The Chef’s Garden has been growing this plant – a member of the radish family – for years, and we’re featuring them now because the bold, vibrant flavor of this plant lends itself especially well to today’s cuisines. In fact, a 2016 article in Restaurant Hospitality shared two key demands from American consumers – and the use of nasturtium leaves in your dishes would fulfill both of them.
First, “American consumers of all ages are craving bolder flavors.” The article then continues in this way: “But that’s not all. They are also demanding menu transparency . . . Consumers want to know more about what they are putting in their bodies and have become inherently suspicious of anything they don't immediately recognize as a ‘real’ or natural food.”
Not only does the petite nasturtium leaf fulfill both desires of American consumers, but it also boasts more vitamin C than just about any other green – actually ten times higher. During the Victorian era, it was already well known that eating these leaves helped to prevent scurvy, a disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin C.
“The leaves also provide visual appeal,” Lee points out. “They resemble miniature lily pads, perfect little sphere of green, or with a variegated zebra-like green and milky white appearance. They are nature’s geometry.”
This is also a fun product to include in dishes, Lee continues, “because their tiny size – ranging from a nickel to a quarter – also lends itself to today’s creative cuisines. Sometimes, leaves can be too large in proportion to a dish, while these petite leaves are ideal for summer dishes. In a mixed green salad, they also provide diversity in the shapes included.”
Chefs are using these versatile tender leaves in savory dishes, from fish to poultry, as well as in pastries, desserts and cocktails. You can easily use nasturtium leaves in a dish that typically uses watercress – or capers – and you can also create a memorable pesto. This plant pairs especially well with carrots, garlic, radishes and black mint.
These petite nasturtium leaves would be ideal in your summer dishes as the Fourth of July approaches. The writer of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson himself, grew this plant in Monticello as early as 1774, only 15 years after they were first recorded as being grown in the colonies. Jefferson, though, categorized the plant as a fruit.
Yes, that’s what “nasturtium” means in Latin, and we agree that it’s a fitting name for this vibrant, palate-awakening green leaf that does double duty as a palate cleanser. And, talk about versatile! We love to share the story of how French chef Pierre Gagnaire created a masterpiece dish that used zippy nasturtium leaves along with Granny Smith apples and sprouts, topped with sesame seed oil and sheep’s milk yogurt. Yes, the possibilities are endless!
You can order your petite nasturtium leaves here, and we’d love to hear the creative ways you use them!