My first introduction to paprika came as a young girl while helping my mom make deviled eggs. She always topped half of the eggs with an olive slice, the balance received a dusting of paprika. Though paprika’s deep red color makes it a pretty garnish, I often thought of the spice as low on flavor…until I discovered smoked paprika.
Most of the paprika sold in grocery stores is simply labeled “paprika” and likely came from Hungary, or possibly California or South America. This paprika tends to be neither hot nor particularly sweet and works well as a garnish for deviled eggs, macaroni salad, and mashed potato casseroles–or wherever you want a hint of color. When used as an ingredient within a soup recipe, for example, a mere half teaspoon or so of this garnet powder can be difficult to discern.
When specifically labeled as “Hungarian sweet paprika” the spice will likely be richer and fruitier than the basic variety. Expect flavor similar to a red bell pepper and without heat. It’s a great all-around paprika and will add a bit more dimension than the regular stuff. When a recipe calls for paprika without specifying which kind, using Hungarian sweet paprika or a basic grocery store variety is a safe bet.
When it comes to “smoked paprika,“ a little bit goes a long way towards adding noticeable flavor to a recipe, but too much can easily overwhelm. Smoked paprika heralds from Spain, and the peppers that go into it are typically smoked (often over oak, as is done in the La Vera region where much of the country’s paprika is produced). By contrast, the peppers used to make Hungarian paprika are usually dried in the sun. When either version is labeled as “hot,“ it’s because spicier varieties of pepper, and sometimes the seeds, are used.
The intriguing flavor of smoked paprika is a building block in Spanish cuisine, from paella to chorizo. In the recipe below, judicious use of it helps to create a condiment that I absolutely adore. To enhance its smokey profile and round out the flavor without overpowering, I combine the smoked paprika with an equal amount of ground cumin.
We love to use the aioli as a dip for sweet potato fries, but you may also enjoy it with roasted mushrooms, baked chicken, or as a spread on sandwiches and burgers. Alternatively, serve alongside some grilled chorizo (or another sausage of choice) that has been cut into bite-size pieces for an easy appetizer.
- 1/2 cup (104 grams) mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup (60 grams) nonfat Greek yogurt
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) freshly squeezed lime juice
- 3/4 teaspoon each smoked paprika and ground cumin
- Scant 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- In a small bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, Greek yogurt, lime juice, smoked paprika, cumin, and salt. Cover and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
- The taste of this sauce will improve as it sits and the flavors meld. If possible, prepare it several hours or a day in advance. It will, however, still be good if enjoyed right away.