Native to America and Asia, and related to chilli, the sweet pepper that produces paprika is grown primarily in the Balkans, Bulgaria, Hungary, Spain and Turkey, and used as an essential ingredient in sauces, soups, stews and in poultry, meat and vegetable dishes.
In Hungary it is sold hot, mild and sweet in five grades, from light red (hot) to dark red (mild).
In Spain it is sold plain and smoked, hot, mild and sweet.
In Turkey it is sold as flakes and as powder.
Paprika is so entrenched in Hungarian food culture it is hard to believe it was only following the winter of 1875 that these chilli peppers became a resident flavouring in soups and stews – 300 years after they were first brought into the country.
Grown in the Kalocsa, Szeged and Szentes regions, they were originally known as Turkish peppers.
Suddenly they were Hungarian!
A paprika drying plant was built in Kalocsa in 1880 followed in 1917 by a paprika experimental farm, where the mild sweet varieties that have made Hungarian paprika famous were bred.
Paprika grown in the Szeged region travelled the world, the climate in the floodplains of the Körös, Maros and Tisza rivers producing a brilliant red sweet pepper.
Known for its characteristic colour, a natural consequence of the ripening and drying procedure, Szegedi paprika is now a window into Hungary’s peasant paprika culture.
North of Szeged is the Szentes region. Here in the low-lying basin of the Great Hungarian Plain, migrating Bulgarian market gardeners made good use of the sloping land and hotter climate, in 1895 producing most of the Hungarian paprika harvest.
They specialised in pre-germination hotbed production, practicised nursery bed inter-cropping, developed chain-bucket wheel irrigation systems, and managed the humus-rich alluvial soil – creating the perfect micro-climate for their produce.
Paprika production has been constant in Szentes ever since, the methods introduced by the Bulgarians continuing to yield ‘an exceptionally flavoursome, hot, sweet or spicy taste’.
The contrasting peppers from these regions make Hungarian paprika unique, hugely different to Spanish and Turkish varieties.
Fresh paprika peppers and juicy tomatoes, being plentiful throughout the Balkans, are stewed and bottled for use as condiments. Every household keeps lecsó, made or bought.
The home-made versions include numerous additional ingredients and variations of ratios between the peppers and tomatoes, this is the base sauce – 1 part peppers to 1 part tomatoes, a third onions and sufficient oil to sauté the onions and coat the ingredients. The ground paprika quantity is always personal.
2.5 kg green and red paprika peppers, fresh, de-seeded, chopped 2.5 kg tomatoes, fresh, chopped small 800g onions, chopped 100 ml olive oil 25g sweet paprika 10g sugar
Sauté onions in the oil over a low heat in a large frying pan for 15 minutes, add peppers, cook for ten minutes, add tomatoes, sugar and paprika, cover and simmer for an hour.
2kg chicken, cut into large pieces, leg and thigh separated 400g onions, chopped 300ml smetana/sour cream 150g lecsó 2 paprika peppers, fresh 15g sunflower oil 15 g flour 10g sweet paprika Salt, pinch Water, for deglazing
Warm oil in a deep, wide saucepan, sauté onions for ten minutes until soft, cover and cook for an hour over the lowest heat.
Lift the lid every 15 minutes and allow the condensation to pour back into the pan.
When the onions are browned and wilted they are ready.
Bring heat up to medium, add a little more oil if the onions are sticking to the pan.
Add chicken pieces, skin side down, brown for five minutes. Remove into a wide soup bowl.
Take pan off heat.
Sprinkle paprika on top of the onions, leave covered for five minutes.
Deglaze saucepan with sufficient water to cover the base.
Put chicken back with any juices in the bowl, add lecsó and peppers, cover and cook for an hour.
Add a pinch of salt.
Remove chicken pieces again, quickly reduce liquid to a paste.
Turn heat to low, stir flour into the paste and slowly add sour cream.
Turn heat up until gentle bubbles appear on the surface. Put chicken back, cover and heat gently in the creamy sauce, about five minutes.
Serve with galuska.
Traditional Paprika DishesCanapés de Queso Pimentón SPAIN ricotta and smoked paprika canapés Chorba BALKANS bean, herb, paprika, vegetable soup Ezme Salatasi TURKEY cucumber, mint, paprika, spring onion, tomato salad Pörkölt HUNGARY beef, lamb or pork paprika stew Pulpo con Pimentón IBERIAN PENINSULA octopus with hot paprika Tokány ROMANIA beef, pork, bacon, sour cream, herb and spice paprika stew Yogurtlu kabak Kizartmasi TURKEY fried zucchini slices with paprika and yoghurt
EDITORIALS EURO SNACKS FOOD CONNECTIONS FOOD STORIES GLOSSARY HIGH FIVES LEGENDARY DISHES RECIPES REVIEWS STREET MARKETS