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Smokin' Good Paprika

Fragrant, colorful, exotic, subtle are just a few of the characteristics that can describe paprika. It is one of those spices that evoke memories from my past, as it was a household staple that my mother used regularly from seasoning food to infusing olive oil. And don't get me started on the smoked version of paprika OMG!

Whenever the subject of smoked paprika enters my mind I am as giddy as my young son when it is snack time. The amazing flavor of this bright red smoked pepper can add such a delicate, yet deep, woodsy like flavor to your cooking that it makes my head spin with delight - it's that versatile.

In the Spanish region of La Vera, the farmers harvest and carefully dry the peppers over wood fires from burning holm oak wood for about two weeks before they are ground into a deep-red powder. This version is known as pimenton de la Vera. Smoked paprika is mostly used when making paella or arroz con pollo dishes.

I'm going to back up a bit in order to give you a few tidbits about the various types of paprika. The most common forms of paprika are made from a sweet, heart-shaped red pepper known as the pimento. These peppers are sun-dried in the field or mechanically-dried in commercial production then ground into a fine powder. The fire-engine red color comes from very high levels of beta carotene that our bodies can convert to vitamin A.

Paprika origins are from Hungary, Spain, California and South America. The color can range from bright red to reddish-brown with mild to spicy flavors, depending on the variety of pepper and how it is processed. Each variety of paprika can bring a different quality to the type of dish you are preparing, so it is helpful to know the difference between a milder Hungarian paprika versus the sweet and medium-hot Spanish variety called agridulce or the hot type called picante.

Back to smoked paprika.

The pimentón de la Vera version is so unique to this region that it has been granted the official designation of Denominacion de Origen(origin of designation) which is a controlled name status that identifies this specific paprika from other pimentón grown in other places and processed using non-traditional techniques. And just like Hungarian paprikas, piment│n is classified based on the quality of the pepper, color, flavor, and the amount of seeds and membrane included.There are three versions of pimento that are harvested: Sweet (dulce), bittersweet (agridulce) and hot (picante).

Smoked paprika works great with just about anything that can be roasted like potatoes, poultry, vegetables or food that can be grilled which conjures up a smoked paprika salmon yum! I think a generous sprinkle of smoked paprika on an omelet sounds rather bold and delicious. Sauteed shellfish in smoked paprika oil now that's an idea to expand on.

How about this tasty recipe to get you started - White Bean & Spinach Soup - click link.

I hope you enjoy using smoked paprika as much as we do!