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Paprika (Recipe: salmon tagine with chermoula) {gluten-free}


In the house where I grew up, paprika was the curly parsley of my mother's spice rack.

She used it to "fancy up" a dish like egg salad.

Or to "color up" a dish like flounder.

Or to cover up a blooper.

My mother never used paprika as an ingredient, at least not that I can remember, though the red-and-white Szeged tin, ubiquitous on supermarket shelves, was a fixture in her pantry.

If only she'd put that paprika in contact with some heat, she would have realized that paprika is more than just a pretty red spice in a pretty red tin...

...it has pretty terrific flavor, too!

Native to the Americas, capsicums (peppers) traveled with Christopher Columbus to Spain, and it was the Spanish who first dried and ground peppers. From Spain, seeds were carried to Turkey and throughout the Ottoman Empire.

Paprika is a bright red powder, made not from a single plant, but from grinding together a variety of dried peppers ranging from sweet bell peppers to mild chiles. The best of these peppers grow in Hungary, where paprika is graded into six major classifications: kulonleges, the highest grade, is made by grinding only the unblemished flesh of fully ripe peppers (delicate and sweet); edesnemes (darker red, more robust, not bitter), is most widely exported; delicatess (slightly hot and fruity); feledes (semi-sweet); rozsa (hotter, because it's made from the whole fruit including the seeds); and eros (more pungent, hot, and bitter). Spanish pimenton is similar, but milder than Hungarian paprika.

Sweet paprika -- not to be confused with smoked sweet paprika -- features in the Hungarian national dish, goulash.

Buy Szeged paprika (mild or hot) in a tin at your local grocery store; be sure to check the tin carefully, as the two varieties look identical. Penzeys sells Kulonleges sweet and half-sharp, along with California sweet; the California paprika tends to be quite mild, while European varities will have a more vibrant taste. A 1.1-ounce jar is $2.89. Stored in a cool, dark part of your pantry (or freezer), it will keep for up to two years.

Of course, if you're like my mom and just use it for culinary repairs, it will last forever.


Salmon tagine with chermoula

I make this in a tagine, but you can use a Dutch oven, too. The sauce of tomato, olives and preserved lemon with herbs -- the chermoula -- makes a gorgeous and flavorful topping for grilled chicken or vegetables (eggplant, zucchini, peppers). Use any fish that looks good at the market; cod loin and halibut are particularly delicious. Buy pitted Kalamata olives at your supermarket salad bar. This recipe serves 6 as a main course, and 8-10 as part of a buffet meal.


3 tsp ground cumin
1-1/2 tsp ground coriander
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1-1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, or 1-1/2 tsp harissa, to taste
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/3 tsp black pepper
1-1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped (or double the parsley instead)
3/4 grilled red bell pepper (or jarred roasted red peppers), chopped
1 whole preserved lemon, pulp removed, finely chopped
1/2 cup small cherry tomatoes, halved
6 Kalamata olives, pitted, halved
3 stalks celery, cut in half lengthwise, then into 3-inch long slices
1-1/2 to 2 lbs salmon, cut into 6-8 pieces

For the sauce:
1-1/2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp sugar
3 tsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp olive oil


Make the chermoula: In a small, dry frying pan, toast cumin and coriander until slightly fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove to a large bowl.

In the same pan, sauté garlic in 1 Tbsp olive oil until lightly cooked, 1 minute. Add to the mixing bowl, along with paprika, cayenne, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Whisk well. Add remaining olive oil slowly, then add parsley and cilantro. Then, add chopped red pepper, preserved lemon, tomatoes and olives, to make the chermoula.

Set aside 1/4 of the chermoula. Place fish in a nonreactive glass or ceramic baking dish, and rub on all sides with the remaining 3/4 of the chermoula.

In the base of a tagine or Dutch oven, arrange celery stalks to form a “platform” for the fish. Arrange fish pieces on top, along with the chermoula marinade. 

Mix together the sauce ingredients, and pour over the fish. Add 1/2 cup of water.

Cover and cook on lowest heat for 20-25 minutes, until the fish is just cooked. Top with reserved chermoula, and serve over couscous or rice.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

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So many of my favorite flavors are in this dish, not the least of which is sweet paprika. I think my mother used it on deviled eggs, too, and so her can was in our cupboard forever. I use mine, as well as the smoked Spanish variety and enjoy its warm flavor. Tagine, huh? I keep looking at them...

Up until recently, I had only seen paprika used the way your mom did. Having smoked paprika changed my world! Thanks for sharing the fun memory of your mother.

I love paprika. It's definitely been an ingredient that I've used more and more over the last 5 years. This sounds fantastic! What if I don't have preserved lemon? Any suggestions for how to replace it?

I'm so excited to make my own preserved lemons but will have to wait a month to try this dish. Hubby & I found 2 fab spice shops the last time we went to NYC - the paprika there was amazing & we love cooking with it - both smoked, one sweet one hot - and it's HOT! This looks great!

A good paprika (smoked too) is invaluable. I brought back some smoked paprika from my dad's home town and a pinch goes a long way.

A beautiful fall dish. I love to use the tajine too, it just makes the dish that more special.
I really need to learn more about the different kinds of paprika. I have a couple but don't feel like I really understand it yet.

Ah, the never ending can of paprika...always on hand to fix disasters or dress up deviled eggs. Is it possible we shared the same mom? ;-)

I will have to try this in a Dutch oven sometime---thanks for this recipe. And while we're on it, are those salad/deli bars the only places one can find pitted Kalamatas? I can never find any on the shelves in jars, and always have to resort to the kind you scoop yourself. Just curious if you've had other experiences...

This is a flavor extravaganza, once again I am totally salivating even after eating my dinner...Love those peppers.

The curly parsley of her spice rack...oh I love that!

Before I put my salmon in the oven I always dust it with paprika it makes such a beautiful color.

I really like paprika, especially smoked paprika. I think it's an underrated spice.

Kellypea, I love making fish in the tagine -- it is so incredibly moist. And I'm a big fan of smoked paprika, too.

Julia, smoked paprika was a revelation the first time I tried it. Because I don't eat ham, which is often used to give a smoky quality to bean dishes and soups, I substitute smoked paprika in those recipes. And sweet paprika? I wonder why my mother never gave it a chance!

Kalyn, thanks for asking. You can substitute lemon zest + capers to replicate the flavor of preserved lemons. But of course I'm going to encourage you to make preserved lemons (so easy!) and keep them in your fridge.

HB, here's my favorite seven-day preserved lemon method (well, it's Paula Wolfert's method, that I've adopted): http://www.theperfectpantry.com/2007/03/preserved_lemon.html

Peter, agreed -- I can't imagine cooking without it.

Natashya, for the whole time I was growing up, paprika was paprika, and my mother really only sprinkled it on things. Now I've got half a dozen different types of sweet and smoked paprika in my pantry!

Sandie, I always prefer to buy at the salad bar, in part because I can see what I'm getting, and also because it's the only place I find pitted Kalamatas. And yes, it's possible we share the same mother... mine didn't have much of an interest in cooking, or much range. Yours, too?

Callipygia, my photo doesn't do it justice -- the dish was just gorgeous, especially made with salmon -- pinks, reds, yellows... beautiful!

Noble Pig, thanks. Great idea to dust your salmon with paprika. I'll try that.

Sara, agreed. Sweet paprika is definitely underrated, too. I'm trying to give it 15 minutes of fame!

Never knew that paprika was a combination of peppers. I just know that it was always a staple in the kitchen when I was growing up. But in those days, it was just regular paprika. Later, the Hungarian Hot paprika was added. And now I must also have the smoked kind.

And yippppeeeee! A new way to make salmon - another staple in my diet! Thanks, Lydia.

My mother often repaired things with it as well. ;)

I use smoked Spanish paprika in my heirloom tomato gazpacho - it is excellent!

Toni, I think you'll really like this salmon. The colors remind me of the Southwest.

Peabody, I can still picture my mother in the kitchen, sprinkling paprika on things that probably didn't need it!

Nate, that sounds delicious. Will look up your recipe.

Never use Paprika before. But glad to learn so many things abt it from here. Tks for your sharing.

I really should label my spice canisters. I have a few type of paprika in idetical contianers and I can't tell which one's which until I taste it.

Yay! A tagine recipe. I actually have one that collects dust in my cabinet. I am going to have to try this recipe soon. Can you substitute tilapia for the salmon or should it be a firmer fish?

And paprika -- it might just be my favorite spice.

LK, paprika is a very versatile spice. Hope you will try it!

Jude, been there, done that (mixed up hot and sweet paprikas). Now I label everything!

Sarah, almost any fish works in this recipe, especially milder fish like tilapia that take well to aggressive sauces. Actually this sauce is more of a relish, and it pairs with aything from cod (mild, like tilapia), to swordfish.

I've not tried a fish in a tagine . . . my preserved lemon is ready . . . and I've been looking for a recipe . ..
This looks terrific Lydia!!

I happened to come home from the store today with some lovely salmon, and hoped to make something other than standard grill-fare. As luck would have it, I discovered your post!

paprika is my favorite! I like to just sprinkle it on a chicken with some salt and roast it up.

A salmon tagine sounds really good!

MyKitchen, I love a woman who keeps preserved lemon on hand. It's amazing how many ways you can find to use it.

Lynda, hope you did try this recipe. (PS, if you don't have preserved lemon, you can substitute a bit of lemon zest plus some capers.)

Rhonda, great idea -- we always think of paprika as adding color, but it adds plenty of flavor, too.

Kevin, it is -- or was!

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