California Capers

Pickled nasturtium seed pods that provide a peppery kick.

California Capers
The nasturtium plant in all its glory.

The nasturtium plant in all its glory.

It's safe to say that everyone in the Bay Area is familiar with nasturtium flowers in a salad mix or as a garnish. But, as I explore in a previous post, the nasturtium plant (Tropaeolum majus) has so much more going on, including incredibly spicy leaves and (the subject of this post) pungent, clear-your-nasal-cavity seed pods. You want to pick the seed pods when they're young and green, as they toughen and get bitter with age (but are still edible). Try them raw - their wasabi-like flavor is so intense, it'll wake you right up! I like eating them as a snack, but as they are so intense a little goes a long way. By pickling them, you can preserve and enjoy these pearls of flavor for up to one year. As with most things in the culinary world, someone else has already done this and coined them "California Capers" - a designation I love and truly wish I'd created!

Nasturtium seed pods stuck together in groups of three - these need to be separated before washing and preserving.

Nasturtium seed pods stuck together in groups of three - these need to be separated before washing and preserving.

I've tried making California capers a few ways, some ways more complex than others, but I find that I like the simple version from this site best, with a few alterations. If you find the caper pungency to be too strong, you can always submerge them in a salty brine for a few days (1/4 cup salt: 2 cups water). Pickled nasturtium pods work anywhere you'd use regular capers - they're amazing on bagels and lox (anything with smoked or preserved fish, really), pasta pomodoro, braised chicken, in tuna or egg salad, green salad, etc.

Makes 1 pint

  • 1-1/3 cups young nasturtium seed pods
  • 2 bay leaves

  • About 1-1/3 cups distilled white vinegar

  • 2 teaspoons Kosher or sea salt

Separate seed pods that are stuck together - they are often joined in groups of three.

Soak seed pods in water to remove any dirt/debris, then drain and place in two sterilized half-pint jars along with 1 bay leaf per jar.

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the vinegar and salt to a simmer and stir until salt is dissolved. Pour hot vinegar mixture over seed pods, covering them completely.

Let the jars cool to room temperature before sealing with lids. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours before eating and enjoy for up to one year.

Nasturtium seed pods on the vine. You want to pick them when they are young and green. They become tougher and more bitter as they age.

Nasturtium seed pods on the vine. You want to pick them when they are young and green. They become tougher and more bitter as they age.