Every summer I fall in love with the flavour, aroma and healing properties of a particular plant. Last year I swooned for the anise scented lacy blossoms of wild fennel and put them in everything from crackers, cookies and cakes, infused honey, ice-cream and vodka.
But this year I’ve fallen hard for the spirited peppery bite of Nasturtium, adding her bright orange, red and yellow petals to salads, pestos, omelettes, and savoury muffins. But this recipe for Nasturtium Hot sauce is my hands down favourite. It’s easier than pie to make, eye-wateringly delicious and beautiful to behold.
Now I’m a hot sauce aficionado (Louisiana, Tabasco and Smoked Chipotle are only a few of the staples in my kitchen). And this Nasturtium Hot Sauce does not disappoint. So far I’ve enjoyed it’s unique flavour and spicy zest in salsa, dips, devilled eggs, cocktails and even a wildcrafted kimchi. And packed with nutrients and medicinal properties – it’s oh so good for you too!
You can find nasturtium (Tropaeoleum Majus) anywhere. Its vibrant blooms and lush tangled foliage are a summer favourite, planted in gardens and pots – but they can often be found growing wild along the Pacific coast, especially in sunny dry ground.
High in Vitamin C (which explains why they were once used as a cure for scurvy) nasturtiums contain many important vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, carotenoids, iron, sulphur, manganese and amino acids. And they contain a walloping amount of lutein, wonderful for keeping the eyes healthy. Their mustard-like oil is antibacterial, and it’s antibiotic properties are believed to be helpful in treating colds and flu. (see more here)
Introduced from South America into Europe in the 1600s, it’s sharp radish like-flavour soon became a culinary favourite. Recipes for nasturtium include chopping their arugula-like leaves into egg salad and sandwich spreads, stuffing the blossoms with cheesy fillings, making young buds into capers, and roasting and grinding the mature seeds like black pepper.
I adapted this hot sauce recipe from one found in an 1886 book called “The Country House: A Collection of Useful Information and Recipes.” It called for a pint of nasturtium flowers, a quart of vinegar, 4 teaspoonfuls of Cayenne pepper, 4 cloves of garlic, and 8 shallots. “Put the flowers, garlic, shallots, and pepper, into a pickle jar, and pour the vinegar boiling hot upon them, and cover it up for a week or ten days; after which, strain off through a cloth, as you would ketchup. It will improve by being kept a little.”
Too this I improvised by adding a minced jalapeno pepper, a few “crow garlic” bulbs for wild terroir, and the red, tart, slightly fruity, seeds of Staghorn Sumac. (The Staghorn Sumac tree is found in many neighbourhoods and in early august the ruby hued cones are ready for harvest. They stand upright on branches and are covered with velvety fuzz like the horn of a stag. To harvest the seeds you simply pull them from the cone, but you want to catch them before they brown and dry out, and you want to pick them before a rain which washes away their flavour).
If you can’t find any nearby, don’t worry, toss in a few lemon rinds instead. But aside from Sumac’s tangy flavour (often used in a wildcrafted lemonade) it’s seeds bring their own medicinal powers. High in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties they promote tissue healing, lower blood pressure, and are helpful in treating many rheumatic and cardiovascular conditions.
And of course you can’t have “hot sauce” without peppers – which bring their many healing benefits as well. For example chilli peppers contain carotenoids flavonoids, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and are high in capsaicin (a compound responsible for “heat” with analgesic properties). Today they are often used in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, inflammation, weight loss and cancer.
So by soaking our nasturtium, sumac seeds and peppers in vinegar (which helps extract their many nutrients and healing components), this Nasturtium Hot Sauce is sure to bring a medicinal punch to your meals. But if you just plain love hot sauce as I do – then you won’t want to miss this unique botanical variation on a beloved culinary classic.
Nasturtium & Sumac Hot Sauce
- 2 cups of Nasturtium blooms (preferably harvested in the morning before wilted)
- 1 teaspoon young Nasturtium buds (these are hotter than the flowers)
- 3 cloves of chopped garlic (or crow garlic if you can get your hands on it)
- 1 minced jalapeno pepper
- 2 cup of apple cider or white wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup of Sumac Seeds (or a few slices of lemon rind)
- 1 tablespoon honey or brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons of sea salt
- Pack dry ingredients into a 1 pint sterilized mason jar.
- Heat your vinegar in a saucepan and fill your jar.
- When cool, shake and refill with more vinegar if necessary. (Make sure the vinegar covers the plant material)
- Cap and store in cool, dark place.
- Give it a good daily shake for one week.
- After one week, strain through through muslin or coffee filter into a sterilized bottle. Or whir it all up in a food processor for a thicker texture- which I did.
- Store in refrigerator for up to six months.