In the kitchen

Text: Maro Voulgari

Capers grow up in the mountain, your lips are a fountain…

Durable and selective, leafy but “tricky,” and full of nutrients, the caper is a tender, self-sowing perennial shrub, fast-growing both in length and in width, especially during the summer months. With shallow surface roots and a piquant edible flower bud, it’s an exquisite island-grown delicacy used in salads and an array of recipes.

The caper belongs to the Capparaceae family, its scientific name being Capparis spinosa. It’s a characteristically robust and stubborn plant that grows almost everywhere, even in places where there’s hardly any soil, such as among rocks or even through cement cracks. However, don’t try to cultivate it – it is unruly and grows only where it pleases.
It is native not only in Greece, but almost across the whole world, from India and the entire Mediterranean region to the U.S.

The caper has been well-known since antiquity. It was used as an appetizer, but also as a medicine since its healing properties had long been recognized. Its edible parts are the leaves and, of course, the buds, which are preserved by pickling.

In the Cycladic islands, it’s harvested from May to July, when the buds are still closed. Its copious harvest takes place early in the morning. But the more you pick this charismatic plant, the better it rewards you. The bud, the most popular and widely-known part of the plant, must be compact and at least three times the size of a lentil. When it’s soft, it’s ready to get picked. Fresh buds keep coming out along the edges of the stems, so we have to be careful not to break them and injure the plant, otherwise its growth will stop and the production of caper berries will be reduced.

The caper is not fattening. It has a minimum caloric value -just two calories for every tablespoon- but its nutritional value is impressive. It has plenty of antioxidants and vitamins with tonic, diuretic, anti-atherosclerotic, and aphrodisiac action.

Caper Pesto

– 150 g salted capers

– 200 g white almonds
– 10 wide basil leaves
– 2-3 sprigs fresh oregano, the leaves
– 4-5 sprigs parsley, the leaves
– 50 ml extra virgin olive oil
– black pepper, freshly-ground

Desalt the capers under plenty of running water. Then, put them into lukewarm water for better results. Next, put it into a blender along with the aromatic leaves, almonds, pepper and some extra virgin olive oil, and pulse until creamy and smooth. Gradually add the remaining olive oil and sprinkle a little more on top to cover and preserve it. Put the mixture in the refrigerator and wait for the ingredients to set for at least 24 hours. You can use it with salads, bruschettas, pasta, etc.

Pickling capers

Pick the capers early in the morning (the buds, the leaves and the cucumber-like fruits) and clean them by removing the stalks. Carefully rinse them and allow to drain. Choose the strong, tightly-closed, hole less fruits, and sprinkle with coarse salt. Let the capers stand in a dark and cool place for 5-6 days and stir regularly by refreshing the salt. Taste to check if ready, rinse and put into glass jars adding white vinegar. After 10 days, the capers are ready.