Paprika

Warm, generally mild, sweet distinctive capsicum flavor. - Western cuisines: used in soups, casseroles, chicken dishes, with cheese, cream, in sausages i.e. chorizo, with eggs and shellfish, in sauces, with vegetables i.e. cucumber, cabbage, potatoes, for garnishing and coloring. Paprika is essential in Eastern Europe goulashes and Spanish sofritos.

Facts

Capsicum peppers were one of the presents Columbus brought to the Spanish Queen and King when he met them at Guadalupe Monastery on return from his second trip to the American Continent. The monks took it from there, and the sunlight, warmth and perfect weather conditions in Exremadura did the rest. Thanks to the monks, peppers became popular very quickly in Spain and Europe, mainly around the Mediterranean because of the temperate climate peppers need to thrive.

There are many kinds of peppers; only two of them are used to make paprika. Those are smaller, thinner, and longer, and they have less flesh that the varieties used as a vegetable. Once picked from the plant, the fruits are dried, and milled afterwards. The name paprika comes from Hungary, where it is very popular and an essential ingredient for their goulash, regarded as national dish.

We very much prefer the Spanish varieties. In Spain, it is know as pimenton and it is used in many dishes; indispensable in the Spanish sausage, chorizo, a product my family is completely hooked on. Paprika can range from mild and sweet to hot and pungent depending on the amount of seeds included when milling the peppers. In Murcia, the peppers are opened, de-seeded and left to dry on racks, under the sun. The resultant powder is very sweet. In the Tietar River valley, where Pimenton de la Vera originates, the fruits are harvested and classified; some will be employed to make sweet paprika and others will render it hot. The peppers dry under the sun for two weeks; then finish drying over the smoke of oak fires, getting a very characteristic flavor.

From the health point of view, paprika aids digestion by stimulating production of saliva and digestive juices. Peppers have a surprisingly high amount of vitamin C, still present in the powder, and other phyto chemicals; liberally sprinkling your food with paprika may have unexpected benefits. Since the sweet variety doesn't irritate the stomach and the recommended daily amount has no limit, it could be a great addition to any diet.

How to identify paprika

It is an annual herbaceous plant. with white flowers. It can reach up to 5ft (150 cm) but its height is usually closer to 3ft (95 cm.) The peppers are initially green, turning red when ripe. Native to South America; now widely grown in the Mediterranean, particularly Spain, Hungary, Turkey, or the former Yugoslavia, and the United States.

How to use and store

Look for a finely ground powder. The color ranges from pale orange to dark red. A brown powder indicates age. Paprika doesn't last long; it is better to buy small quantities. Keep it away form light, storing it in an airtight container.

Paprika is a very versatile spice that can be used in rubs, stews and other meat and poultry dishes. Use paprika for flavor and color in soups, stews and sauces. It goes equally well with vegetable or meat dishes. It can also be added to eggs, shellfish, cheese and cheese spread, mayonnaise, etc. Remember it is an essential ingredient in those some sausages, i.e. the Spanish chorizo.

Find recipes with paprika such as chicken paprika. Some popular spice blends contain paprika. This spice can also come as paprika paste.

How to grow

The plant can grow in colder climates if it is well protected from frost and cold spells. It would grow better in a greenhouse, under a glass or plastic cover. The seeds are sown in spring to be harvested in late summer, or early autumn. It would need a sunny spot and well drained, rich soil.

capsicum annum (solanaceae) - paprika - French: piment - German: paprika, Spanischer pfeffer - Italian: paprica - Spanish: pimenton.