Smaller than an eraser nub on the end of a pencil, capers pack such a wallop of flavor they can wake up many a boring dish. A caper is the unopened flower bud of the prickly caper plant Capparis spinosa. It looks a bit like a dark green pea and is native to the Mediterranean region.

Capers are prized for the flavor because they can deliver so much of it by the time they’re in your kitchen. They’re harvested by hand and then cured in brine, vinegar, wine, or salt. Yet Stephen Facciola, author of Cornucopia: A Source Book of Edible Plants, says raw capers are pretty flavorless. What?

“It’s the pickling process that brings out a caper’s sharp and tangy lemony flavor,” Facciola says.

If the caper flower bud blooms before it’s harvested, the flower’s fruit—called the caperberry — is picked instead. Caperberries are larger and filled with seeds, says Susanna Hoffman, author of The Olive and the Caper: Adventures in Greek Cooking. Caperberries are also pickled but are served as a garnish or a snack, like olives.

For more flavor boosters, see our anchovy recipes and everything you need to know about olives. These are favorites of Italian cuisine. But first, check out a few of our favorite caper dishes:

1. Beet Salad

This salad is so inventive, colorful, and unusual, it hardly can be called a salad. It’s not ho-hum at all. After all, it’s orange, red, and yellow beets with capers, thinly sliced fennel, walnuts, and flaked smoked trout bathed in crème fraîche. Get our Beet Salad recipe.

2. Spaghetti Puttanesca

You can seriously make this from-scratch pasta sauce in 20 minutes. OK, maybe 30ish minutes. But it’s fast, especially considering you’re using a pound of fresh tomatoes. Then there’s the olives, anchovies, capers, garlic, wait for it … jalapeños. Get our Spaghetti Puttanesca recipe.

3. Mediterranean Braised Chard

Make this side dish with beet, mustard, turnip, or older dandelion greens if you don’t have chard. Regardless, the bitter greens will awaken with the assertive and complex flavors of raisins, olives, anchovies, lemon juice, capers, and pine nuts. Get our Mediterranean Braised Chard recipe.

4. Foil Pouch Sea Bass

Capers punch up the flavor of the delicate sea bass and mildly sweet bell peppers, cherry tomatoes. The shallots and garlic give the aromatics it needs. And of course, lemon brings out all the other flavors preceding it. Get our Foil Pouch Sea Bass recipe.

5. Dilled Salmon Salad

Creamy, herbed salmon with some crunchy, pungent diced red onion is such a great topper for your Triscuits or fancy crackers. And coarsely chopped fresh dill is the best herb to go with salmon. Get our Dilled Salmon Salad recipe.

6. Marinated Bocconcini

Cheese balls. Mozzarella cheese balls marinating in olive oil and pungent fresh parsley, thyme, garlic, and a whopping three tablespoons of finely chopped capers. The flavors mellow a bit as the mixture sits in the fridge, unifying into one delectable pre-dinner nibble, perfect served with olives, cured meats, and crackers. Get our Marinated Bocconcini recipe.

7. Chicken Piccata

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts get the same treatment as veal does in more traditional Italian veal piccata. The capers add a salty, briny zing that contrasts the buttery sauce and complements the lemon juice and white wine. Get our Chicken Piccata recipe.

— Photos: Chowhound; original article by Michele Foley in 2008; updated by Amy Sowder in 2017.


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