Poor Man’s Capers: Pickled Nasturtium Pods

Poor man's capers: pickled nasturtium pods

Here in Los Angeles, nasturtiums are wildly weedy, growing all over hillsides and gardens and reseeding with wanton abandon. This weediness makes them very underappreciated as a bona fide vegetable, and even moreso as a pickled delicacy.

Nasturtium flowers

While much of the country doesn’t see the seed pods until late summer (when intense heat causes nasturtiums to wither away), we Angelenos see a succession of flowering nasturtiums year-round, giving us seed pods even in winter.

Nasturtium seed pods

Those delicate green pods emerge after the blossoms have faded, appearing in clusters of three on the stems. Before you yank your plants out, hunt for those little pods to get one last use out of your nasturtium crop! You don’t need more than a handful to turn them into tasty “capers,” and though they’re sometimes called poor man’s capers, they have a distinct, mustardy flavor all their own.

This recipe makes a half-pint at a time. If you were lucky enough to harvest more than a handful, simply double, triple or quadruple the following measurements as needed.

Pickled Nasturtium Pods
Makes 1/2 pint

Ingredients

2/3 cup nasturtium seed pods
1/4 cup salt
2 cups water
2/3 cup distilled white vinegar (5% acidity)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 bay leaf

Method

Harvest young, light green, half-ripened seed pods while they’re still on the vines. Young pods are crisp and juicy, but tend to lose their zip and flavor as they mature (eventually, they dry out into wrinkled brown seeds and drop to the ground).

Young nasturtium seed pod

Separate the pods into individual seeds, and give them a quick rinse to remove any dirt.

Harvested nasturtium pods

Rinse nasturtium seeds under running water

The raw seeds are full of potent mustard oils that make them bitterly strong in flavor; a little too strong for my liking, so I start by mellowing them out in a simple salty brine.

In a quart jar, dissolve the salt in water.

Make a brine to mellow out the nasturtium seeds

Dissolve salt in water to make the brine

Add the nasturtium seeds, then place a zip-top bag over the rim and down into the jar to keep the seeds submerged. Let the brine sit for a couple of days at room temperature. The seeds will turn a dull green during this stage.

Place a zip-top bag over the rim and down into the jar to submerge the seeds

Strain the seeds and rinse again to remove excess salt.

Strain the seeds and rinse to remove excess salt

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the vinegar and sugar to a low boil for 1 minute and stir to dissolve.

Divide your seeds into half-pint jars, then pour the hot vinegar over the seeds, covering them completely.

Pour hot vinegar over the seeds, covering them completely

Add a bay leaf to each jar.

Pickled nasturtium seed pods

Let the jars cool to room temperature before sealing with lids. At this point, you can either keep the jars at room temp (no need to fire up the boiling water bath), or store them in the fridge.

The pickled pods will keep indefinitely in the vinegar; I still have a jar left from a big batch I made almost two years ago, sitting in my pantry unspoiled. (Just make sure you use a clean utensil each time you scoop out seeds!)

Pickled nasturtium capers

Nasturtium capers have a nose-tingling bite that pairs well with spicy dishes, such as Asian stir-fries or sushi rolls. To use them, spoon out a few seeds and chop them up finely. You can add them to any dish where you’d typically use traditional capers — pastas, sauces, salads, dressings. A little goes a long way!

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January 18 2013      49 comments     Linda Ly
En La Cocina   Semillas

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  • Kerry – www.cookingkind.com

    awesome! I think we are going to do this today. When we went to put our garden to bed for the winter yesterday, we had so many nasturtium seed pods and I am very excited to try this!

    • http://www.gardenbetty.com/ Linda Ly

      My nasturtiums are just starting to grow again, so pickled pods won’t happen for me for another few months… but they’re worth the wait!

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  • Eric

    Thanks for the info. Broccoli leaves and nasturtium capers, you’ve helped out my culinary summer.

    • http://www.gardenbetty.com/ Linda Ly

      It’s all part of being a garden foodie. :-) Enjoy!

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  • Nicole

    These are great. They’re very nice with cheese.

    • http://www.gardenbetty.com/ Linda Ly

      My favorite way to eat them! (Along with salami and crackers.)

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  • Ruby Roberts

    Trying these now! Very excited to find your great blog, it’s so inspiring! Thanks for sharing. We just planted a whole heap of amaranth in the garden, looking forward to checking out your amaranth ideas! :-)

  • Anne241

    I was trying to figure out what to do with all these seeds, and came across your blog – fantastic idea!! Just getting ready to put my first batch in brine :-) How long after pickling them do you start eating them?

    • http://www.gardenbetty.com/ Linda Ly

      I usually wait 3-4 days (at room temperature) for a good pickle. Try them after that and see how you like it!

      • Anne241

        Thanks! Can´t wait :-)

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  • Spy Garden

    Great idea! I have made tempura-fried nasturtiums before but never thought to prepare the seeds like this. Will have to try it this year!

    • http://www.gardenbetty.com/ Linda Ly

      Tempura nasturtiums sound delicious! (And very similar to the tempura squash blossoms that I’ll be making very soon!)

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  • Jealith

    I love nasturtiums in salads. The leaves are peppery. I never tried the seed pods before. Nice idea. I love pickled daylily pods, though. Very tasty. So I think I may give this a try.

  • http://twitter.com/dabney_susan Susan Dabney

    Have you tried using a lower salt brine and just letting them pickle? I use 1-2-3-4 with kosher dill pickles: 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 2 tablespoons white vinegar, 3 c. water, put over cukes with garlic, dill, chilis whatever, and wait 4 days. It is so good and easy and you can do it with okras and onions, so maybe nasturtium buds?? You do get a little white sediment though, and by late winter cukes get soft.But it is totally lactic fermentation so good for your body. Wonderin.

    • http://www.gardenbetty.com/ Linda Ly

      This isn’t a lacto-fermentation recipe, but rather a vinegar-pickling recipe. The nasturtium pods are brined to pull out some of their bitterness. Then they are rinsed and pickled in 100% vinegar (with a little sugar for flavor). The vinegar gives them indefinite shelf stability without refrigeration.

      I’m sure you can lacto-ferment nasturtium pods, but I would use a different ratio to ensure proper fermentation. My rule of thumb is 1/4 cup pickling salt to 1 quart water, with no vinegar. (Vinegar inhibits all the good bacteria in fermentation.) Also, keep in mind that your pods will continue to ferment even when refrigerated. Since you use so little at a time, the pods could become too sour by the time you use up your jar.

  • http://www.gardenbetty.com/ Linda Ly

    They’re beautiful!

    By the way, nasturtiums come as both compact plants and climbing plants, depending on what you want in your garden. :-)

  • Georgette

    This is novel. After seeing a recipe for grapefruit marmalade on Small Measure I had a new vision. The boxes of juicy, delicious, just harvested fruit from my dwarf grapefruit tree are soon to be part of a cooking lesson this coming Sunday. A friend who loves to cook is coming to my house to teach me and another friend how to make marmalade and can! I see a new vision after your nasturtium capers post. Making pickled foods!!! Thank you for the inspiration. And by the way, I like your writing style.

    • http://www.gardenbetty.com/ Linda Ly

      Thanks Georgette!

      I have a few other grapefruit recipes on my blog if you search for them – grapefruit-rosemary bread, grapefruit jelly, and an orange-grapefruit-ginger marmalade!

  • Xochi Navarro

    This is so cool. I’m officially in awe. :) And, I will be including nasturtium seeds in my garden this year.

    • http://www.gardenbetty.com/ Linda Ly

      Nice! I particularly like the variegated leaf variety. I think that’s the Alaska mix.

      • Xochi Navarro

        I ended up ordering these (black velvet nasturtium)[http://www.seedsavers.org/onlinestore/Flower-Seeds/Flower-Black-Velvet-Nasturtium.html], their color made me happy. ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/smittyctz6 Smitty Smith

    great post I will have to try this… I love Capers, but live in zone 6 ..they don’t grow here…

    • http://www.gardenbetty.com/ Linda Ly

      You can sow seeds in early spring once the ground has warmed up. If you sow a batch every couple of weeks, you’ll have nasturtiums blooming for several months!

  • Misti @oceanicwilderness.com

    Interesting idea, though I don’t know if I will ever have enough to do something like that with, but something worth keeping in mind I suppose. I will try yesterday’s recipe though, that sounds delicious!

    • http://www.gardenbetty.com/ Linda Ly

      Nasturtiums put out a surprising amount of seeds with very few plants. Once that initial crop reseeds, they multiply like crazy if you let them.

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