Kitchen DIY: Homemade capers

Do you want your neighbours to think you have gone mad? Here’s how.

1. Venture out to the council-managed garden areas (that is to say, those that are overgrown with weeds) on your street, preferably while wearing your gardening hat, gumboots and various other items of misshapen, mismatching clothing.

2. For best results, do this when your neighbours are walking up the street, preferably with their most glamorous friends and perfectly behaved children, in their best clothes.

3. Climb into one of the gardens and start pinching off nasturtium buds and flowers, putting them in the small bowl you have brought with you for this purpose.

4. Wave cheerily as the neighbours pass by. Tell them, when they enquire as to what you are doing, that you are picking the nasturtium buds to make into homemade capers and the flowers are going in tonight’s salad. Watch as the smiles become a bit more fixed and the stares become more glassy.

5. Scramble out of the garden and go to your house, while the net curtains across the street twitch frantically.

Well, that’s not completely accurate – our neighbours are all lovely and very few of them have net curtains. Actually, only the really weird ones have net curtains and we think it’s because they are Up To No Good In There. I do feel a bit of a dork to be sprung essentially harvesting weeds in front of them, but they should be used to it by now. In any case, I love nasturtiums and a bit of embarrassment is worth it.

Homemade Capers

Pickled Nasturtium Buds – aka Homemade Capers
Nasturtium flowers are great in salads and the leaves add a peppery bite to cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches – just pick the smaller ones as the big ones are really fiery. When the flowers have wilted (or been picked by someone like me), pick the little brain-like growths at the base of the flowers and use them in this homegrown version of capers.

At least 1/2 a cup of nasturtium buds, washed and dried
250ml rice wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 clove garlic
10 peppercorns

Put the vinegar, salt, garlic and peppercorns into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for two minutes, then remove from the heat and let cool. Pour into a small sterilised jar, then add the nasturtium buds. Put a lid on the jar and leave for a couple of weeks in a cool place. The buds will be ready to eat when they have sunk to the bottom of the jar. You can keep adding new buds to the liquid.

Are you a forager? What’s your best tip?

Christmas confetti salad

There have been two unexpected spin-offs from my post about delegating when entertaining over the festive season. First, two of the guests we were expecting for dinner on Saturday night cancelled their appearance. They claimed to be stuck in New York and unable to get back, but I have my doubts. Was it the email I sent suggesting they bring something?

Then, a few days ago, my mother-in-law sent me an email about Christmas. In the middle of what my colleague calls ‘a compliment sandwich’ (that’s when you disarm someone by saying something nice, stick the knife in, then say something nice again) she cleverly outsourced the cooking of the turkey and the dreaming up of some salad ideas. To me.

It didn’t take me long to realise that I’d been outplayed. Friends, I have so much to learn. But, after a weekend of thinking deeply about what to make, I’ve come up with something fresh, festive and extremely easy. Now I just have to delegate the making of it to my father-in-law.

Christmas Confetti Salad With Peppers And Pomegranate Seeds Recipe/Image Lucy Corry/The Kitchenmaid

Christmas Confetti Salad
Making this salad is the sort of job you can give someone who walks into the kitchen and says ‘what can I do to help?’ – on the basis that a) they have basic knife skills and b) you have delegated out all the other jobs, like washing dishes, setting the table and corralling the children/elderly relatives. As long as you’re not having to do all those other things, or have had a glass of festive bubbles, it’s quite soothing to stand still and do a bit of chopping. It’s great with ham and turkey and tastes great the next day when you need something cold and refreshing to eat. You could also pile little mounds of it into avocado halves for a appropriately red, white and green starter.

2 pomegranates
2 red peppers
1 small red onion
4-6 small radishes
half a telegraph cucumber
a small bunch of mint, finely shredded

Dressing:
a clove of garlic, smashed
a good pinch of salt
a pinch of sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp sumac

First, make the dressing. Crush the garlic and salt together with a knife until it forms a paste. Scrape this into a small screwtop jar, then add the lemon juice, sugar and sumac. Shake together until well mixed, then add the oil and shake again. Taste for sharpness – add more oil or lemon juice as necessary. Set aside.
Cut the pomegranates in half and scoop out the seeds. The Ottolenghi-endorsed way to do this is to bang them with a wooden spoon, but I find this squirts juice everywhere. My preferred method is to winkle the seeds out with a knife.
Chop the rest of the vegetables into pomegranate seed-sized dice. Tip everything into a bowl. Pour over the dressing, scatter over the shredded mint and stir gently to combine. Serves eight as a side dish.

For more herby, salad-y goodness, you might like to check out Karen’s Cooking With Herbs round-up for December. If there’s ever a time of year to eat your greens, this is it!

Cooking with Herbs

Do you delegate out parts of your Christmas dinner preparations, or do you prefer to be in sole charge?