Despite my love for a variety of ethnic foods, my ventures into less common cuisines and spices have been limited. The ingredients can seem foreign and be hard to find, and the recipes themselves can be complicated and intimidating. So, in response to my own conundrum, I have been on a quest to nail down some good recipes that have those exotic flavors while also meeting my other requirements: not too complicated, not too messy, made from whole ingredients and as seasonal as possible. Do I sound picky? I kind of am. Which makes me so excited about a recipe like this one that meets those requirements almost perfectly, and is DIFFERENT! Thank goodness! (Sorry, but I sometimes get tired of American comfort food, don’t be mad!)
Notes on Ingredients
Paella is a Spanish rice-based dish with many variations, but often containing smoky flavors and the delicate undertones of saffron. It is traditionally prepared in a special paella pan, but a large skillet will work just fine – I use a deep, 12″-wide skillet. This recipe calls for Spanish chorizo as the protein, however you can substitute another spiced sausage or even chicken or shrimp in its place. I often use a mild ground turkey or pork sausage (even though it’s called “mild” there is still some spice to it) that I can get at our local co-op. If you do a ground sausage like this, simply use a spatula to cut the sausage into meatball-sized pieces while cooking rather than slicing as you would with the chorizo. I would not recommend breaking it up completely.
Other than the sausage, the most “exotic” ingredients in this recipe are the saffron, smoked paprika and roasted tomatoes. Saffron is expensive, so you might prefer to buy a small amount from a bulk food department rather than a full jar of it. A little goes a long way – this recipe only calls for four threads. While smoked paprika will lend a more authentic flavor to the dish, sweet paprika will also be delicious – you just won’t get that smoky flavor. It is also acceptable to use plain fresh or canned tomatoes if you don’t have roasted tomatoes on hand. You can cut all these corners and still end up with delicious results. Just don’t skip the saffron – it’s the signature spice of this dish.
How to Make This Recipe with Seasonal and Local Ingredients
I prioritize buying in-season food produced locally and organically whenever possible. It benefits our family’s health, supports our local community, protects the sustainability of the soil, and greatly reduces pollution due to shipping our food thousands of miles. Depending on the food, it can also mean not supporting an unethical food system that disadvantages communities in other countries (“un-fair trade” you might call it). So, how do you make this recipe in the middle of winter with those practices in mind? The following are a few of my efforts for this recipe:
- I used green beans that we grew and froze last summer. Green beans are nearly fool-proof to grow, and they store well. Why wait!? Consider ordering your seeds through a favorite non-profit of mine that provides heirloom, organic, non-GMO seeds – Seed Savers Exchange. You will have fun browsing their other offerings as well.
- For the tomatoes, I skipped the roasted part and instead rehydrated Roma tomatoes that I bought from the farmer’s market in the fall and dehydrated. A dehydrator is great for things like tomatoes and apples – the dried foods are shelf-stable and take up much less space than canned foods. A dehydrator was on my Gift Guide for a Whole Food Homesteader list.
- The chicken broth is homemade – not only is this economical, it’s also superior in taste in nutrition. It’s easy to make your own – learn how here!
- We strive to support local farmers and a local food system by buying the meat and other ingredients from our local food co-op. Find one near you! You can also save a lot of money on meat by buying large portions directly from a farmer. Farms in Minnesota I have bought from include Pleasure Woods Farm, My Minnesota Farmer and True Cost Farm.
- I’m not going to lie – my bell pepper came from a greenhouse in Mexico, and many things in my kitchen have similar origins. I don’t want to subject myself or anyone else to a suffocating sense of legalism. Instead, let’s be inspired by what a difference our efforts, however small, really do make. Barbara Kingsolver wrote in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: “If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week.” That’s incredible! Do what you can and don’t sweat the rest.
This recipe was adapted from the Chicken, Sausage and Chickpea Paella recipe in the cookbook William-Sonoma’s World Kitchen. I have changed a few ingredients and streamlined the process to suit my personality 🙂 I hope you and your family enjoy this dish as much as we do!