Simple Vegetarian Paella

Want to make paella at home? Here’s an easy vegetarian paella (that’s a vegan paella too), perfect for date night and full of Spanish flavor!

Simple Vegetarian Paella, Easy Vegan Paella

Ahh, Valentine’s Day. Around the world, it is celebrated as a special day to celebrate your loved ones. Somehow along the way, it’s also become a tad cliché (candy hearts, red roses, etc etc), and a source of disappointment for many, significant other or not! We’ve never been big on the holiday itself, but we love any excuse to celebrate! So how about reinventing Valentine’s Day as a chance to make a celebratory meal with those you love in your life? Keep reading for this easy vegetarian paella recipe (that’s also a vegan paella!).

What is paella?

One of our favorite special meals is a traditional Spanish dish I discovered while studying in Madrid several years ago – paella. It’s a rice dish that’s combined with vegetables, seafood or meat. In Spain (and at our house!), special occasions call for a paella. It’s also one of those dishes where anything goes – throw in whatever might be on hand (like in Spain, amazing shellfish!).

vegetarian paella ingredients

How to make vegetarian paella at home

Many times a paella is made over an open fire like our Open Fire Seafood Paella, or you can grill them, like we did with this grilled paella. But we’ve been wanting to develop one that’s a little more accessible for everyday use – and one that can be made over the stovetop, without the use of a special paella pan. We were excited to find that not only did it work on the stovetop, it turned out beautifully – smoky, earthy, and delicious – with just the right taste of Spain! We didn’t even miss the seafood.

Making vegetarian paella at home on the stovetop is actually simple. Again, it’s not a fully authentic paella, but more of a “cheater’s” paella — our most authentic paella recipe is that Open Fire Seafood Paella. For the stovetop, you can simply use a cast iron skillet or heavy frying pan. In this recipe we omitted shellfish and went heavy on the veggies: mushrooms, chard, artichoke hearts, and chickpeas for protein. It makes for a super satisfying dish.

Special paella ingredients

What makes this vegetarian paella go over the top is the smoked paprika (called pimentón in Spanish); it lends a sultry, smoky flavor that’s instantly addicting. (Here’s more about smoked paprika and more recipes that use it!) 

The other key spice for the dish is traditionally saffron. However, since it’s the world’s most expensive spice, we went with a common substitute: turmeric, which gives a bit of earthy flavor and a brilliant yellow color. Traditional paella also starts with a sofrito, a mix of onion, garlic, peppers, and tomatoes. Because this is a “weeknight” paella, we’ve taken some steps to deconstruct the sofrito but still have the same flavors.

Since this vegetarian paella recipe is meant for Valentine’s Day, our recipe instructions include some fun extras like picking out music to set the mood and drinking wine. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

making vegetarian paella
vegetarian paella recipe, vegan paella recipe

Looking for more Spanish recipes? 

Outside of this simple vegetarian paella, here are some of our favorites:

This vegetarian paella recipe is…

Vegetarian, gluten-free, vegan, plant-based, and dairy-free.

Related: Try using our Homemade Vegetable Broth for this recipe!

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Simple Vegetarian Paella

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (7 votes, average: 4.43 out of 5)

  • Author: a Couple Cooks
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 55 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
  • Yield: 4 1x


Want to make paella at home but are intimidated? Here’s a supremely simple vegetable paella: it’s perfect for date night and full of Spanish flavor!


  • A cast iron skillet or large heavy frying pan
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 8 ounces shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 bunch chard (enough for 2 cups chopped)
  • 4 whole artichokes hearts (canned)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika (pimentón)
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 cup brown arborio rice
  • 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup chickpeas (canned or cooked)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth


  1. Set the mood: Turn on some music. Pour yourself some wine, or your beverage of choice. If you’re hungry, grab something to munch on as you prepare your dish. And—relax! Forget about the days worries and get ready to have some fun in the kitchen.
  2. Show off your knife skills: Set up a chopping station with some cutting boards and knives. Then do the following, in no particular order: Peel 4 garlic cloves and mince them. Peel and chop the onion. Remove the stems from the shiitake mushrooms and slice the tops into 1/4 inch strips. Wash the chard and roughly chop it into bite-sized pieces. Drain the artichoke hearts, and cut them into quarters.
  3. Sauteing time: Bring all of your prepared ingredients to the stove, along with the remainder of the ingredients in the recipe. Then do the following: In a large cast-iron skillet or frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, and mushrooms. Sauté for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 1 tablespoon smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon turmeric, and 1 cup rice. Stir about 1 minute. Add 1 can diced tomatoes and their liquid, chard, 1 cup chickpeas. 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and lots of fresh ground black pepper. Stir to combine, and cook for a few minutes. Pour in about 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth, enough to fully cover the rice and vegetables, but not enough to overflow the pan. Place the artichoke quarters in an artistic manner over the top of the dish.
  4. Wait: The hard part is done – now you just wait for the liquid to cook out and cook the rice. The broth should be boiling at this point. Turn down the heat and let simmer without stirring until the liquid has evaporated, about 40 minutes or so. You can add a bit more liquid (broth or water) if necessary if you find that the rice is not done, but we found that this amount of liquid and time with brown arborio rice did the trick. While you wait, clean the kitchen, set the table, assemble a simple green salad or dessert.
  5. Serve: After the liquid is mostly cooked out, remove from the heat and let sit for a few minutes (a little more of the liquid will absorb as it sits). Make sure not to leave on the heat too long or the paella may burn. Serve immediately.


Make sure to use short grain rice in this dish. We developed the dish using brown Arborio rice; white arborio rice may need a bit less liquid to cook. Also make sure to use smoked paprika (Want to make paella at home but are intimidated? Here’s a supremely simple vegetable paella: it’s perfect for date night and full of Spanish flavor! pimentón!) if you can find it; regular paprika is not quite the same. You can use a pinch of saffron in place of the turmeric to be fully authentic, but we found using turmeric didn’t lose too much for the flavor (as long as pimentón is used!). We also developed the recipe using a cast iron skillet; a paella pan would likely work as well, but the amount of liquid or ingredients may need to be adapted.

  • Category: Main Dish
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Spanish

Keywords: Paella, Vegetarian Paella, Veggie Paella, Paella Recipe, Spanish, Gluten Free


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About the Authors

Sonja Overhiser

Cookbook Author and writer

Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.

Alex Overhiser

Cookbook Author and photographer

Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.


  • Reply
    February 13, 2012 at 5:37 am

    This looks delicious. I’ve been wanting to try my hand at making paella for quite some time, while I can’t say that I will be making it for valentine’s day, it does sound like the perfect celebratory meal. :)

  • Reply
    Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar
    February 13, 2012 at 6:02 am

    I’ve really wanted to try making my own paella for a while now. It looks so good!

    • Reply
      February 13, 2012 at 12:53 pm

      You should! It’s really quite easy, even if it takes a while. Every time we make one, we wonder why we don’t do it more often :)

  • Reply
    February 13, 2012 at 11:10 am

    love paella. yours looks beautiful. for years now i’ve given up preparing my in a paella pan and have been using the trusty old lodge cast iron skillet! works a dream and you can get the best soccrato (crunchy bottom crust) with the skillet.

    • Reply
      February 13, 2012 at 12:23 pm

      Thanks! The cast iron skillet really worked well. We have a paella pan that we use for the grill or over a fire, but the skillet was the way to go for the stovetop!

  • Reply
    February 13, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    LOVE that you made a veggie version. Looks fantastic! Cast iron skillets are the best.

  • Reply
    February 13, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    Gorgeous recipe! I love paella but never would have thought it could be so hearty and flavorful without fish and meat. But clearly, you’ve done it :)

  • Reply
    Krissy {Krissy's Creations}
    February 13, 2012 at 9:27 pm

    I love this recipe for SO SO SO many reasons! I will definitely be making asap.

    • Reply
      February 13, 2012 at 11:05 pm

      Awesome! Let us know how it turns out :)

  • Reply
    Sara {Home is Where the Cookies Are}
    February 14, 2012 at 6:56 am

    This looks SOOOO delicious. Definitely a weekend dish so we can take the time to enjoy the music, the smells, the cooking time. I love it. I am also a big fan of a vegetarian paella – no freaky shell fish peeking out at me from under the rice!! Love it!

  • Reply
    February 14, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Looks delicious! Can’t wait to cook with my husband for Valentine’s Day.

    Do you have any wine recommendations to go with this dish?

    • Reply
      February 14, 2012 at 11:01 am

      I’m certainly not a wine expert, but I’d go with a Spanish red wine such as a Rioja or Tempranillo. Hope you enjoy the dish!

  • Reply
    Jeffrey C
    February 14, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    Love this. May have to try and work in some tofu or tempeh, if not in the paella itself, maybe marinated and served on the size.

  • Reply
    Tammy D
    February 16, 2012 at 10:26 am

    I’ll have to try this. Anything that involves chick peas always makes me happy.

  • Reply
    February 16, 2012 at 8:55 pm

    Do you think frozen artichokes are a ok substitute instead of canned? Add them frozen/thawed? Thanks!

    • Reply
      February 19, 2012 at 4:28 pm

      They should work fine. I would probably thaw them out first. Hope you enjoy it!

  • Reply
    February 18, 2012 at 10:45 am

    Thank you so much for this recipe and for the way you presented it.

    It was really special to go out and buy the ingredients without knowing what we were going to do with them. It was kind of like going out to a restaurant where we didn’t know what was on the menu.

    Is this something that you could consider doing more often?

    The recipe was also perfect for Valentine’s Day. Let’s just say that the 40 minutes where the paella had to cook were put to good use.

    And Alex – your wine suggestion worked out great!

    • Reply
      February 19, 2012 at 4:33 pm

      We’re so glad that it was a success! It would be fun do recipes like this on a semi-regular basis. And thanks for commenting — we never know who is out there following along!

    • Reply
      February 19, 2012 at 10:03 pm

      I second that! It is so fun to hear that you followed the challenge — and that it turned out well too! Thanks for mentioning — and great idea to do “secret” recipes more often :)

  • Reply
    Tammy D
    March 22, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    This is fabulous. Made even more so by my husband posting a picture of it on Facebook and having someone go ballistic because, by gawd, that is not real paella! Geez! It was so good, I will for sure make it again.

    • Reply
      March 28, 2012 at 9:40 pm

      Haha! Yes, this is one of our favorites. I’m glad it worked out for you!!

  • Reply
    Nicole Liston
    June 18, 2012 at 8:12 am

    I made this for dinner Saturday evening. We ate the whole thing between the two of us. We loved it so much that we made it again Sunday night. Left overs have now been packed to take for work lunches! Thanks for the recipe!

  • Reply
    January 20, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    This dish is amazing! It’s hard to find hearty recipes that are GF & DF. You are my hero! I eat on this dish all week long!

    • Reply
      January 20, 2013 at 6:37 pm

      Thank you so much! We are not GF and DF ourselves, but enjoy creating recipes that are for people like you! Thanks for reading and letting us know you enjoyed it!

  • Reply
    February 18, 2013 at 9:31 pm

    I halved the stock and pre-cooked the brown rice in 2c water before adding it, since my brand of brown rice takes FOREVER to cook. I also used baby portobellos instead of shiitake since my supermarket sucks and doesn’t have them, and I chopped some canned whole tomatoes instead of diced since they were cheaper. Holy cow – this was awesome! I gave up meat and fish for Lent and I’ve had rotten luck with vegetarian recipes so far, but this one was really delicious. Definitely a keeper, even for after Lent.

    • Reply
      February 21, 2013 at 3:10 pm

      So glad you enjoyed it, Liz! Interesting method for pre-cooking your rice — and good idea! Our brown Arborio rice seemed to not take quite as long as standard rice — another option for next time (though I know it’s not quite as easy to find as standard brown!).

  • Reply
    March 15, 2013 at 6:37 am

    Really nice recipe. If you can’t find brown arborio rice, I agree that a little precooking would be a good idea. I used brown short grain and it took a long time (which made the vegetables a little soft ), added edamame, a few sliced green olives, and a pint of grape tomatoes rather than canned. The smoked paprika really makes this dish. Thanks!

    • Reply
      March 24, 2013 at 8:08 pm

      Thanks, Janet – so glad you enjoyed the dish! Your additions sound delicious!

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