Paella “Primavera” on the Grill


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


Appears in

Planet Barbecue

Planet Barbecue

By Steven Raichlen

Published 2010

  • About

I never ate a vegetarian paella in Spain, but given the sheer diversity of this iconic rice dish, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that such a dish exists. I created this meatless version for a vegetarian episode in my first Primal Grill TV show. But what does paella have to do with grilling? Well as it turns out, traditional Spanish paella is cooked over a campfire. And, yes, on account of the variable heat of the fire, not to mention the wood smoke, paella tastes different cooked on a wood fire than it does when you make it on the stove.

For a really dramatic presentation, fire up two kettle grills. Use one for cooking the rice and the second one for grilling the vegetables. Or use a large charcoal grill, like a Weber Ranch, or a large gas grill. If your grill space is limited, grill the vegetables first—this could even be done at a previous grill session—and grill the paella right before serving.


For the Rice

  • ½ teaspoon saffron threads
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish
  • 1 medium-size onion, finely chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 2 × ¼-inch strips
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 ripe tomato, seeded and cut into ¼-inch dice
  • 2 cups Valencia-style rice, such as bomba or Calasparra (see Notes)
  • 1 cup cooked, drained garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 4 to 5 cups vegetable stock, preferably homemade
  • Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and Freshly ground black pepper

For the Vegetables

  • 8 baby bell peppers, skewered on bamboo skewers
  • 1 large sweet onion, peeled and cut into 8 wedges, each skewered crosswise with a toothpick
  • 1 medium-size zucchini, trimmed and cut sharply on the diagonal into ¼-inch-thick slices
  • 1 medium-size yellow squash, trimmed and cut sharply on the diagonal into ¼-inch-thick slices
  • 12 cherry tomatoes, skewered on bamboo skewers
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish
  • Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as rosemary, oregano, thyme, and/or basil, or tablespoons mixed dried herbs
  • 12 cloves garlic in their skins, skewered on bamboo skewers
  • ¼ cup cooked green peas (or if you have an unbelievable amount of patience, fresh raw peas skewered on a slender bamboo skewer)

You’ll also Need

  • Bamboo skewers and wooden toothpicks; logs or chunks of hardwood for the fire or 2 cups hardwood chips or chunks, soaked for 1 hour in water to cover, then drained; a Tuscan grill (optional, helpful if working on a wood fire); a paella pan (see Notes); a grill hoe or a long-handled wooden spoon


Advance Preparation

None. The beauty of this dish is that you make it to order with everyone watching.

  1. Place the saffron in a small bowl with 2 teaspoons of warm water and let it soak for about 5 minutes.
  2. Set up the grill(s) for three-zone grilling (see here). Ideally, you’d grill over a campfire (see here for instructions on grilling over wood). Alternatively, you can work on two kettle grills, a large charcoal grill, or a large gas grill and use wood chips or chunks to add a smoke flavor.
  3. When ready to cook, if you are using a charcoal grill, toss the wood chips or chunks on the coals. If you are using a gas grill, add the wood chips or chunks to the smoker box or place them in a smoker pouch under the grate (see here). Place the paella pan over the hottest zone of the grill. (If you are working with 2 charcoal grills, cook the rice on one grill and the vegetables on the other.) Add the 6 tablespoons of olive oil and a little of the chopped onion and heat it until the onion sizzles in the oil. Add the remaining chopped onion and the red bell pepper strips and cook over high heat, stirring with a long-handled implement, like a grill hoe, until the onion begins to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the sliced garlic, parsley, and diced tomato after the bell pepper and onion have cooked for about 2 minutes. If the mixture starts to burn, slide the pan to a cooler part of the grill.
  4. Stir in the rice and cook until the grains look shiny, about 1 minute. Add the garbanzo beans and cook for about 1 minute. Stir in the saffron mixture and white wine and let boil for about 1 minute. Stir in 4 cups of the vegetable stock and season the rice with salt and black pepper to taste. Adjust the heat by moving the paella pan closer to or farther away from the hot zone to obtain a gentle simmer. Let the rice simmer gently until soft, about 20 minutes. Add the remaining 1 cup of stock, if needed, but do not stir the paella.
  5. Meanwhile, lightly brush the baby bell peppers, onion wedges, zucchini, yellow squash, and cherry tomatoes with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season the vegetables on both sides with salt and black pepper and sprinkle half of the herbs over them. If you are working over a campfire, position a Tuscan grill over the embers. On the second charcoal grill, if you are using two, or on another section of the grill, after brushing and oiling the grill grate, arrange the peppers, onion, zucchini, yellow squash, cherry tomatoes, and skewered garlic on the hot grate and grill them until golden brown, even darkly browned, on the outside and tender. This will take 3 to 6 minutes per side, depending on the vegetable; the peppers and onion will take longer than the zucchini, squash, and tomatoes. You may have to work over a lower heat (or at the edge of the grill) for the garlic; it should be tender and browned, but not burnt. In the event you have been obsessive enough to skewer the peas, place them on the grate and grill them until lightly browned and cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes per side.
  6. During the last 5 minutes that the paella cooks, remove and discard the skewers from the vegetables and slip the burned skins off the garlic. Add the grilled vegetables, the peas, and the remaining herbs to the rice. Taste the paella for seasoning, adding more salt and/or black pepper as needed. If you’ve done this right and the stars are in alignment, the rice will be tender just as all of the stock is absorbed and the vegetables are cooked and you’ll have a crisp rice crust, called soccarat, on the bottom. Serve immediately, giving everyone a portion of the rice crust.