This easy, saucy chickpeas and rice skillet has all the hallmarks of creamy, supple Italian risotto without the labor-intensive activity. It's a rich and satisfying whole-grain vegan entree studded with juicy tomatoes as well as plump chickpeas, all wrapped in a velvety sauce.
The chickpeas and rice are flavored with Spanish saffron, garlic and thyme and the recipe is ready in under 30 minutes.
🏆 Top tip
Alcohol-free? Unflavored raw kombucha makes a great substitute for champagne in this beginner's risotto recipe.
⭐ Why it works
- Easy risotto hack
- Under 30-minutes
- Spanish flavor
- Filling entree
- Vegan and dairy-free
- Precooked brown rice - short-grain brown rice is similar in size to arborio rice and is the best choice because it's moister and chewier than long-grain.
- Bay leaf, fresh thyme, and garlic - fresh thyme and not dried is important.
- Chickpeas - precooked like rice, canned chickpeas are fine.
- Tomato - we like small cherry tomatoes, but larger tomatoes can be cut and used.
- Champagne - adds tang and a hint of sweetness as well as a richer flavor. Plain kombucha can be substituted.
- Cream cheese - homemade vegan, or a delicious store-bought brand like Kite Hill.
- Broth - homemade vegan "chicken" broth or tasty store-bought brand.
- Saffron - is essential for the recipe. Look for premium-grade saffron threads that are dark red with little to no yellow parts.
- Chili flakes - are optional, a pinch of heat does enhance the recipe.
- Soak saffron in champagne or plain kombucha.
- Saute onion, carrots, thyme, bay leaves, and chili flake in olive oil.
- Cook sauteed ingredients with saffron liquid, broth, brown rice, tomatoes, and garlic.
- Stir in vegan cream cheese and season with salt and pepper.
🥄 Risotto for beginners
Have you ever tried to cook classic risotto? Somehow I never have been able to achieve that 2-minute window where the proper amount of starch from the rice is released, and the grains are firm but not crunchy.
That's why I am so excited about this recipe. Not only is the texture ideal, but the cooking process is so much easier than traditional risotto.
Instead of spending 25 minutes continuously stirring a steaming pot, you can use this unique stress-free method.
It ensures that every mouthful has perfectly chewy, tender grains of rice in a loose, thick and creamy sauce.
🌾 Whole-grain brown rice
I am sure some Italian nonna's would disapprove of the choice of short-grained brown rice in this recipe, but then I already think of it as a melding of Italian and Spanish cuisine.
So we've got permission to make our vegan entree healthier as well, right? Wait until you taste it.
Cook your short-grained rice in advance with a ratio of 2 cups water to 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of unrinsed brown rice. Then when you add the al dente rice to the recipe, it releases its final starch into the saffron-scented broth while it simmers with the chickpeas, thyme, and tomato.
The last step is to stir in a couple of tablespoons of vegan cream cheese with the chickpeas and rice, and voila, you've got sumptuous instant risotto!
You won't even have to eat the risotto out of the pan before it seizes up like some traditionalists recommend.
That's because the fluidity of the recipe is calculated to add in 10 minutes of resting time while you and your friends settle into chairs. The first big spoonful of creamy saffron chickpeas and rice sags perfectly on the plate. From there, it won't last long.
🌟 What are the grades of saffron?
As a generality, Iranian saffron is considered the best in the world. But it gets complicated after that with trade sanctions and production methods. Persian, Kashmiri, and Spanish saffrons are all classified by grade levels.
Fortunately, there are a couple of simple ways to tell if you are getting high-quality saffron. Look for whole, dark red threads with little to no yellow parts or broken debris. If the threads bleed rapidly and make a dark color in the water right away, it's a dead give away you have fake saffron!
Here is a ranking from highest grade to lower listed by region:
- La Mancha
👩🏻🍳 Expert tips
- Soak saffron in champagne or plain kombucha before adding it to the recipe.
- The broth you select for the recipe will make a difference. Choose a favorite one.
- Garlic will cook without burning if you wait to add it after the onion and carrot soften.
- Rest the covered skillet of risotto for 10 minutes before serving. It will finish thickening to an ideal risotto-style consistency.
- Garnish with fresh thyme leaves and cracked pepper or more red chili flakes at the table.
- Reheat leftovers and thin with a little vegetable broth if needed. This delicious vegan entree is one of those dishes that improve in flavor overnight.
🍲 More comfort food
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Saucy Chickpeas and Rice
- 3 cups brown rice cooked
- ½ tsp. saffron threads
- ½ cup champagne or unflavored kombucha
- 2 TB olive oil
- ½ cup yellow onion diced
- ½ cup carrot sliced thin
- ¼ tsp. salt
- 2 whole bay leaves
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- ¼ tsp. red chili flakes optional
- ¾ cup ripe cherry tomatoes or seeded, diced tomatoes
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 cup cooked chickpeas
- 3 cups vegan chicken broth
- ¼ cup homemade cashew cream cheese, or store-bought
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 TB fresh thyme leaves for garnish
- Pour champagne or unflavored kombucha into a small dish and add saffron threads to soak.
- Heat olive oil over medium-low heat in a large non-reactive skillet. Saute onion, carrot, thyme, bay leaves, chili flakes, and salt until veggies soften.
- Add garlic and stir for a moment until fragrant. Stir in cooked rice. Add saffron liquid and cook for a few minutes to season the rice. Add chickpeas, tomatoes, and broth to the skillet. Bring mixture to a boil and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes until rice absorbs some of the liquid. The chickpeas and rice mixture will still be very soupy.
- Stir in cream cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Place the skillet with risotto on a hot pad at the table. Sprinkle with thyme leaves and cover. Let the creamy chickpeas and rice rest for a couple of minutes to thicken before serving.