This recipe is based on the Catalan Vegetable Paella in the Essential New York Times Cookbook. I made some changes to it in my quest to substitute local ingredients wherever possible. Instead of zucchini, I used winter melon or wax gourd in the paella. Its flesh can stand up to steaming with the rice so that it still has a firmness to it even when it is cooked. Winter melon turns translucent when it is cooked, by the way, and like zucchini, it is bland and takes on the flavors of whatever it is cooked with. Using sushi rice, a short grain rice that is slightly sticky when cooked, is comparable to arborio, and a lot cheaper in this part of the world. This paella turned out to be quite delicious! I went back for seconds, and even my husband did not once complain about the absence of meat.
Asian Vegetable Paella
prep time: 15 minutes
cook time: 55 minutes
1/4 cup rice bran oil
1 small green chile pepper, finely minced, optional
1 large Bermuda onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1/2 medium orange bell pepper, cored, seeded, thinly sliced
1/2 medium green bell pepper, cored, seeded and thinly sliced
4 large cloves garlic, pressed
1 1/2 teaspoons Spanish paprika
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
2 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, cored, seeded, and chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 medium winter melon (wax gourd), peeled seeded, and cut into 1″ pieces
1 1/4 cups sushi rice
2 cups low sodium vegetable or chicken broth (I used 1/2 vegetable bouillon to 2 cups water)
Cilantro, chopped, for garnish
Heat oil over medium heat in a large pot with a tight fitting lid, such as a Dutch oven. Add the chile pepper, if using; onion, bell peppers, and reduce the heat to medium –low to cook for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and the onion is lightly browned.
Add the garlic, paprika, thyme, and tomatoes. Season generously with salt and pepper. Cover the pot and simmer 5 minutes.
Add the winter melon and simmer 10 minutes.
Stir in the rice and broth and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until the rice is tender.
Cook’s Note: Resist the temptation to check the rice during this period! Test the rice after 20 minutes. If some of the grains taste hard, stir the pot, then let the paella cook for 5 more minutes.
Taste and correct the seasoning. Garnish with minced cilantro. Serve hot directly from the pan.