Paprikas flavour is sweet but elusive, like a kiss from across a room. You know it's there, so bright and red; but the taste is gone before its passed your lips.
Paprika is the national spice of Hungary. It came to that country from India via the Turks when they invaded Europe in the 16th century. Paprika soon became a staple of Hungarian cooking. Today it is used by the tablespoon in all kinds of dishes, most notably in goulash, the famous Hungarian beef stew.
Paprika was cultivated for its bright colour and sweet taste but, as with all peppers, it is also nutritious with lots of Vitamin C.
These peppers do have a hot streak when they are fresh but most of that is in the seeds and veins. These are removed before the peppers are dried and ground to a powder. Although there are many grades of paprika in Hungary, the two most common varieties imported here are known as Spanish and Hungarian. The former is usually labeled hot and the latter as sweet, but this is a misnomer. Both Spanish and Hungarian varieties can be spicy or mild.
Paprika powder gets stale easily so make sure it is fresh when you buy it. It should have has a sweet but subtle smell that hints of red bell peppers. If there is heat, it is usually mild and dissipates quickly as it is cooked. For extra fire, add cayenne; but when you want the kiss of colour, reach for paprika.
Paprikás bourgonya shows off this spice. This potato dish is adapted from The Eastern European Cookbook by Kay Shaw Nelson.
Chop an onion and a clove of garlic and sauté them in a little butter until they are soft. (Add a little diced bacon or polish sausage if you want, too). Mix in a pinch of caraway seeds, a tablespoon of paprika and a dash of salt and pepper. Cook this together for a minute over medium heat. Add a few medium-sized potatoes that have been peeled and cut into bite-sized cubes. Pour in enough water to just cover the potatoes. Stir well. Cover the pot and cook the potatoes over low heat until they are tender. The water should make a nice gravy. If it is too liquid, uncover the pot and let it boil down a little. Taste and add more salt and pepper if you want. Stir in a large dollop of sour cream just before serving.