Traveling is one of the best ways to learn about another culture. When I was in Spain with my sisters, I did not run with the bulls…though I had had an interesting drive….
Long story short, I realized almost too late that it is difficult to find automatic cars there. After a 30 minute driving lesson, I drove 5 hours from Barcelona along the eastern coast to Valencia (Valen-THia), white-knuckled and sweating with a small rented stick shift, but thankfully neither killed my sisters nor any strangers. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my vacation focusing on not killing anyone, so when an automatic mini-van became available, I was thrilled. I grew up driving a three-seater station wagon (you know those Oldsmobile boats which would barely move in a Level 5 storm), so a minivan was simple. So there we were, three American girls in a huge automatic mini-van barreling like a clumsy bull through the lovely tiny streets of Spain. Nothing like that makes you feel more separated from a place – well, that and the fact that ironically, with this automatic minivan, a wall hit me, yes, a wall HIT ME (but that’s another story).
As soon as we stepped out of the car, however, and stepped foot in the little restaurants tucked along small streets owned by generations of one Castillian family, offering a three course meal for 7 Euros (pre-economic downtown), I no longer felt so separated. Food, after all, brings people together.
One of my favorites was – and is – paella. A lovely blend of ingredients that seem disparate (chorizo AND mussels AND peas? What are they thinking?) transform into a symphony of flavor and depth.
I was determined to learn how to make it, and stuffed a paella pan in my carry-on luggage. What is so fabulous about paellas is not only that they merge major food groups in one place (you have your grains, your meat, your fish, your veggies), but the colors are simply amazing. In fact, the paella is often almost too pretty to eat (mine is not quite glossy-magazine quality yet - I lost my camera and need to buy a new one!). This recipe is from Valencia.
You don’t have to be a chef to make this one. You don’t even need a paella pan, but you do need a large enough oven-proof skillet or casserole dish. With paellas, you can throw in the ingredients you like and leave out what you don’t and still end up with something fabulous.
6 TB olive oil
1 TB paprika
1 TB turmeric
1 pound chorizo or other sausage (cubed)
1 pound skinless chicken breast (cubed)
1 pound shrimp, peeled
1 red bell pepper
1 large onion, chopped (can be sweet onion)
3-5 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp dried oregano
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 pinch saffron threads
1 quart chicken stock
2 cups uncooked rice (white, short-grain is fine)
Salt and pepper
You can use a wide skillet, paella pan, or even a Dutch oven.
1. Mix 2 TB olive oil, paprika, oregano, salt, pepper and chicken until well coated. You can use other spices if you want, such as marjoram for a bit of extra oomph.
2. Heat 2 TB olive oil in wide skillet or paella pan or Dutch Oven over medium heat. Brown the chicken.
3. Remove chicken and add sausage, pepper, onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, and cook until soft (about 10 minutes). Add more oil if necessary
4. Remove and add some more olive oil as needed. Add rice and stir until rice is well coated with the oil (about 2-3 minutes).
5. In same pot, add chicken stock, turmeric, paprika, saffron (not absolutely necessary if you cannot find it, but adds really nice depth), bay leaf, parsley, and zest of the lemons. Bring to boil.
6. Add chicken, sausage, pepper and onions back to the pot, reduce to medium low. Cover and simmer for about 30-35 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed.
7. Add shrimp, pushing them to the bottom of the rice and cook for about 5-10 minutes until they are pink. (You can also add green peas for nice coloring and texture
8. Remove from heat, arrange with lemon wedges, and enjoy.