This vegan, fat-free brown rice paella is filled with vegetables and is a delicious, healthy version of the classic rice dish.
The first time I had paella, I didn’t know it. I had invited my Venezuelan college roommate home with me over a school holiday because, in those days, the dorms completely closed over breaks, leaving the international students with no place to stay. For some reason, my parents weren’t home, and we were left to fend for ourselves. And we were hungry.
As we scanned the fridge for something suitable to eat, my roommate asked if I had rice. Sure, a Louisiana kitchen always has long-grain white rice. “Let me cook you something from my country,” she said, and set about sauteing onions in olive oil and gathering whatever meat and seafood she could find in the fridge. I went off to do something else, and when she called me in to eat, we sat down to a huge pan of reddish rice, filled with bits of meat and vegetables, similar to our local jambalaya, but different. It was amazing.
I’m sure I asked her what it was called, and she probably told me. But it was only years later, when I was living on my own and getting into cooking for the first time, that I realized what it was: a version of the classic Valencian dish paella.
Since then, I’ve become vegan and dropped olive oil from my diet, so that first paella no longer appeals to me. I’ve experimented with vegetarian versions, most notably my Quinoa Paella, but, as purists are quick to point out, it isn’t really paella if it doesn’t contain rice. In my Fatfree Vegan group recently, someone asked me if I had a real paella recipe, and I had to admit that the only one I know uses white rice instead of brown. (Along with olive oil, I’ve also eliminated white rice from my diet; talk about a purist!)
The Secret to Brown Rice Paella
So I set out to create a brown rice paella. I learned from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian that I could substitute brown rice for white in any recipe as long as I parboil it first. That was a revelation and opens up so many possibilities I can’t wait to try.
Bittman included his own simple paella recipe, but it involved putting the pan in the oven, something I couldn’t do because of the type of handles on my favorite pan. So I looked at a few other recipes, most notably this one from a cookbook writer in Spain, to get the basic stove top technique and authentic ingredients. And then I winged it, using frozen flat Italian beans as my principal vegetable and frozen butter beans as my legume.
This makes a huge pan of rice and veggies, so it was a good thing my family liked it (even the resident brown rice resister). I used my 13-inch Berndes saute pan, and this recipe practically filled it up. One thing to note is that the size and shape of your pan affects how quickly the paella will cook. My pan is so much bigger than the eye of my stove that the rice at the edges of the pan cooked more slowly than the middle. I’ve included instructions that are flexible so that you’ll know what to do if you find your rice cooking more quickly or slowly than mine.
Brown Rice Vegetable Paella
- 4 cups warm vegetable broth divided
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads crushed between fingers and added to 1/2 cup warm broth, see note below
- 2 cups short-grain brown rice
- 1 medium-large onion about 2 cups chopped, chopped
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 6 cloves garlic minced
- 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 2 teaspoons smoked or regular sweet paprika
- 1 1/2 cup cooked butter beans, lima beans, great northern beans, etc drained
- 1 12-ounce package frozen green beans Italian preferred, thawed and drained
- 1/2 large red bell pepper cut into thin slices
- 1 cup canned artichoke heart quarters rinsed
- Before you begin: Make sure you have butter beans, lima, or other dried beans already cooked. Defrost the green beans completely and let drain. Warm the broth; remove 1/2 cup to a small bowl or measuring cup and add the saffron to it. Parboil the rice up to an hour before cooking the paella.
- To parboil rice, bring a large pot of water to boil, salted if you want. Add the rice and continue to boil, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Drain water completely (a colander helps) and allow rice to dry for up to an hour.
- Heat a large, deep skillet or flat-bottomed wok. Add the chopped onion and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring, until onion softens, 4-6 minutes. Add the garlic and tomatoes. Cook, stirring and breaking up large pieces of tomato with the back of the spoon, until mixture thickens and most of the liquid boils off. Stir in the drained rice, paprika, and saffron broth and cook for another couple of minutes.
- Add 3 cups of the warm broth and the butter beans and bring to a boil. Taste the broth to see if it’s salty enough and add salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Stir in the Italian beans. Increase heat until boiling again, if necessary, and then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes.
- Arrange the bell pepper and artichoke hearts over the top of the rice. If the rice seems to be drying around the edges but is still not cooked, drizzle in a little more broth (1/4 to 1/2 cup) around the edges. Cover pan and cook on low for 10 minutes.
- Check to see if rice is tender and liquid is absorbed. If rice is done but there is still a lot of liquid, remove the cover and cook until liquid boils off. If rice is not done, add a little more broth or water, if necessary, cover, and cook on low until tender. When rice is cooked, if there is excess liquid in the pan, remove the cover and allow it to boil off (paella should be moist but not swimming in liquid).
- Remove from heat, cover, and let stand until ready to serve.
Nutritional info is approximate.
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Anna@stuffedveggiesJanuary 23, 2014 at 12:07 pm
Thanks for a lovely post – I have long wanted to make Paella, but haven’t happened upon the perfect recipe -maybe now I can try it! : )
Here’s my recent post of Super Bowl Food ideas
Judith goughJanuary 23, 2014 at 2:11 pm
Buffalo cauliflower ! Roast the smaller pieces on Silat at 400 for 15 minutes and then toss with your favorite buffalo sauce like Franks until heated through. Enjoy!
Susan VoisinJanuary 23, 2014 at 2:22 pm
Perfect! Thanks for the suggestion!
JoAnn FordJanuary 23, 2014 at 2:11 pm
I already make & bake large meatballs using the recipe for your Nofu Lentil Loaf (that’s not exactly the right name), so for the Super Bowl, I’m going to make them much smaller and insert toothpicks in order to dip them in my really good no-cook pizza sauce (using equal portions of tomato paste & water and lots of Italian spices).
Susan VoisinJanuary 23, 2014 at 2:22 pm
What a great idea! Thanks!
Heather @Gluten-Free CatJanuary 23, 2014 at 3:02 pm
I have never made Paella before, and this is the perfect recipe for me to try it! Thank you!
Tami@Nutmeg NotebookJanuary 23, 2014 at 3:03 pm
Thank you for sharing about par boiling brown rice to use in place of white rice in recipes. That is so helpful! This dish looks to be company worthy. Since I am fairly new to eating a plant based diet I am still struggling with what to fix for company as none of our family or friends eat a plant based diet. Oh that would be a good topic for one of your news letters – recipes to make to impress company who are not vegan,
moonwatcherJanuary 23, 2014 at 3:26 pm
This looks great, Susan, and the photos are gorgeous! I like the story about your roommate making you something from her country. And I love the tip about par-boiling brown rice–similar to “frustrating beans”–which makes a lot of sense. I like you quinoa paella, so I’m betting I’ll really like this one too. 🙂
Thanks so much!!
LynnJanuary 23, 2014 at 4:34 pm
Apple nachos are a healthy, fun and easy alternative to the regular nachos. Drizzled with melted nut butter, coconut, chopped pecans, mini chocolate chips…endless possibilities!
MarciaJanuary 23, 2014 at 8:40 pm
Gosh, this sounds (and looks) absolutely yummy, thank you! I’ll look up par-boiling online because I don’t know what purpose it serves (perhaps allows the rice cook faster?) – thanks for the tip. I used to really enjoy Paella but haven’t had it for quite a few years and I’ve NEVER made it myself. Time for a spurt of growth!
My only concern is the amount of carbohydrates (57.8). My doctor told me to cut back on them (or take a medication to do it for me and I said no thanks) and I just wondered if you had any suggestions for me. I continue to search for ideas but it seems they are in everything and that doesn’t leave me much (tofu, miracle noodles, and seitan are the lowest items I’ve found so far). Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.
NazNovember 11, 2015 at 10:22 am
You could replace some or all of the brown rice with pearl barley (it will need soaking first). Lovely texture and super low on the glycemic index!
EmilieJanuary 23, 2014 at 9:46 pm
This sounds great! I don’t normally like paella because I’ve never cared for the seafood that it’s usually heavy with, but I can’t wait to try this!
KateJanuary 24, 2014 at 1:13 am
As always, delicious and nutritious!
SamanthaJanuary 24, 2014 at 5:45 am
No this is my kind of dish! I love brown rice and find myself gravitating towards veggies rather than meat these days. Look forward to making then eating this for dinner next week.
Susan SasekJanuary 24, 2014 at 9:26 am
This was a favorite from Cooking Light that used beef. Once we became plant based eaters I had to modify it. You could also use 1 pound of vegan crumbles in place of the lentils.
Chipotle Sloppy Joes with Simple Slaw
2 1/2 cups presliced Vidalia or other sweet onion
1 (7-ounce) can chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
2 cups cooked green lentils
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 (8-ounce) can no-salt-added tomato sauce
5 (1 1/2-ounce) hamburger buns, toasted
Slaw (I double it for our family)
1. Heat a small nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add
onion to pan with a bit of water or veggie broth; cover and cook 8 minutes or until golden brown, stirring frequently. Remove
from heat; set aside.
2. Remove 1 teaspoon adobo sauce from can; set aside. Remove 1 chipotle chile from can; chop and set aside. Reserve remaining chiles and adobo sauce for another use.
3. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add cooked lentils; cook 4 minutes or until warmed. Add bell pepper to pan; sauté 2
minutes. Stir in chopped chipotle chile, adobo sauce, tomato paste, and next 3 ingredients (through tomato sauce); cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Spoon 1/2 cup lentil mixture over bottom half of each bun, and top evenly with onions and top half of bun.
Plate with pickle chips and a simple slaw.
Combine 1/3 cup vegan mayo, 1/2 teaspoons sugar, 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard in a large bowl; stir with a whisk. Add 3 cups packaged cabbage-and carrot coleslaw, tossing well to combine.
Yield: 5 servings (serving size: 1 sandwich)
Lisa @ Je suis alimentageuseJanuary 24, 2014 at 11:37 am
THIS LOOKS AMAZING. I love love love paella, but ever since I went vegetarian, let alone vegan, I’ve had a hard time going to latino restaurants because I always get judged so hardcore for not eating meat.
“But, why?” They ask.
I love that you used brown rice, I’m trying to use it more (living in a Viet home, I grew up eating white rice every day). I’m definitely going to try this! (And share it on my blog’s fb page today).
Also, for good superbowl ideas, I have 3 recipes this week for Appetizer Week if you want to check it out (last post out tomorrow), but other ideas for good, healthy foods could be a roasted carrot hummus, black bean dip, salsa… umm roasted fingerlings? Tempeh wings? =P
Gwen @simplyhealthyfamilyJanuary 24, 2014 at 12:08 pm
I love this veggie version of paella! What a perfect and healthy dinner.
SuzanneJanuary 24, 2014 at 1:40 pm
I have soaked my lima beans. Do I have to take the peel off before cooking? Is pressure cooking ok in my instant pot?
Susan VoisinJanuary 26, 2014 at 2:33 pm
There’s no need to peel the lima beans. They should do fine in the pressure cooker, but be careful not to overfill the cooker or the skins could get caught in the valve. If you’re just doing enough for this recipe, they should be fine.
ElizabethJanuary 24, 2014 at 6:21 pm
I’m trying to make this right now but you never specify when to add the butter beans. I’m going to put them in with the italian green beans. Hope this turns out yummy!
Susan VoisinJanuary 24, 2014 at 7:31 pm
Sorry about that! I added them with the broth, but since they are already cooked, it doesn’t really matter. Thanks for letting me know so that I can edit the recipe.
Anna SchulzJanuary 24, 2014 at 11:34 pm
So thrilled to find your site and yummy looking recipes like these, my doctor just ordered me back onto a post-gallbladder diet again, which can seem very intimidating to a foodie since only 3 grams of fat per meal is allowed. These look amazing and delicious and I can’t wait to start cooking again. Thanks!!!
LorenaJanuary 25, 2014 at 12:28 pm
This looks yummy and what a great tip about parboiling brown rice so you can use it like white! Seriously, that’s one of the “hitches” in getting my husband to switch completely over to brown rice.
For Superbowl Sunday, we’ve had everything from pizza and chili, to buffalo cauliflower and healthy jalapeno poppers (slice jalapenos in half lengthwise, deseed/devein, stuff with nonfat refried beans — black or pinto — and bake; then top with a dollop of guacamole and a sprinkling of cilantro). And, of course, chips and dips — hummus and pita bread, guacamole and bean dip — layered and not — with tortilla chips, or potato chips and a creamy tofu-based caramelized onion dip.
Alice PhillipsJanuary 26, 2014 at 10:08 am
Funny that I happened upon this post and recipe. Just this afternoon my hubby and I decided that our eating habits and lifestyle needs a bit of an overhaul. This is a great recipe to get more veggies and seafood into our diet (we already only eat brown rice, never touch the white ones). Veggies is the one thing that gets a bit mundane to cook so this is a great way to incorporate them more. Love this. Paella makes for a nice change up in our weekly menu. 🙂
CynJanuary 26, 2014 at 11:52 am
In the paella, where in the recipe do you add the butter/Lima beans?
Susan VoisinJanuary 26, 2014 at 12:19 pm
Step 4, along with the broth.
Luke JonesJanuary 31, 2014 at 1:07 pm
This looks really nice! Always looking for new low fat plant based ideas, glad to have stumbled across your site!
Laurel OttoFebruary 1, 2014 at 1:09 pm
Can I substitute long grain brown rice? if so would I cook the same way? Thanks, Laurel
Previously submitted with wrong email address
Susan VoisinFebruary 1, 2014 at 1:48 pm
Yes, long grain brown rice should cook the same way. It might not take quite as long and will not be as sticky as short grain.
carrotstixxFebruary 10, 2014 at 12:27 pm
Just browsing through the recipe…then I spied what I’ve been missing for ages! Parboil the brown rice! Game changer! I’ve been avoiding the substitution of brown for white rice in some recipes because they either end up with raw rice and just right other stuff, or mushy other stuff and cooked rice! THANKS!
SallyTFebruary 11, 2014 at 6:08 am
I made this for dinner. While I admit that I added a bit of oil to sauté the onions(my nonstick pan isn’t large enough for this recipe) and added a bit of tofu and a few olives, the technique and other ingredients were as suggested. This was a hit with most of my family. My husband likes a bit more spice but the kids and I said we’d be happy to have this again. It’s easier to add spice than take it out so small adjustments will be made in the future and my husband can add spice as he wishes. Thanks for the recipe.
SheriFebruary 12, 2014 at 8:36 pm
I bought the saffron so can’t wait to try this. The brown rice I buy is parboiled. I buy it in 25 lb bag and share it with all our family members. Do I need to do step #2 then?
Susan VoisinFebruary 12, 2014 at 9:13 pm
If it’s already parboiled and its cooking time is about the same as this, it should work. Hope you enjoy it.
AmyApril 3, 2014 at 9:50 am
Paella purists would say that a rice dish isn’t really paella unless the bottom of the rice becomes crispy and caramelized, called“socarrat.” This is achieved by using a cast iron pan (or a paella pan if you have one!) and by cooking the vegetables first and then not stirring at all after the broth and rice are added. Oil is also essential to the traditional socarrat, I haven’t tried making it oil-free so I’m not sure what would happen without the oil. Bittman’s suggestion to put it in the oven would probably help.
Anyway those are my 2 cents on paella, I like this recipe but if I were going to serve it to a chef or a foodie I’d call it Spanish pilaf instead of paella to stop them from expecting to get a socarrat.
KathyJanuary 25, 2015 at 10:56 pm
When I drain the parboiled rice in the colander, do I return the drained rice back to the pot? – or leave them in the colander? Tomorrow’s supper! And thanks so much!
Susan VoisinJanuary 26, 2015 at 12:05 am
I just leave it in the colander to dry and put the colander in the pan to catch drips. I hope you enjoy it tomorrow!
NicolaDecember 1, 2017 at 9:37 pm
As usual I left out the onions and garlic, and I accidentally used up the red bell pepper I had in the fridge, but enjoyed this anyway. Thank you.
Suzan C AdamsJanuary 23, 2019 at 1:03 pm
Hi Susan! Do you have any tips for losing weight. I have been a vegan, most of the time, and have gone WFPB no oil for two years now, but I have not been able to shed any weight. I am 69 and everyone keeps telling me that it is normal to hold weight as we age, which really upsets me! Also, do you have a your own cookbook? I love your recipes and will continue to print them. Thanks for any assistance you can provide..