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Salty, sour and pungent, capers bring a bright burst of flavor and personality to a range of dishes. The pickled flower buds balance flavors and deepen the complexity of foods whether you use them whole, chopped, cooked or as a garnish. Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst, authors of "The Food Lover's Companion," say the best capers are those from the south of France.

Enliven Mild Ingredients

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Mild foods benefit from the flavor boost that tangy capers provide. Add them during cooking to scrambled eggs or omelets, or stir them into already-cooked vegetable side dishes, such as green beans. Experiment by adding them to rice, potato or grain dishes, or chicken stews. The little buds perk up a luncheon-meat ham or roast beef sandwich in the same way that pickles do.

Balance Other Strong Flavors

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Foods gain complexity and interest when strong flavors are balanced by one another, rather than letting one strong flavor stand alone. Capers provide this function for foods as varied as spaghetti puttanesca, with a spicy blend of tomatoes, onions, black olives, anchovies and garlic, and roasted Brussels sprouts. For those who already know that pickles and peanut butter are good together, a sprinkling of capers on a peanut butter sandwich might be a welcome snack.

Add Interest to Sauces

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Creamy and fatty dishes need acidity to balance their richness, and capers bring just the right amount. Add about 1/4 cup of capers to every 2 cups of cream sauce for pasta or for baked pasta dishes, such as macaroni and cheese or mushroom lasagna. Add about the same amount to the sauce for chicken or lamb stew, or in a butter and herb sauce to pour over beef.

Capers on Top

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Capers work as garnishes either chopped, left whole, or fried, when the buds open like small flowers. Use either chopped capers or whole, small varieties to garnish cauliflower or butternut squash soup. Or sprinkle any type over Mediterranean-inspired salads, along with feta cheese and olives. To fry capers, rinse and blot the buds dry, then cook them with olive oil in a heated pan over high heat for one to two minutes or until they become crisp.

About the Author

Susan Lundman

Susan Lundman began writing about her love of cooking, ingredient choices, menu planning and healthy eating after working for 20 years on children's issues at a nonprofit organization. She has written about food online professionally for ten years on numerous websites, and has provided family and friends with homemade recipes and stories about culinary adventures. Lundman received her M.A. from Stanford University.