Pimentón agridulce/smoked bittersweet paprika (Recipe: chakchouka)
Guest post and photos by Kim in Pasadena, California.
When it comes to discovering new foods and ingredients, I’m like a dog who spots a squirrel. The world simply freezes for me.
I can walk down any grocery aisle in any store, and if there is something I’ve never seen before, my brain puts on the brakes, and before I know it I am reading the label. I’m flexible, but I keep Kosher, so I read carefully.
You’d think I would whip out my BlackBerry at this point, to reveal the mystery ingredient. But I don’t own a BlackBerry, nor do I have Internet on my phone. This might sound strange coming from a computer geek who makes a living building and fixing computers.
Even if I could, looking up stuff right there and then would spoil the ride home for me. All the anticipation until I can get to my computer and Google my new-found treasure is just too delicious. The surprise of some magical taste or a new recipe can be such wonderful journey.
Sometimes this can be a bit of a let-down (mustard oil comes to mind), sometimes downright scary (got to put black salt in that box). But then there are the times when the food gods smile upon you and you get a real treat.
Bittersweet paprika is one of those treats.
All paprika is a blend of thin skinned peppers that have been dried. Bittersweet paprika –- pimentón agridulce -- differs from the Hungarian paprika that you sprinkle to give food a bit of color, because it's made from sweet and hot peppers and has a distinct, smoky flavor and aroma. (Smoked paprika also comes in sweet and hot varieties.)
My bittersweet paprika of choice is from the Chiquilin company, which has been making pimentón in Spain since 1909. I first fell in love when I saw a tin at my favorite Italian grocery store, Claro’s.
Chiquilin pimentón is made from ñora peppers which are smoked over oak logs to develop the flavors. Peppers smoked over an oak fire develop into a rich and complex profile which is much more powerful and pronounced than if sun-dried or commercially dried.
The tin had such warm and inviting colors, complete with an image of a cheeky little boy. When I opened it for the first time, the aroma just blew me away. My mind raced with all the possibilities.
Online, I found a recipe for a North African dish of eggs poached in a pepper ragout. One of the primary ingredients was paprika, and because I was not using a sweet paprika but a smoked one, the recipe needed to be tweaked a bit. Okay, tweaked a lot.
That’s the fun of discovering new ingredients. You never know where they'll take you.
Serve this vegetarian main course dish with crusty bread or rice. Serves 4-6.
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp bittersweet pimentón
1 tsp harissa
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
3 – 4 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 tsp fresh savory, finely chopped
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
14-oz can of diced tomatoes
2 Tbsp red wine
1 cup water
1 green pepper, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
Pinch brown sugar
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper, to taste
4 eggs, soft poached
Heat the oil over a medium flame in a deep skillet. Stir in the pimentón and let cook slightly to color the oil, about 10-15 seconds. (The sugar content of pimentón is very high, so be careful not to burn the spice. Really what you are aiming for is dissolving the pimentón in the oil.)
Add the onion and garlic; sauté until onions are translucent and wilted but not browned. Add tomatoes, savory, balsamic vinegar, wine and water bring to a rapid simmer. Add peppers, pinch of brown sugar and salt/pepper. Reduce heat to low, and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes. Add more water as needed to create a sauce.
Form four indentations in the simmering sauce to hold the eggs. Gently crack one egg and slide it into one indentation, being careful not to break the yolk. Do the same with the remaining eggs. Simmer another 5 minutes or so, until egg whites are firm.