In this regular feature, we focus on one of the Spanish ingredients that are readily available on Lanzarote, but which you may not be fully aware of.
Spain was the first European country to receive peppers and chillis from America, and they’ve been used in Spanish cuisine ever since. While the nation has never really embraced the fiery chillis that soon became popular in North Africa, India and the East, it still offers a fascinating range of peppers for any cook to get to know.
Spain’s favourite spice, pimentón, is made of a blend of ground, dried red peppers and can be bought in sweet (dulce), spicy (picante) and smoked (ahumado) varieties. Kept fresh, it’s an amazing provider of deep, rich flavour, and it’s well worth experimenting with brands and varieties.
Ñoras are dried sweet red peppers sold whole in the spice section of shops. They need to be soaked in warm water for half an hour, then the rehydrated pulp is scraped from the inside of the skin with a knife or spoon. This is a vital ingredient in Canarian red mojos, as well as several other Spanish dishes.
Pimientas choriceras are longer and larger than ñoras, and very different in flavour. Prepared in the same way as ñoras, the pulp is used to flavour chorizo sausages as well as dishes such as Biscay Cod (bacalao a la vizcaina).
These peppers, as well as ñoras, can sometimes be bought in attractive strings that can be hung from the walls of a kitchen.
Guindillas are the small dried Cayenne peppers that have always been used to give heat to dishes in Spain and the UK. They’re available whole or ground.
Pimientos de piquillo are mild, sweet, meaty peppers from Navarra in northern Spain that are roasted, peeled and sold in jars or tins. They’re often served as a side dish, used as a colourful garnish or stuffed.
Guindillas en vinagre are spicy green chilli peppers preserved in vinegar and sold in jars. You’ll find them next to olives and other pickles.
Carne de pimiento choricero (chorizo pepper pulp) is available in small jars in most supermarkets and saves plenty of time soaking and scraping dried chorizo peppers (see left).
Supermarkets are also stocking more and more chilli sauces and pastes, and it’s always worth hunting down specialist Indian, Chinese and even British food stores, which always offer some tasty new experiences for chilli lovers. From tabasco to Thai sriracha, from Canarian mojo picón to Moroccan harissa, Lanzarote is rapidly becoming a chilli fanciers paradise.
Most supermarkets will offer mild bell peppers (pimientas) in two or three colours: green, red and perhaps yellow. Often, these are the same species, with the red ones simply being riper. These can be eaten raw in salads, they’re delicious roasted or grilled, and they are an essential part of the Spanish sofrito (chopped onion, garlic and pepper fried in olive oil that starts off many dishes.)
You’ll also see longer, red and green Italian peppers that are very similar in flavour to the bell peppers, and which are best fried. Smaller, bright green pimientos de padrón are a classic tapas dish, deep fried until the skin blisters and sprinkled with sea salt.
For many years, it was impossible to find fresh hot chillis in Spain, but tastes have changed and nowadays you may find standard green bird chillies from Kenya, fiery Scotch bonnets (habaneros) and other varieties. Spain has jumped onto the chilli bandwagon with enthusiasm, and real chilli fans have realised that this island offers the perfect climate to grow chillies.