Most of the writing on my blog is not about food, but life in general and how I cope with it or not, in some cases. On occasion I veer onto a food-related social or political bent, but it’s rare for me to write lovingly about the flavours and story behind a recipe. Today, I’ve been staring at my screen for 53 minutes and have only written the preceding sentence. The first 51 minutes and 13 seconds were spent typing then deleting, typing then deleting as I attempted to coax a story about smoked paprika onto the page.
I also checked out the bulk price of Kalamata olives (c.£20 for 2kg on eBay, £16 on Amazon fresh) and appraised which size Really Useful Boxes I need for my cupboards (none, they’re not quite the right size), to round up the disparate bags of half empty spices and flour that remain after I have topped up the world’s most organised spice drawers.
However, I do have a story about smoked paprika, the first time I sampled it’s rich smokey depth in paella.
When I first discovered the unearthly delights of a visit to Billingsgate fish market at 5am, arriving at the market at 5am, which involves getting up at 4am. I came home before breakfast and stocked my freezer with beautiful, fresh and cheap whole squid, prawns, salmon and mackerel.
The internet was scoured for a paella recipe and the one which connected with me included this new spice called smoked paprika. It was a rarefied spice, not available on the shelves of Asda or Sainsbury’s, so I hopped on my bike and whizzed to Waitrose, knowing they would surely stock this elusive spice.
Like many traditional recipes, such as houmous, bouillabaisse or Yorkshire pudding, Paella is a contentious dish, whose recipe can be argued over ad infinitum, because there is no answer. My interpretation is not in the true spirit of traditional Spanish paella, but to hell with that, because in my world, this dish of chorizo, prawns and squid which had simmered away with rice in a rich broth laced with this newfound spice, was something quite magical. From that point on, paella, or at least my anglicised version of it, was defined by smoked paprika.
It is smoked paprika which brought my attention to the plight of using cheap spices. Not all spices are created equal, poor quality smoked paprika will lack depth and complexity of flavour, whereas the good stuff will add another dimension to your food. I have found two brands which I can highly recommend, La Chinata (available in specialist food stores and Ocado) and Cool Chile Company, available online (I had some leftover from a shoot I did for them).
Since then, smoked paprika has made it into all sorts of dishes and regularly props up salads of mine, this one being a perfect example. I’d love to call it Mexican, or middle eastern, or something similar, but I can’t, the only region it relates to is the region of my fridge which holds the salad ingredients, because it’s based on what was in there last week.
The spontaneous slinging together of ingredients often result in the best recipes. It’s a simple, easy, reliable and massively tasty salad which is easily prepared well in advance and kept for a few days. I would argue the flavours actually improve after a day or two. If you’ve never experimented with smoked paprika before, then now is a fantastic chance, just get the best tin you can and enter into the wonderful world of smokey pap!
Smoked Paprika Avocado Salad
By Gavin Wren
Uses greaseproof paper, baking sheet, mixing bowl, sieve, rolling pin and biscuit cutters.
100g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight then boiled for 45 minutes. Or 1 regular tin cooked chickpeas, drained.
24 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 avocado, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 shallot, finely chopped
15g fresh coriander
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons rapeseed oil
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Mix the white balsamic, rapeseed oil and smoked paprika in a bowl and season.
Put the chickpeas in a bowl. Add the tomatoes, garlic and shallot then mix well. Stir in the chopped avocado and drizzle the dressing across the top. Quarter the eggs lengthways and place on top.