This super easy vegan Spanish paella is a delicious 40 minute dinner packed with plant-based protein and wholesome ingredients. Extra firm tofu is marinated in olive brine for a seafood flavor and baked until crispy, then added to the delicious rice and vegetable mixture in this classic Spanish dish.
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Hey Internet, I don't know about you but I've been craving Spanish food. Now don't get me wrong, I LOVE Mexican food, but I'm actually talking about food that hails from the country of Spain.
Now you might be thinking that Paella typically features a lot of meat and seafood. Obviously this dish does not contain any of that since this is a vegan blog, but I did replace the seafood with…
Additionally, I rephotographed my Kale Caesar Salad, a dish that includes a somewhat seafood flavor already.
I wanted to make a mock meat for this dish that resembled seafood in the sense that it had a light salty and brine-y flavor, but I didn't want it to be as intensely "fishy" as my other dishes.
Paella sometimes features Spanish olives in the dish, so I decided to use olive brine to marinate my tofu! It's somewhat salty, a little tangy, and it was the perfect complement to this dish.
I also made a few other modifications to this recipe to make it easier to make or healthier, like the exclusion of saffron which is a very expensive spice that can be difficult to find, and the exclusion of oil which is not so healthy and I never cook with it.
Nonetheless, this healthy Paella recipe is incredibly delicious, easy, and actually it's pretty great for meal prep too!
I hope you'll give it a shot -- let's get into it.
What You'll Need
This dish sounds like a lot of ingredients, but it's mostly just veggies and rice. You can customize the veggies you add, see below.
I used brown rice instead of Arborio rice here. Arborio rice is fine, and usually gets more creamy when cooked, but brown rice is usually what I have on hand and it's pretty good for you--but use what you like.
For the veggies, I used a Spanish (yellow) onion, red and green bell peppers, artichoke hearts, peas, tomatoes, and mushrooms. You could play around with any other veggies such as summer squash, cauliflower, broccoli, etc.
I cooked the rice in the pan with everything else--and I used vegetable broth as the liquid for the rice to absorb so it has more flavor than just using water.
I mentioned earlier that unlike traditional Paella, there is no saffron in this dish. Saffron (threads) is a delicious spice but it's also incredibly expensive and can be difficult to find.
To flavor and color my rice, I used turmeric (a member of the ginger family) and paprika. I also used a pinch of salt and some red pepper flakes (ground black pepper will also work).
Another flavor boost is the addition of sliced Spanish olives and a generous squeeze of fresh lemon to finish, followed by a sprinkle of fresh parsley. These items are not required for this dish but they are encouraged.
Finally I used super firm tofu as the protein for this dish. I marinated my tofu in olive brine for about an hour and then I baked it in the oven while my Paella was cooking on the stovetop.
Firm tofu will also work, but I recommend pressing it to remove the water and enable to the tofu to soak up the delicious olive brine.
How to Make Vegan Spanish Paella
This dish is super easy to make and it makes a large amount so it's perfect to feed a big family or meal prep to eat throughout the week--you can easily halve it though, if you wish.
Start by marinating the tofu. This is a recommended step but not required.
I cubed my tofu and added it to a large tray in a single layer. I poured over about a cup of the brine from the jar of Spanish olives I bought for this recipe. Cover it and set it aside for at least a half hour, but I waited an hour.
When time is up on the tofu, preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit (218 degrees Celsius) and place your tofu in a single layer on a lined baking tray. I always recommend these silicone mats because they save money from buying parchment paper and they help the tofu crisp.
Your tofu will be done at the same time as the Paella, and then you'll combine them, but remember to flip the tofu halfway through the baking process. You can also air fry your tofu if you wish.
Now, cook your Paella. Start by sauteing your onions in a splash of water over high heat. Cook until translucent and the edges are lightly browned, about 4 minutes.
Add your bell peppers and saute another minute, again adding a splash of water if they are sticking too much. Now add the rice, broth, tomatoes, mushrooms, and spices. Turn the heat down to medium high and cover.
Let it cook for about 10 minutes, then remove the lid and stir, adding in the frozen peas at this time. You should be ready to flip your tofu now, then place the tray back in the oven.
Cook the rice and vegetables for another 10 minutes (covered). The water should mostly be absorbed by now.
If you do run out liquid before the rice is fully cooked, you can add about 1 cup of water and it won't dilute the flavor.
When the rice is almost done, add your tofu, olives, and artichoke hearts. Stir gently and let it cook uncovered for a few minutes.
When fully cooked, remove the pot from heat, add fresh lemon and parsley and serve.
Best Paella Pan to Use
You can use any large pan you like for this dish, but I have a few recommendations.
For one, you want this pan to be nonstick, since this recipe doesn't use oil.
Another thing I recommend is a pan with a wide surface area. This enables the heat of the pan to cook the food faster but also give the rice a bit of a crisp.
It's actually traditional with Paella to serve the bits of rice that char and stick to the pan--they're crunchy and usually full of flavor. However, burnt food contains Acrylamide, a chemical that may be carcinogenic so that's why I recommend using a nonstick pan.
The pan I use for this dish is the best Paella pan in my opinion, it's the Calphalon Hard Anodized Nonstick Sauteuse pan. This 7 quart pan is so versatile and it's even oven safe. I love using it for all kinds of things like stir fry, pasta, and heavy vegetable dishes like Ratatouille (coming soon!).
You could also use any large Dutch oven for this dish.
Whichever pan you use, I highly recommend you use one with a lid, as it helps the rice cook faster and more evenly. If your pan doesn't have a lid, you can pick up a universal lid for about 20 bucks.
Like Quick Vegan Dinners?
Me too! Sometimes the last thing I want to do after a long day of work is cook a long or complicated meal.
Here’s a few of my favorite quick vegan meals!
- Chickpea Florentine Pasta (one pot)
- Vegan Orange Chicken
- Creamy Mushroom Pasta (one pot)
- Vegan Buddha Bowl with Sweet Potatoes and Quinoa
- Avocado Pesto Pasta
- Lemon Tahini Broccolini Pasta
- Sheet Pan Roasted Vegetable Pasta
- Double Chik’n Noodle Soup (one pot)
- Hearty Lentil Vegetable Stew (one pot)
- “Fish” Tacos with Tangy Cabbage Slaw and Chipotle Aioli
- Weeknight Tofu Vegetable Curry
As always, I hope you love this recipe!
Let me know in the comments below if you make it, tag me @Zardyplants on Instagram so I can see your beautiful recreations! If you tag me on IG, I will share your post in my stories :)
Also, one quick request: if you love how this recipe looks or tastes, please leave me a 5-star rating and a nice comment–ratings help more people find my recipes which helps me keep providing them! Thank you!