How to make Paella, a traditional Spanish dish

Melissa making paella // Melissa Ratter

Melissa making paella // Melissa Ratter

On Jan. 27, I attended a Spanish cooking class provided for the Adventist Colleges Abroad students in Spain. This bi-weekly class is taught by Spanish natives Martín and his wife, Vivi.

This week we cooked Paella, a traditional Spanish dish developed in Valencia (30 minutes away from where the ACA school is located in Spain). The dish represents two ancient cultures that once occupied Spain: the Arabs and the Romans.

The meal is traditionally cooked over an open fire with a Paella pan, but can be cooked on an electric or gas stove with a short frying pan.

To make this dish, you will need the following utensils and ingredients.  


  • Paella pan (common in Spain) or a 3-inch deep frying pan (for those in the United States)


  • Pearl rice or other short-grain rice
  • Olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large bell pepper, diced
  • 4 ounce can tomato paste
  • 1 frozen bag of your favorite mixed vegetables
  • Saffron spice or mixed spices with the main ingredient of Saffron
  • Lemon juice (optional)
  • Water


  1. Heat the stove and add olive oil to your pan. How much olive oil you use depends on your preference. Here in Spain, they love olive oil and will put a good inch of oil in the pan. This is to prevent the ingredients from sticking to the bottom.
  2. The first ingredients to throw in the pan are the diced onions, peppers and cloves. Add olive oil as needed. Stir often and cook for about 10 minutes.
  3. Toss in frozen vegetables, stir and cook for another 10 minutes.
  4. Add the tomato paste to allow the dish to increase in depth.
  5. Next, add 1/2 teaspoon of saffron and stir. It is always better to start with less saffron than more. However, add more if that is your preference.
  6. Add the rice in the form of a cross. The tomato paste should fully cover the rice. If it does not, carefully add water so all the rice is covered. Maintain the cross shape.
  7. After a few minutes, stir the rice lightly, destroying the cross. You do not want to disturb the rice completely because it will need to soak up all the liquid in the pan.
  8. Let the Paella cook for 10 minutes. If the dish looks dry before all the rice has cooked, add more water, but it shouldn’t be soupy.
  9. Cover the dish with foil or a lid and turn off the heat. Allow it to cool for 10 more minutes.
  10. (Optional) Add a splash of lemon juice.

Now, go and enjoy your Spanish paella. Share with your friends! A three inch-deep frying pan should make three to four servings.

While making Paella, I conversed with Vivi (in Spanish, of course, because it’s the only way I can get food around here) about the pan used to make the dish. The pan, which has two handles and is relatively short, is also called Paella. The pan is short because the rice needs maximum contact with the bottom of the pan.

When the Paella was finished, Gregory Ratter, a sophomore history education major, Kaylin Thurber, a senior English and linguistics major, and I grabbed our bowls and ate in silence because it tasted so good!

When I return to Union, I will miss the yellow-colored rice and massive Paella pans bigger than my suitcase. To all of you at Union, I challenge you to make Paella in the dorm so that when I return I can test each one.

Melissa Ratter is a senior english language arts education major studying abroad in Spain.