Weeknight Paella

I recently stumbled upon an abundance of paella leftovers in my refrigerator, and as much as I adore this Spanish delicacy, I couldn’t help but wonder how to indulge in it without getting bored. That’s when I decided to get creative and transform my leftovers into an irresistible weeknight paella feast. With a few simple ingredients and a pinch of culinary improvisation, I managed to turn my ordinary weeknights into extraordinary culinary adventures, all thanks to my newfound love for reinventing leftovers.



Rice is the foundation of any paella dish. It’s important to use short-grain rice, such as Arborio or Bomba rice, which have a high starch content that allows them to absorb the flavors of the other ingredients and create a creamy texture.

Protein (chicken, shrimp, or a combination)

The choice of protein in your paella is entirely up to you. Traditional paella often includes a combination of chicken and seafood such as shrimp or mussels, but feel free to customize it based on your preferences or dietary restrictions. You can even make a vegetarian version by using tofu or tempeh as the protein source.

Vegetables (bell peppers, peas, onions, etc.)

Vegetables are a crucial component of paella, providing color, texture, and a healthy dose of nutrients. Bell peppers, peas, onions, and tomatoes are commonly used, but you can get creative and add other vegetables like artichokes, asparagus, or even zucchini.


Broth is essential for cooking the rice and infusing it with flavor. You can use chicken, vegetable, or seafood broth, depending on the protein you choose. Homemade broth is always a great option, but if you’re short on time, store-bought broth works well too.


Saffron is the key spice that gives paella its vibrant yellow color and distinct flavor. It is quite expensive, but a little goes a long way. If you don’t have saffron on hand, you can use turmeric as a more affordable substitute.


Tomatoes add a tangy sweetness to the paella and help create the signature sauce. You can use fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes, or even tomato paste in a pinch.

Spices (paprika, garlic, salt, pepper)

A combination of spices like paprika, garlic, salt, and pepper adds depth and complexity to the dish. You can adjust the amounts based on your personal taste preferences.

Olive oil

Olive oil is used for sautéing the ingredients and adds a delightful richness to the dish. Extra virgin olive oil is the best choice, as it has a more robust flavor.


Lemons are often squeezed over the finished paella to add a bright and citrusy touch. They also pair well with the flavors of the dish and help balance the richness.

Optional garnishes (fresh parsley, lemon wedges)

Adding fresh parsley and lemon wedges as a garnish gives the paella a vibrant and fresh finish. It’s not necessary but adds an extra layer of flavor and visual appeal.


Prep the ingredients

Before you begin cooking, make sure to prep all your ingredients. Chop your vegetables, clean and devein the shrimp if using, and cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces. This will save you time and make the cooking process smoother.

Heat the paella pan

A traditional paella is cooked in a wide and shallow pan called a paellera or paella pan. Heat the pan over medium heat and add a drizzle of olive oil to prevent the ingredients from sticking.

Cook the protein

Start by cooking the protein. If using chicken, season it with salt and pepper, and cook it in the paella pan until it’s browned and cooked through. If using shrimp, sauté them briefly until they turn pink and are no longer translucent.

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Sauté the vegetables

Remove the cooked protein from the pan and set it aside. In the same pan, add a bit more olive oil if needed, and sauté the vegetables until they start to soften. This step allows the vegetables to release their flavors and adds depth to the dish.

Add the spices and tomatoes

Once the vegetables have softened, add the spices (paprika, garlic, salt, and pepper) to the pan and stir well to coat the vegetables. Then, add the tomatoes and cook for a few more minutes until they break down and create a sauce.

Add the rice and saffron

Add the rice and saffron to the pan and stir until the rice is evenly coated with the tomato sauce. This step ensures that every grain of rice absorbs the flavors of the other ingredients.

Pour in the broth

Pour the broth into the pan, making sure it covers the rice by about an inch. This liquid will be absorbed as the rice cooks, so it’s important not to add too much or too little. The liquid should be at a gentle simmer.

Simmer and cook

Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan with a lid or foil, and let the paella gently simmer. Allow the rice to cook for about 15-20 minutes until it’s tender and has absorbed the flavors of the broth and other ingredients.

Optional step: Create the socarrat

For the traditional touch, you can create a crispy golden crust called socarrat at the bottom of the paella. Increase the heat to medium-high for the last few minutes of cooking, without stirring, to achieve this crispy texture.

Garnish and serve

Once the rice is cooked to your desired texture, remove the paella from the heat. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve with lemon wedges on the side for an extra burst of flavor. Enjoy your delicious homemade paella!


Seafood paella

To make a seafood paella, omit the chicken and use a variety of seafood such as shrimp, mussels, clams, calamari, and fish. The combination and quantity of seafood are entirely up to you.

Vegetarian paella

For a vegetarian version, omit the meat and seafood and instead add a variety of vegetables. You can include mushrooms, artichokes, asparagus, peas, and any other vegetables you enjoy.

Mixed paella (combining various proteins)

If you can’t decide between chicken or seafood, why not have both? Mixed paella allows you to combine different proteins for a flavorful and satisfying dish. You can add chicken, shrimp, mussels, and any other proteins you like.

Paella Valenciana (traditional paella from Valencia)

Paella Valenciana is the classic and traditional version of paella that originated in Valencia, Spain. It typically includes rabbit, chicken, and sometimes snails, along with vegetables and saffron.

Tips and Tricks

Use short-grain rice

Short-grain rice, such as Arborio or Bomba rice, is the best choice for paella. It has a higher starch content that allows it to absorb flavors and create a creamy texture.

Allow the rice to rest before serving

After the paella is cooked, let it rest for a few minutes before serving. This allows the flavors to meld together and the rice to settle.

Don’t stir the rice too much

While it may be tempting to stir the rice, try to resist the urge. Stirring too much can release excess starch and make the paella gummy. Instead, let the rice cook undisturbed for the best texture.

Choose fresh and high-quality ingredients

Since paella is a simple dish with few ingredients, it’s crucial to choose high-quality ones. Fresh vegetables, fresh seafood, and quality spices will make a noticeable difference in the final dish.

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Adjust the seasoning to taste

Feel free to adjust the seasonings to your liking. Paella is a customizable dish, and you can add more or less salt, pepper, or spices to suit your personal taste preferences.

Consider using a paella pan for authentic results

Although not necessary, using a paella pan can enhance the authenticity of your dish. The wide and shallow pan allows for even heat distribution and the formation of the socarrat.

Experiment with different spices and herbs

While paprika, garlic, salt, and pepper are the traditional spices used in paella, don’t be afraid to experiment and add your favorite herbs and spices. Oregano, thyme, or even a pinch of cayenne pepper can add a unique twist to your paella.

Make it a one-pot meal by adding additional ingredients

Paella can be a complete meal on its own, but if you want to make it heartier, you can add additional ingredients like chorizo, diced ham, or even beans. This will turn your paella into a satisfying one-pot meal.

Serving Suggestions

Serve with crusty bread

Paella pairs perfectly with crusty bread to soak up the flavorful sauce. It’s ideal for mopping up the delicious juices and enjoying every last bit.

Pair with a refreshing salad

A light and refreshing salad is the perfect accompaniment to the rich and savory flavors of paella. Opt for a simple green salad or a Mediterranean-inspired salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives.

Enjoy with a glass of Spanish wine

Complete your dining experience by enjoying a glass of Spanish wine alongside your paella. Rioja or Albariño are excellent choices that complement the flavors of the dish.

Serve alongside traditional tapas

To create a Spanish feast, serve your paella alongside traditional tapas. Favorites like patatas bravas, Spanish tortilla, or marinated olives can add variety and excitement to your meal.

Make-Ahead and Leftover Ideas

Prepare the ingredients in advance

To save time on a busy weeknight, you can prepare some of the ingredients in advance. Chop the vegetables, marinate the protein, and measure out the spices and broth. This way, you can assemble the paella quickly when you’re ready to cook.

Store leftovers in an airtight container

If you have any leftovers, store them in an airtight container and refrigerate. Properly stored, paella can last for up to 3-4 days in the refrigerator.

Reheat in a pan or microwave

When ready to enjoy the leftovers, you can reheat the paella either in a pan on the stove or in the microwave. Add a splash of broth or water to keep it moist and prevent it from drying out.

Use leftovers as toppings for salads or in wraps

Leftover paella can be a versatile ingredient for other dishes. You can use it as a topping for salads, stuff it into wraps or burritos, or even incorporate it into omelets for a delicious breakfast.

Transform leftovers into paella-stuffed peppers

Give your leftovers a creative makeover by stuffing them inside bell peppers and baking them until tender. This not only gives a new life to the paella but also creates a beautiful and tasty dish.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Overcooking the rice

Overcooking the rice can result in a mushy and unappealing texture. Be mindful of the cooking time and aim for rice that is tender but still has a slight bite.

Adding too much liquid

Adding too much liquid can lead to a soupy and overcooked paella. Make sure to measure the broth accurately and avoid adding extra liquid unless necessary.

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Using the wrong type of rice

Using the wrong type of rice can affect the texture and overall result of the paella. Make sure to use short-grain rice specifically meant for paella, as it has the ability to absorb liquid while maintaining its structure.

Neglecting to let the rice rest

Allowing the paella to rest for a few minutes after cooking is essential for the flavors to develop and the rice to settle. Skipping this step may result in a less flavorful dish.

Not achieving the socarrat

The socarrat, the crispy layer of golden rice at the bottom of the paella, is highly valued in traditional paella. Make sure to increase the heat towards the end of cooking to achieve this desirable texture.

Skipping the saffron

Saffron is a crucial ingredient that gives paella its unique flavor and vibrant yellow color. Skipping it may result in a less authentic and flavorful dish.

Nutritional Benefits

Good source of carbohydrates

Rice is a great source of carbohydrates, providing energy for your body. Paella is a satisfying and filling dish that can be enjoyed as a main course.

Provides essential vitamins and minerals

Paella is packed with vegetables, which are a fantastic source of vitamins and minerals. Bell peppers, peas, and onions provide important nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin A, and potassium.

Includes lean proteins and vegetables

Depending on your protein choices, paella can be a well-balanced meal that combines lean proteins and vegetables. It’s a great way to incorporate both into your diet.

Rich in antioxidants

With the inclusion of tomatoes, bell peppers, and saffron, paella is also rich in antioxidants. These powerful compounds help protect your cells from damage and promote overall health.

Heart-healthy fats from olive oil

Paella calls for the use of olive oil, which is a heart-healthy fat. It adds flavor and provides monounsaturated fats that can help improve heart health when consumed in moderation.

History and Cultural Significance

Originated in Valencia, Spain

Paella originated in the region of Valencia, Spain, where farmers and fishermen created a simple rice dish using local ingredients. The dish’s name comes from the Latin word “patella,” which means a flat plate or pan.

Traditional dish for special occasions

Paella has long been considered a celebratory dish, often prepared for special occasions and gatherings with family and friends. Its vibrant colors and communal nature make it perfect for festive events.

Symbolizes communal dining and togetherness

Paella is traditionally cooked and served in a large paella pan, meant to be shared by everyone at the table. This communal way of dining symbolizes togetherness and the joy of coming together over a delicious meal.

Varies in regional adaptations across Spain

While paella is most closely associated with Valencia, different regions in Spain have their own variations and adaptations of the dish. Each region adds its own unique ingredients and cooking techniques, resulting in a diverse range of paellas throughout the country.


Weeknight paella is a flavorful and satisfying dish that can be enjoyed with ease after a long day. By following the simple steps and incorporating your favorite proteins and vegetables, you can create a delicious meal that transports you to the vibrant streets of Spain. Whether you opt for a traditional recipe or put your own twist on this classic dish, the flavors and aromas will surely delight your taste buds. So, gather your ingredients, heat up your paella pan, and embark on a culinary journey right in your own kitchen. Enjoy the process and savor every bite of your homemade weeknight paella!

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