Cultivating an appreciation for portrait and people photography is one thing, and actually producing decent images on the subject is another entirely. It wouldn’t matter if not for the demands of various photography classes, most of which seem to be written with only one type of student in mind. Either everyone with a camera dreams of growing up to become a high school prom photographer, or some of these lessons are really missing the mark. Where is the passion for still life and commercial photography I find myself immersed in everywhere else? Sure, those basic lighting techniques taught with any sort of subject will prove handy once applied to other disciplines of the art form, but for now, courses entitled “People Photography” sound like one full semester of torture. Forced to face this glaringly weak point in my toolbox of skills, it’s turned out to be a learning experience in more ways than expected so far.
Just before winter break, the final project for a certain “Location Lighting” class demanded numerous shots of people and things in all different places, making for a mad dash around town with unwieldy light stands and giant reflectors in tow. Ultimately, I’m pretty sure it was one particular shot, taken within the comfort of my aunt and uncle’s home, that truly secured my grade.
The take-away lesson from this experience? Make the picture about food anyway! By adding this element of interest, and with the help of my very patient and tolerant Uncle Alberto, it was no longer the same frustrating process of trying to make a scene out of nothing. Now there was a story, and a subject I knew how to work with.
And let me tell you a bit about that subject: Paella. Vegan paella, packed full of fresh vegetables and vibrant yellow grains of rice, all infused with saffron. Redolent of onions and garlic, it’s a simple yet classic dish that must not be underestimated. Though there was a more traditional, seafood-filled version on the table alongside this one, I couldn’t help but notice that everyone seemed to have at least a scoop of the veggie version on their plates, too.
That would have been the end of this story, but then, for my birthday, a wonderful gift fell into my hands… My very own paella pan.
Thank goodness I already had a tried-and-true recipe to turn to, because I wanted to fire up that stove right away! My only alteration was to add a dash of smoked paprika, because I just can’t get enough of that stuff. The beauty of this dish is that it’s endlessly versatile, and pretty much any vegetables hanging out in the fridge will do just fine. Consider throwing in a drained and rinsed can of chickpeas for a bit more protein, too.
Uncle Alberto’s Vegan Paella
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
4 Cups Brussels Sprouts, Halved
4 Cups Other Assorted Raw Vegetables, such as Asparagus, Red Peppers, Zucchini, Mushrooms, and/or Artichoke Hearts
1 Medium Yellow Onion, Diced
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Cups Medium Grain Rice
4 Cups Vegetable Broth
1 Teaspoons Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1 Large Pinch Saffron
2 Cups Frozen Peas
Lemon Wedges, to Serve
Saute Brussels sprouts with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper until cooked with hints of browning. Lightly saute the other vegetables for about 5 minutes and season to taste. Remove from pan and set aside.
In a paella pan or large skillet on the stove top, heat the remaining olive oil and cook the diced onion and garlic over low heat. Once translucent, add the paprika and saffron, and stir well. Add rice and saute for approximately 1 minute. Add Brussels sprouts, vegetables, and broth and bring mixture to a low boil. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper, stir and cover. Cook for approx 20 minutes over low-med heat until the liquid has mostly been absorbed. Add frozen peas, stir into the rice, cover and cook for an additional 10 minutes.
Serve in paella dish with lemon wedges.
Makes 6 – 8 Servings