare and heat and take a siesta, emerging at sundown for a late dinner in the cool evening air, with the wild and lovely sounds of Gypsy music drifting up from the Flamenco bars dotting the hills below you.  

This recipe for Spanish paella is easier than most, and vegetarian besides. -Almostgotit

Quick Vegetarian Paella

10 strands saffron
6 cups vegetable stock
1 Tbs olive oil
1 onion chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 tsp garlic minced
2 cups arborio rice
1 Tbs smoked paprika
15 oz. can chopped tomatoes
1 cup frozen peas thawed
14 oz. can chick peas, rinsed and drained
2 Tbs parsley chopped
lemon wedges to serve

In a large saucepan pan, combine the stock and saffron, bring to a boil, then cover the pan and reduce heat to simmer.

In another large pan or wok, heat the oil and sautee the onion, peppers and garlic until soft. Stir the rice into the onion and pepper mixture and cook until rice is translucent, about two minutes. Add the paprika and tomatoes and stir well.  Pour simmering stock into the rice mixture and stir. Bring the rice mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer, cover the pan tightly, and cook 25 minutes.  Add the peas and chickpeas and simmer for  for 5 minutes more or until all the stock is absorbed. Stir well and add parsley. Serve with lemon wedges.

Tienda.com is a great online source for paella supplies and other Spanish food products, and provides several additional, more traditional paella recipes.

Fresh Tomato-Basil Gratin

September 7, 2007


With this basic gratin formula, you can make any number of vegetable, meat, or fish casseroles. This version is a delightful way to finish out the summer’s tomatoes and basil. And, it’s bound to please any vegetarians you might be feeding. SAM

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 1/2 pounds sweet onions, thinly sliced (4 medium)
2 pounds tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped (5 medium)
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon marsala wine
3 ounces log goat’s cheese
3 ounces water
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup torn, loosely packed fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unseasoned breadcrumbs, divided
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease a 2-quart baking dish and set aside. In a large chef’s pan over low heat, sweat the onions in 1 tablespoon olive oil until soft, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. In a medium chef’s pan over medium-high heat, sauté the tomatoes and bay leaf in 1 tablespoon oil, stirring frequently, until liquid is slightly reduced, about 10 minutes. Add the wine and reduce, about 2 minutes. Discard the bay leaf. In a small saucepan over very low heat, combine the goat’s cheese and water, stirring until melted. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the onions, tomatoes, feta, goat’s cheese mixture, eggs, basil, parsley, and 1/2 cup breadcrumbs. Season with salt and pepper. Turn into the prepared gratin pan and sprinkle with the remaining breadcrumbs and remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Bake for 50 minutes or until browned.
Makes 2 main or 4 side servings.


September 1, 2007


Gazpacho is a guaranteed cooler on a hot, hot day. Traditionally, it’s made with raw vegetables, but if you don’t like the taste of raw bell pepper, onion, or garlic, you can steam or sweat them. The watermelon and beet add layers of color and sweetness nicely offset by the vinegar and mustard. It’s a lovely, lovely soup. SAM

1 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and quartered (3 medium)
1 medium center ribs celery with leaves, quartered
1 small green or red bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
1 small poblano or chipotle pepper, seeded and quartered
1 medium sweet onion, peeled and quartered
2 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and quartered
1 cup seeded, chopped watermelon
1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
1 small uncooked beet, trimmed and sliced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
3 dashes hot-pepper sauce or to taste
1/4 teaspoon curry powder, if desired
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Sour Cream or yogurt cheese
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and chopped

You can purée the soup in a food processor fitted with a metal blade or in a medium mixing bowl with an immersion blender. Combine the tomatoes, celery, peppers, onion, garlic, cucumber, watermelon, parsley, and beet. Add the vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, hot-pepper sauce, curry powder, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Process until smooth. Serve garnished with sour cream or yogurt cheese and/or avocado.
Makes 4 servings.

Tomato-Basil Thin-Crust Pizza

August 31, 2007


Along with Pesto Flatbread, this is one of my favorite summer treats. The mozzarella di bufala, a fresh Italian cheese made from the milk of water buffalo, is so light, the heat of the just-from-the-oven pizza melts it. Pizza with bufala makes a perfect hot-weather supper, and if you’re lucky enough to have leftovers—but don’t count on it!—you can have it cold the next day for lunch. SAM

2 cups all-purpose, high-gluten flour [do NOT use soft-wheat flour]
1 tablespoon stone-ground cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon sea salt [preferably Guerande fleur de sel]
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3/4 cup warm water
2 ounces mild, hard cheese like Monterey Jack, finely grated
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, torn into 1-inch pieces
3 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon toasted, ground cumin
2 ounces mozzarella di bufala, pinched into 1/2-inch pieces

Place a large pizza stone—if you have one—on the middle shelf of the oven and preheat to 550 degrees F. In a food processor fitted with the plastic blade, combine the flour, cornmeal, and salt. With the processor running, slowly pour in 1 tablespoon olive oil, then just enough water to form a ball.

Cut two 12-inch rounds of parchment paper and place on two pizza peels or large baking sheets. Knead the dough two or three times and cut in half. On a lightly floured pastry board, roll or stretch each half into a 10-inch round and transfer to the parchment paper. Spread evenly with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, then the hard cheese, basil, tomatoes, and cumin. Slide the pizza and parchment paper onto the stone or place the baking sheet with the pizza on the oven shelf and bake for 10 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned. Dot immediately with mozzarella di bufala.
Makes two 10-inch rounds.

Okra-Tomato Salad

August 29, 2007


I can hear it now, cries from around the globe: ‘Cold fried okra? Are you serious?’ You bet I am. Leftover fried okra is fabulous in salads. The cornmeal adds a nutty crunch. And the richness of the okra takes tomatoes and lettuce to an entirely new dimension. Those of us in the rest of the world have a lot to thank Africa for, and okra is right at the top of the list. SAM

12 large cherry tomatoes, halved
1 (3-inch) cucumber, peeled and very thinly sliced
6 tablespoons Mustard Vinaigrette, divided
3 ounces arugula or mixed salad greens
4 heaping tablespoons cold Fried Okra
Freshly ground white pepper to taste
Toasted pumpkin seeds and/or crumbled cooked bacon

In a large salad bowl, marinate the tomatoes and cucumber in 1 tablespoon vinaigrette for at least 30 minutes. Add the salad greens, okra, and pepper and gently toss with the remaining vinaigrette. Sprinkle with pumpkin seeds and/or bacon.
Makes 4 servings.

Tomato Salsa

August 17, 2007


Forget to buy salsa on your way home? Make it from scratch. With a food processor, it takes no time at all. SAM

4 large fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and quartered
1/2 medium sweet onion, peeled and quartered
1/2 large green bell pepper, trimmed, seeded and quartered
4 pickled jalapeño peppers, halved
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lime juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Tortilla chips
Sour Cream

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, jalapeño peppers, cilantro, olive oil, and lime juice. Pulse 6 or 8 times until salsa is mixed and roughly chopped. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with tortilla chips and sour cream.
Makes 4 to 5 cups.

Fried Green Tomatoes

August 6, 2007


Fried Green Tomatoes used to be a traditional fall dish. We made them just before the first frost with tomatoes we knew would never have a chance to ripen. They are such a treat, though, that now I make them in early summer before the first tomato ever gets ripe—and after that anytime I want to. Good quality, coarse cornmeal is a must, as is lots of freshly ground pepper. Make sure the oil is hazy hot—otherwise the tomatoes will be soggy. You may have to practice a couple of times, but, hey, who’s complaining? Practice means even more Fried Green Tomatoes. SAM.

PS Yes, the Fanny Flagg novel is every bit as murderously funny as the film.

1/4 cup stone-ground white cornmeal
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 medium green tomatoes, unpeeled
2 tablespoons olive or peanut oil
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Bread-and-butter pickles

In a shallow plate, combine the cornmeal, flour, salt, and pepper. Cut the tomatoes into 1/4-inch slices and dredge them on both sides in the cornmeal mixture. In a heavy iron or non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until hazy. When a pinch of cornmeal bubbles fiercely in the oil, place the tomatoes in the skillet. Fry on one side until browned and crisp, about 4 minutes. Turn with a spatula and fry on the other side until browned and crisp and the tomatoes are soft inside, about 3 minutes. Drain briefly on paper towels and serve immediately with a tablespoon of Dijon mustard and bread-and-butter pickles on the side.
Makes 2 to 3 servings.