Capers are tiny jewels of flavor, whose tangy, salty, slightly floral taste profile can be used to bring fish dishes, pasta, and sauces to life. Find out which other ingredients bring out the best in capers with this useful guide to food pairings for capers, from our Perfect Food Pairings series.
True capers are made from the immature flower buds of the caper bush, and are typically either brined or dried before eating. These tender buds are all harvested by hand, being too delicate to be handled by machinery, and this can make them a little pricey. But there is another type of caper, and it comes from a plant that many people have growing in their gardens.
What is nasturtium?
The garden nasturtium, or Tropaeolum majus, is a popular plant with large, disc-shaped leaves and brightly-coloured flowers, ranging in hue from cream, through golden yellow or orange-red to deep maroon. The nasturtium is a common sight in domestic gardens, being easy to cultivate, and even a little prone to take over if not properly managed.
In addition to having attractive flowers and foliage, many parts of the nasturtium are also edible. It is a relative of watercress, and its leaves and flowers both have a similar peppery flavour. They make an attractive addition to salads and stir fries, and are actually quite nutritious, with the flowers having a similar vitamin C content to parsley, and also boasting the highest concentration of the carotenoid lutein of any edible plant. It is sometimes known as ‘Indian cress’ or ‘monk's cress’.
What are nasturtium capers?
When a nasturtium flower dies, you may notice that a small green pod has taken its place. This is the seed pod of the nasturtium, and like the flowers and the leaves, it too is edible. Nasturtium seed pods are sometimes known as ‘poor man’s capers’, because when pickled they have a similar flavour to capers. Many people actually find that they prefer nasturtium pods to regular capers due to their mildly spicy, mustard-like flavour.
Nasturtium capers are made using young, semi-ripened seed pods, as these have a crisper, juicier texture and a more intense flavour, while older pods become dry and flavourless. Look for pale green pods that feel firm between your finger and thumb. Nasturtiums produce a lot of seeds, so you might be surprised by how many you find.
How to prepare them
Making your own nasturtium capers at home couldn’t be easier. Follow our simple, step-by-step guide for deliciously tangy homemade capers with that unique nasturtium pepperiness.
White wine vinegar,
2 tsp, chopped
Separate any pods that are joined together, then place them all in a colander and rinse well to remove any hidden dirt.
Place the pods into pickling jars, leaving at least a ½ inch gap at the top.
Place the vinegar, water, salt and sugar in a small pot and bring to the boil.
Pour the hot liquid over the seeds, again leaving a ½ inch gap at the top.
Add the dill and stir to submerge it in the liquid.
Wait until the contents of your pickling jars have cooled to room temperature, then seal.
Leave for at least 4 weeks for the flavors to develop.
Uses of nasturtium capers
These innocent-looking little pods have a stronger flavour than you might think, so a little goes a long way when it comes to using them in your cooking. The best way to get the balance right is to dice them finely with a sharp knife, add sparingly, then taste your dish and add a little more if needed. Remember that it’s always easier to add more flavour than it is to remove something that overpowers your dish.
The sharp, tangy flavour of nasturtium capers is perfect for cutting through strong flavours, and they work particularly well with spicy foods like stir fry or sushi rolls. You can use them in any dish where you’d normally use capers, including fish dishes, salads, pasta, sauces and more. For more inspiration, try using your homemade nasturtium capers in one of these gourmet caper recipes.
Pickling will extend the shelf life of your nasturtium capers, and they should stay fresh for a fairly long time. Store them in the refrigerator in their pickling jars and they should keep for a year or even longer.