Shopping tips

• In the U.S., Hungarian paprika is generally sold in two types: sweet (mild) and hot. Spanish pimentón might be sold as dulce (mild), agridulce (moderately hot) and picante (hottest). Smoked paprika packaged in the U.S. is often simply labeled "smoked paprika," but with those packaged in Spain, smokiness can be tricky to determine, so you may want to consult your grocer. I've found Pimentón de la Vera to be a reliable brand. Like all peppers, the majority of the heat resides in the seeds. To make paprika hot, processors simply leave the seeds in before grinding.

• Sweet Hungarian paprika and smoked pimentón are my pantry staples. And while recipe writers may tell you it's crucial to use the type of paprika they specify, experimentation is half the fun of being in the kitchen. If you want more heat, reach for hot paprika, blend smoked paprika with sweet, etc. To riff on an old Lesley Gore song, it's your dinner, you can do what you want to.

• Like all spices, paprika loses its potency over time. So depending on how long it's been lurking in your pantry, you may need to increase quantities or invest in a new bottle.