While extremely delicious and the finishing touch on traditional recipes like chicken piccata, capers can be an expensive store-bought item for the home cook. But you don't have to give up on taste in the name of being thrifty. When traditional capers just aren't in the budget, or you'd like to opt for a homemade version, pickled nasturtium buds or pods are an inexpensive substitute for pricey capers. In fact, they've been called "poor man's capers," a name we've decided to embrace with open arms.
Nasturtiums are wildly weedy plants that are known for their edible flowers. While the flowers and leaves have a warm, tangy flavor, the buds or pods have a distinct mustardy flavor and when pickled can taste remarkably similar to traditional capers. Even better, pickled nasturtium pods are extremely inexpensive (even free if you can find them) and easy to make!
- 1 quart nasturtium seed pods*
- 1 quart white wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons pickling salt
- 1 medium onion (thinly sliced)
- ½ medium lemon (thinly sliced)
- 1 teaspoon pickling spice
- 1 clove garlic (smashed)
- 4 to 6 peppercorns
- 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
After the nasturtium blossoms fall off, pick the half-ripened (still green) nasturtium seed pods. Continue picking as long as the seed crop continues.
Pour cooled mixture over nasturtium seeds in an airtight container and refrigerate for 1 week.
Keep the mixture refrigerated and use the nasturtium pickles in sauces, dips, casseroles, soups, stews, and as edible decorations. You can substitute for capers one-to-one in any recipe.
*Note: If you decide to forage for nasturtium pods, be sure that you pick them at their optimal stage. The nasturtium plant doesn't usually begin forming seedpods until late in the summer. Around that time of the year, you can find them attached to the stems underneath the foliage, where they develop in clusters of three. After the nasturtium blossom wither and falls away, you will want to pick the half-ripened seedpods - they will still be green and soft. As the pods mature, they will turn yellowish at which point they are no longer palatable.
Recipe Source: This recipe was originally submitted by thrifty home cook Marion Owen. We've reprinted it here with permission.