Back in September, Paul had a work conference in Madrid, and since I was on maternity leave we decided that Niko and I should tag along.
Since Paul’s days were busy with conferencing, Niko and I would set off on our own and explore Madrid, as much as one can with a six-month-old in tow. The first day we didn’t make it very far, as I’d mis-read the directions to take public transit into the city centre, not realizing that the metro line I was on was under construction and didn’t go the whole way. We spent a frustrated hour going back and forth, getting nowhere. The Madrid metro system while clean, safe, and efficient (when you know where you’re going), did not have lifts at most of the stations, so I’d pick up the travel stroller, baby and all, and hike up and down the stairs to get to the next platform. Each time the train started moving again it let out a tremendous hiss, which terrified my baby, so ultimately I decided that day to be a write-off for touristing and we instead stuck closer to home.
The following day, however, armed with a better understanding of how to get into town and a map of Madrid downloaded onto my phone, we headed first to the majestic Bien Retiro Park where we walked through beautiful shady lanes and looked at ducks and swung on some Spanish swings (Niko is doing a systematic review of swing sets around the world) and then into the twisty cobbled streets of the old town. We stopped for lunch at an outdoor cafe where I had a glass of sangria and we shared tortilla española and vegetable paella. My boy had just started on solids, and had a great time stuffing handfuls of omelet and vegetables plucked from the top of the paella into his mouth. We created a glorious mess; I tipped well.
That trip seems both like a lifetime ago and just yesterday. It’s amazing how it works that way, how the past year has gone both agonizingly slow and achingly fast. I love, though, how food has the capacity to bring back memories, and I know that from now on every time I eat paella it’ll take me back to that sunny Thursday afternoon in Madrid, sipping sangria and sharing the most Spanish of meals with my boy.
This paella, for what it lacks in authenticity it more than makes up for in flavour. I’ve always found that vegetarian paella leaves me hankering for a bit more protein, and I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me sooner to replace the classic chorizo sausage with smoked tofu. It works like a charm, and I’m certain that smoked tempeh would do equally well, though I have yet to try it.
I think the key to a really vibrantly flavoured dish is using top quality spices. I’m a bit of a spice tourist; it’s always the thing I bring back from a trip. In this dish I’ve used smoked tofu we bought at the market in Madrid, and a top-quality saffron from a trip to Istanbul a few years back. Just use the best of whatever is available to you and it’ll be good. Using short-grain brown rice and positively loading this paella with veggies makes this a dish you can feel good about even on a weeknight, and it’s one of those meals that’s deceptively simple yet comes off looking hella impressive if you’re feeding a crowd.
Head on over to Oh My Veggies for the recipe.