While fresh peppers and eggplant are still (just) available, but it's no longer too hot to stand over the stove, it's time for this flavorful dish. And though this year's summer vacations are now only a memory, you can still enjoy the most popular, coastal version of paella by adding tender tofu, delicately sweetened and seasoned with kelp.
Early Fall Paella
Inspired by Eric Ripert's A Return to Cooking
1 lb extra firm tofu, pressed for 20-30 min and cut into 3/4-inch dice (we really prefer Twin Oaks)
2 tsp corn starch
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp kelp granules (available in the bulk spice section at the co-op)
2 TBSP water
8 oz eggplant, trimmed and diced
4-5 TBSP olive oil, divided
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, finely diced
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried sage
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp tomato paste
1 cup medium-grain dried rice
4 cups vegetable stock, warm or at room temperature (note: if you're using a commercial stock that contains tomato paste, you can omit the 2 tsp tomato paste listed above)
salt and white pepper, to taste
1 roasted bell pepper, chopped (roasted fresh, or jarred in water)
1/2 cup frozen peas
In a large bowl, whisk together the corn starch, sugar, kelp granules, and water. Toss with the diced tofu. Place the diced eggplant into a colander and sprinkle lightly with salt. Set both aside, allow the tofu to marinate and the eggplant to sweat for about 20 minutes. (If you're preparing your roasted pepper from scratch, now would be a good time to knock that out.)
Preheat the oven to 375.
Meanwhile, heat 2 TBSP of the olive oil in a large skillet. Saute the onion and garlic until the onion is translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in the thyme, sage, turmeric, and tomato paste and cook for a few minutes more, until fragrant. Add the rice, stirring to coat it with the oil.
Add three ladles' worth of stock (1 1/2 cups) to the pan. Cook, and once the rice has absorbed nearly all of the liquid, add another ladle (1/2 cup) of stock to the pan. Repeat until the rice is tender. It will take between five and ten minutes each time for the liquid to be absorbed, and will take an hour, all told, give or take. White rice will cook more quickly than brown. A glass of wine and a friend work well here to pass the time.
When the tofu and eggplant are ready (while the rice is still cooking) drain the eggplant and toss it with the remaining 2-3 TBSP of oil. Bake the tofu and the eggplant simultaneously for 30 minutes, stirring halfway through to ensure even cooking.
Once the rice is cooked, season to taste with the salt and white pepper. Stir in the tofu, eggplant, roasted pepper, and peas. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, until warmed through.