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What To Serve With Paella: From Appetizers To The Drinks

Written by Luisa Davis on . Posted in food

what to serve with paella, paella recipies, which rice for paella

Picking the right side dishes for paella is actually not a difficult task as it may seem because there are a lot of good options available.

If there weren’t, it wouldn’t be the case that more and more people were having a paella themed (or Spanish themed) party. With paella, you can hardly go wrong.

It is there for you if the party of your choice is an outdoor party—maybe a neighborly treat or a treat just for your friends and family. It is also there for you if the party of your choice is an indoor party.

Perhaps the best thing about serving paella as the main course for your parties is that everyone, vegan or omnivore, seafood-loving or land meat-loving, gets to enjoy this dish. And if you plan your paella party menu well enough, it will remain etched in the memory of all guests present.

It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, though. You could also work up a paella dinner menu if you’re having a family dinner as a special treat. But just before we delve into the question of “what to serve with paella,” let’s get to know a little more about our main course.

Paella And its 4 Unique Types

rice dish, pilaf

The first thing to know about the dish is that it is a Spanish dish.

A Valencian rice dish, to be very precise: the dish is a great source of pride to the people of Valencia and an identifying symbol to them. The dish, though considered to be Spain’s national dish by non-Spaniards, is not thought of as such by Spaniards themselves.

There are about 4 main types of paella, and they are made with the same oil. Even the regional variations that have sprung up over time due to the increasing fame of this dish have not changed that one fact. Olive oil is the recommended and standard oil for this dish.

The main ingredient for paella is the rice, and paella is quite a filling main course meal that is best served hot, never cold. The Valencians pretty much prefer the Senia type of rice—stickier rice that is more likely to overcook. Because of this easiness of overcooking, most other people prefer using Bomba rice.

However, the point is to use short-grain rice, and this could be round like the Senia, or not. Just do not allow the rice to overcook. Al dente is what you should aim for.

The dish is a rather complex one filled with many delightful flavors, especially the mixed paella. The paella is traditionally cooked in a wide but shallow pan with two handles over a wood-fueled fire, adding a smoky aroma or flavor to the dish. However, the dish is not served on plates. Traditionally it is actually eaten straight out of the paella pan.

The types of paella are:

  • fresh seafood, rice with shrimpsValencian paella: The Valencians are quite possessive of this dish and consider this type of paella to be the most original recipe. Guess what? They even have a standard recipe for it, and this recipe has a standard list of ingredients too.
    The ingredients include rice, green beans, meat (like chicken and rabbit), saffron, Rosemary, sweet paprika, and a host of other things. Snails, artichokes, garlic, and duck meat are “recognized” optional ingredients in the Valencian paella.
  • Seafood paella: Also known as paella de mariscos in Spanish. This type is also considered an authentic recipe by the Valencians, and it is the most popular type so far. Seafood replaces the other meat. Beans and green vegetables are also not used in this type.
    It is a filling, delicious, and flavorful meal of seafood, including shrimps, shellfish, vegetables (rarely green), and rice. This is best prepared with fresh seafood because of the richer flavors.
  • Vegetable paella (paella de verduras): And just what would paella be if it had no vegetarian type? I don’t know, and frankly, there’s no need to wonder because we have a vegetarian paella already.
  • Mixed paella (paella mixta): A combo meal, or a mix of all 3 types of paella above. Seafood, other meat, and veggies—now that’s one power-packed, nutritious meal.

Now that you’ve gotten yourself acquainted with the main types of paella available, it is time you get a few answers to the questions inside your head.

What Goes With Paella?

spanish side dishes, spanish recipesDefinitely not everything, so it’s a good thing you asked. Paella is kind of a heavy meal that can actually stand on its own and be filling enough.

Think of it as a one-course meal.

So to avoid feeling bloated or too stuffed at the end of the dinner, it is best you served paella alongside something light that would go with it. Keep all side-dishes light, simple and easy. The heaviness will come from the carbohydrate-rich paella for the main course.

To make everything more organized, drawing up a menu is highly recommended. What goes with paella, the main course? That would be appetizers (especially hors d’oeuvres like tapas that are served with drinks), side dishes (including Spanish side dishes), desserts, and of course, drinks.

For the appetizers (tapas):

Remember, keep them light and simple. Here are a few awesome choices.

  1. Cheese and olive platter, or just a bowl of olives.
  2. Dates wrapped in bacon and grilled—definitely worth it; dates are nutritious and grilled foods are always a delight.
  3. Toasted Marcona almonds. One of the best ways you could use almonds and spice up their taste. I’m an almond lover so I know.
  4. tapas appetizers, cheese and olivesPotato frittata: Since the frittata is slightly filling and really creamy, cut it up into very little squares lest your guests fill up on it.
  5. Shrimp could work as an appetizer, particularly if your paella has no shrimps. But if it has shrimps, there is really no need to use shrimps as appetizers, not when there are more options!

For the side dishes:

Be patient, I’ll go more into these in a little bit. For now, think about if you want salad as your side dish or not. Yes, there are excellent choices of salad to serve with paella.

For the dessert:

Most people shy away from creamy desserts when in search of what could go with paella. Their reason is valid—they want something light since the main course is far from being light. If you are in that category, just skip the heavier choices below. Here are a few options to get you started:

  1. Crema Catalana: It’s a Spanish main course after all, so you may as well have a Spanish dessert to fit the Spanish theme. This dessert option is one of the most preferred for paella, so think twice before skipping out on this dessert.
  2. Flan: Another excellent choice. This sweet dessert is made by using caramel to cover a smooth, thick custard.
  3. Tiramisu: This is a dessert for coffee lovers. With ladyfingers, mascarpone, and espresso, you can make this sweet dessert, tiramisu.
  4. crema catalana, catalan dessertSorbet. This could be lemon sorbet or your favorite kind. While you could serve this alone, you can also shake things up with thin cookies such as pizelles or thin chocolate cookies. This light and slightly acidic (if you’re using lemon) dessert is a perfect palate cleanser.
  5. Olive oil cake.
  6. Spiced fruit salad. Use fresh fruits only. Preferably fruits that are in season.
  7. Rhubarb fool or any other kind of fool. They are light and easy to make; it’s just a blend of cooked fruit and cream (or thick sauce as a substitute).
  8. Other choices are strawberry granita, light lemon mousse, grapefruit curd with fruits, a Banoffee ice cream sundae, etc.

For the drinks (what to sip):

Just any drinks won’t do. For me, drinks like Coke and energy drinks are totally out. What’s in:

  1. White wine: This wine will make for a fine wine with paella. Red wine could also work though.
  2. Vodka Mojito. A cocktail drink that’s a palate cleanser such as the vodka mojito goes well with paella.
  3. Sangria: It is an alcoholic drink that is made of red wine, fruit juice, and sometimes soda water.
  4. Another good option is Sherry. Dry Sherry: a chilled glass of this and your party will most likely not be forgotten.

Paella main course:

smoked pork belly, shrimp paellaHow you prepare your paella depends on the nature of your event, and whether it is outdoor or indoor. For an outdoor event, paella can be cooked on the barbecue, but if it’s indoors, a stovetop will do the job perfectly.

You already know the types of paella available, so just pick one of those and try it. Be creative with your paella; there are way more than 4 variations available. Maybe you could even make smoked pork belly and shrimp paella (a sort of mixed paella).

Whatever your choice, make it good and truly delicious, yet true as the original recipe. That is, a true paella should remain nut-free, soy-free, gluten-free, and dairy-free. If it isn’t, let your guests in on this just in case there’s someone with a serious allergy problem.

Easy Paella Side Dishes You’ll Love

Finally, your sides! Deciding on what to serve with paella can be pretty intense. But this intensity could be helped if you have a general idea of what you want the side dish to be. It could be a salad, a Spanish side to complement the Spanish dish, or maybe you just want a really delicious but simple side. Well, here are some easy paella side dishes:

  • Caesar salad: This salad is a healthy salad filled with lots of important nutrients such as carotenoids, folate, and saponins. Aside from these benefits, the caesar salad flavor blends really well with paella. You could also try a classic Spanish mixed-green salad.
  • Plantanos Maduros Fritos (fried sweet plantain slices): This is a very delicious Spanish side dish that goes really well with paella and is quite easy to make.
    To make one, wash your plantains, peel them, and cut them into very tiny circles before frying in a pan of hot oil caesar salad, easy caesar saladover medium heat. Once golden brown on both sides, remove them from heat and set them on a plate. See? That was very easy. Oh, add a little salt to the oil and stir to taste before frying.
  • Fried pimientos de Padron: This is also another Spanish side dish with just one ingredient—Spanish chili peppers. These peppers are green and kind of big and they’re also easy to prepare. After washing the Spanish chili peppers, let them dry and fry them whole in olive oil.
    Remove from heat once they are slightly browned and drizzle a little salt over them (not a must-do thing…the healthier option would be not to do this) and serve as a side dish. These pair quite well with any type of paella, and if you happen to not be able to find green peppers, a good replacement would be roasted red pepper.
  • Crusty bread slices: The best kind of bread to serve as a side dish for paella is crusty bread. In terms of the combined nutritional value, this is not exactly an ideal choice since it is a carbohydrate-rich food just like the main course. However, it does have the right texture match well with paella.
    The crusty brown slices shake up the texture of the meal overall, and a crusty baguette is an excellent crusty bread to go for.

Conclusion

There are other good options I didn’t mention, but these are enough to get you started on that dinner menu. Remember, if you are serving anything with paella, keep it simple and light. As for the drinks, opt for palate cleansers.

This dish is a cultural pride and really makes for a good party main course dish. Now that you know what to serve with paella, it’s time to start cooking!

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis is a frelance writer and foodie based in Portland, California. Though raised on her mother's homestyle Italian cooking, she has spent most of the last five years traveling and immersing herself in other countries' cuisines. Her work have been published in various publications, both online and offline.

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