It’s easy to overlook paprika, using it as a pop of color rather than as a spice in its own right. But if you dig a little deeper into our beautiful red friend, you’ll find a whole other world waiting for you.
Our unsung hero is simply dried sweet, or bell, pepper that has been ground up. Sometimes spicier peppers will also get blended in. This is why you see different varieties, like Sweet Paprika and Hot Paprika, Hungarian and Spanish. My favorite is Smoked Paprika.
We associate paprika with Hungarian foods, but the spice originated in central Mexico in the 16th century, going first to the Iberian Peninsula, then to Africa and Asia before landing in central Europe.
How to Use Paprika
While you can certainly use a sprinkle of paprika on top of foods to give them some contrasting color, remember those deviled eggs, you can also use it to give your dishes another layer of flavor. You’ll get its best flavor when you gently heat the spice, but it’s certainly tasty otherwise.
Some traditional dishes featuring paprika are goulash and paprikash out of Hungary, and it also features heavily in Moroccan cooking. You can also add it to your grilling rubs, sprinkle it over popcorn or grilled corn, stir it into hummus, and it pairs well with potatoes.
On a side note, every time I come across the word paprikash, I am reminded of this scene from When Harry Met Sally:
If you want to take paprika back to its roots, try making Ropa Vieja, a Cuban dish. You certainly won’t take paprika for granted anymore.
- 3 lbs chuck roast, brisket, or flank steak
- 2 T avocado olive oil
- 2 large onions, chopped
- 2 red bell peppers, chopped
- 2 T salt
- 8 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 4 tsp sweet paprika
- 1 T oregano
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp black pepper
- ½ tsp cayenne
- 1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
- 2 bay leaves
- ¾ cup pimiento-stuffed Spanish olives, halved
- 2 tsp distilled white vinegar
Place a rack in lower third of oven; preheat to 250°.
Pat roast dry with paper towels. Heat oil in a large heatproof pot over high. Cook chuck roast, turning occasionally, until browned on both sides, 5–7 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.
Cook onion, bell peppers, and salt , stirring occasionally, until softened and beginning to brown, 12 – 14 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently and scraping bottom of pan, until vegetables are golden brown, 3 – 5 minutes.
Stir in wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until evaporated.
Stir in spices, cook about 1 minute.
Add tomatoes. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
Nestle roast into tomato mixture. Cover and transfer to oven. Braise roast and vegetables until meat is very tender and shreds easily, 2½–3 hours. Let cool 15 minutes.
Shred meat into sauce. Stir in olives and vinegar. Top with cilantro.
Serve with rice and beans.