Nasturtiums feature on MasterChef

December 4th, 2015 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Nasturtiums 'Empress Of India'

Do you watch MasterChef, on BBC2? Well, on Tuesday this week, as professional chefs competed for places in the quarter finals, an unusual ingredient popped up – not once, but twice. Nasturtiums. One recipe for blade of beef featured nasturtium puree, while another, for breast and leg of pigeon, used nasturtium leaves as a garnish. The peppery flavour was enjoyed by the judges.

Eating nasturtium leaves is something that’s often talked about yet rarely actually done so it was great to see them featured on the show. The blade of beef recipe also included a couple of flowers for their fiery colouring.

The foliage and flowers of nasturtiums are both edible and both have a peppery flavour. The taste is sharper and more aggressively peppery from plants that are grown hungry and dry than from those grown lush. Years ago, when I worked at Kew, I’d sometimes nip off a leaf and add it to my lunchtime cheese sandwich – just the right size.

It looked as if the nasturtium in the beef recipe was ‘Empress of India’ (above) with its small, bluish green foliage and vivid red flowers. The delicately variegated leaves for the pigeon dish came from ‘Alaska’ (below).

In general, the vigorous climbing types such as ‘Trailing Mixed’ tend to produce larger softer leaves especially when growing in rich soil with plenty of moisture. The bushy types, including ‘Empress of India’ and ‘Alaska’, tend to produce smaller leaves.

But what about the seeds? They have their own distinctive peppery and slightly mustardy flavour and can be easily pickled as a substitute for capers. There’s a recipe on the Cottage Smallholder blog.

Either way – flowers, foliage or seeds – nasturtiums make an intriguing peppery ingredient in many recipes.

You can watch this episode of MasterChef on BBC iPlayer.

And you’ll find more recipes that include nasturtiums on the BBC website.

Nasturtium 'Alaska Scarlet'


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Is one of our best known gardening writers. A graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Graham was previously Gardening Correspondent of The Observer.
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