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1 Jar of Capers, 5 Dinners

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Put time into dinner now, and you can make it last forever -- or at least the whole week. Welcome to Halfway to Dinner, where we show you how to stretch your staples every which way.

Today: Melina Hammer of Licking the Plate demystifies the caper -- then uses them in (almost) every meal. 

For me, capers used to contain a certain mystery; they felt sophisticated and foreign. Maybe it was because capers are exotic -- they are the pickled, unripened flower buds harvested from a prickly shrub in the Mediterranean. Or maybe it's because of their legacy: There are tales of lore which mention the glory of these buds dating back to biblical times.

The only way I knew to use them was within my family's tradition of lox and bagels -- still a great use -- but now I incorporate them into all kinds of things. Whenever I'm in the mood for something a little lemony-sour, earthy, and texturally meaty, a small handful of capers does the job. Use salt-packed if you can (they have better flavor), and soak them in water for several minutes before using. Drain the capers, pat them dry, and add some to your next meal -- here are five ways to do it. 

Olive Oil-Dressed Potato Salad with Smoked Paprika and Capers
This riff on potato salad allows the butteriness of potatoes to shine, and the assertive crunch from the celery -- along with the plump, briny capers -- offers a great textural foil. Boil or steam diced potatoes (I used waxy yellows and sweet reds) until fork-tender, drain, and put into a large bowl. Add very thinly sliced red onion and diced celery. Toss in a handful of capers. The dressing is simply good olive oil, a spoonful of grainy mustard, a bit of sherry vinegar, and a teaspoon or so of smoked paprika. Add some cracked black pepper and you're done. Eat this warm right out of the mixing bowl, or at room temperature if you can restrain yourself.

Pasta Puttanesca
A pantry standby, this recipe proves that good eating is still possible when you have nothing in the fridge. Start with some chopped garlic fried in a sauté pan, along with a few anchovies and some olives (I used a mixture of Kalamata and wrinkly black olives). Then add a can of tomatoes and some red pepper flakes. Finish with a scatter of capers, cook the mixture until bubbly and saucy, and serve over your favorite pasta.

Fried Capers on Salmon-Avocado Toasts
Pan-fry wild salmon filets until golden. Slather toast with ripe avocado, sprinkle on a little crushed red pepper, and top with the slightly broken up filets. In the same pan you used for the salmon, heat olive oil and fry the capers until the buds open and become crispy, just a few minutes. Add the capers to the toasts and dig in. It's the best quick meal or hearty snack ever.

Cannellini Beans and Farro with Herbs and Capers
Toss cooked beans with equal parts cooked farro. Zest and juice a lemon, and add it to the farro and beans along with some fresh parsley and thyme. Crack some black pepper, add a glug of good olive oil, and throw in a handful of capers. A bright, tangy cheese like feta or fresh asiago makes a nice accompaniment to this dish, as does a garnish of toasted almonds or walnuts. 

Radicchio, Toasted Hazelnut, and Crumbled Egg Salad with Capers
This salad is a winning combination of bitter, buttery, sweet, and lemony zing, finished by the bright roundness of the dressing. I'm not a true bitter-loving girl and this salad made me want seconds. And thirds.

Radicchio, Toasted Hazelnut, and Crumbled Egg Salad with Capers

Serves two

1 head radicchio
2 free-range eggs, hard-boiled and chopped
1 shallot, minced
1 handful hazelnuts
1 handful capers, soaked and patted dry
1 spoonful grain mustard
1 spoonful honey
Sherry vinegar and good olive oil

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Melina Hammer

Tags: capers, halfway to dinner, pickled, salad, raddichio

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Comments (14)


over 1 year ago clernest

thanks for the new ideas for my meals. the photos look good enough to eat. thanks again for the capers. -cle


over 1 year ago Melina Hammer

That's the whole idea. :) I'm glad the photos make you want to eat 'em.


over 1 year ago arcane54

Love these ideas for using that enormous jar of capers we buy about once a year (ask your local deli). Can't wait for local asparagus when I'll make this Sauce Gribiche http://food52.com/recipes... . Then again, why wait?


over 1 year ago Melina Hammer

See if someplace nearby carries them salt-packed. Even better flavor. Oh yes, that sauce gribiche is a lovely….. Put that on potatoes, omelets, broccoli, green beans, ….. :)


over 1 year ago LMarkum

Capers- salty little buds of love! Great looking recipes!


over 1 year ago Melina Hammer

Thank you! Yes indeedy :)


over 1 year ago cookinginvictoria

I am a big caper fan myself. Wow, all of these ideas look wonderful, especially the salmon toasts and the egg and radicchio salad. Saved -- am looking forward to trying them all! :)


over 1 year ago Melina Hammer

Hope you love them. Surprisingly delicious they are.


over 1 year ago Merrill Stubbs

Merrill is a co-founder of Food52.

Those salmon-avocado toasts look amazing!


over 1 year ago Melina Hammer

Thanks Merrill! They truly are. Find out. :)


over 1 year ago Phyllis Grant

some serious salivating going on over here in berkeley. and i'm still drinking my coffee. ready to jump right to lunch. so many wonderful combinations. go, melina!


over 1 year ago Melina Hammer

Glad to those juices flowing! Love to inspire you Phyllis. The feeling is mutual.


over 1 year ago AJerusalemArtichoke

I'm a huge fan of Heidi Swanson's recipe for omelet quesadillas garnished with crispy capers. It's the most comforting, accessible pantry meal.


over 1 year ago Melina Hammer

Crispy capers are my new favorite snack. Thanks for sharing that recipe - great pantry meals are invaluable.