I tend to be a wee bit obsessive. Just your garden-variety wears-the-same-outfit-for-a-month, watches-eight-seasons-of-TV-in-a-week obsessive. You know how it goes: you find something and realize it fits perfectly with everything about you and so you must enfold it in your life. Well, for years, the caper was missing from my life and I didn’t even feel its absence. Sure, I’d eaten them on the odd deli bagel platter at relatives’ houses, but I’d never really considered them.
Now? I’m obsessed.
Apparently, the caperberry was once thought to have an aphrodisiac effect; indeed, the Hebrew word for “caperberry” is similar to the Hebrew root of “desire.” The caper bush is commonly found in circum-Mediterranean countries (capers are the flower buds of the bush), so Mediterranean cuisine uses them liberally. They come packed in salt or in brine and both are delicious. Pasta alla puttanesca was my caper gateway drug and I have never looked back. The combination of rich sweet tomatoes, tangy garlic, and briny capers is something I crave at least once a week.
But what about recipes that don’t usually call for capers? Over the last two years I have begun systematically adding capers to any likely dish—some just to see when the caper will finally fail me. And you know what? It never does. A few of my favorites include:
- adding capers and a splash of their brine to a martini instead of olives
- serving salt-packed capers in a small dish on my cheese plates
- scattering salt-packed capers in an arugula salad dressed with warm olive oil and lemon juice
- nestling a few capers into a grilled cheese sandwich
The variation that I’ve gotten the most mileage out of, though, is a caper tuna salad. I’m always looking for easy ways to get good protein and, because I live alone, it can be hard to buy meat or fish when I go grocery shopping because don’t want it to go bad. Tuna salad is a great solution to the problem because it’s quick to make, extremely inexpensive, and versatile: you can use it to make a sandwich, put a scoop on a salad, or snack on it with veggies or crackers. My only issue with tuna salad is that it’s pretty dull. I mean, after age five, once I wasn’t eating it in the form of a tuna boat anymore, it pretty much lost its appeal.
But this recipe has completely invigorated tuna salad for me. While you can still stick it on a sandwich or salad, it’s actually flavorful enough that I have no problem eating it on its own, something I’d never do with plain old tuna + mayo. The briny flavor of the capers goes exceptionally well with the fish, and using a little bit of the caper brine cuts down on the amount of mayonnaise you need to use (I’m not a big fan). I use brine-packed capers for this reason, but I bet the ones packed in salt would be great too. If you use those, just omit the salt from the recipe below.
I really like to eat this tuna salad on top of sliced grape tomatoes and arugula or with some toasted pita points. If I’m feeling really fancy, I’ll brush the pita with olive oil and sprinkle on some salt, pepper, and thyme before I toast it in the oven for about ten minutes. It also makes for a killer tuna melt; I like it with thick wheat bread, thin-sliced tomato, Havarti cheese, and a piece of crispy bacon.
Caper-Studded Tuna Salad
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes
Makes about 3 servings
- 2 cans water-packed tuna or oil-packed tuna, drained
- a glug of olive oil if you’re using water-packed tuna
- 4-5 tablespoons mayonnaise, Miracle Whip, or Vegenaise (I like to mix Vegenaise and mayonnaise as the Vegenaise adds a nice tang)
- 4 scallions, chopped
- 10 or so sweet pickle chips, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 heaping tablespoons capers
- a drizzle of caper brine
- lots of cracked black pepper
- salt to taste (unless you use salt-packed capers)
- red pepper flakes
- a sprinkle of fresh thyme, if you have it on hand
Mix the tuna, olive oil (if using), mayonnaise, scallions, pickles, garlic, and capers in a medium mixing bowl.
Mix in the caper brine to loosen the tuna salad to your preferred consistency. Add the salt, pepper, red pepper, and thyme to taste. Tinker until it’s your own personal briny perfection!
Stored in an airtight container, the tuna salad lasts up to a week in the fridge.