Love on luscious figs
The renowned fig, quite evocative in its colours, flavours and of course history, is an interesting merger between a sweet, tempting snack and a decadent, savoury treat. Mellissa Bushby delves into the realms of Biblical lands in search of the mystery behind these deep purple fruits.
A fabulous source of fibre, vitamins and minerals, figs are well known for bestowing a burst of sweetness and a splash of colour to different types of dishes. They are part of the mulberry family and are fruits of the Ficus tree, delicious when eaten fresh but are also commonly dried due to their very nature.
Preserves are often made using these dried fruits and in the days before refined sugars, their natural sweetness meant they were often used as a sweetener.
The fig is one of the oldest trees and edible fruits known to man and can be traced back to ancient historical documents.
They hail from the Mediterranean and Middle East and are regularly mentioned in Biblical writings, and were held in such high esteem by the ancient Greeks that laws existed to avert their export.
Figs, just like the illustrious avocado, need to be handled with care. They also don’t appreciate fussy preparation, and can be eaten with the skin or peeled, although the skin’s soft yield to the sweet, sticky flesh is something to experience.
Nigel Slater refers to this fruit as an “inflorescence, where flowers and seeds have grown together to form one mass”.
Firmenich, which create fragrances and flavours for the world’s most desirable brands and the largest privately owned fragrance and flavour company in the world, has named the fig 2018’s Flavour of the Year – an honour indeed.
Their “artisanal” appearance and complex heritage make them the ideal candidate. Figs speak to us of faraway exotic lands, ancient worlds and lush tropical platters of fruits in vivid colours, just like our friend the pomegranate.
In addition, figs are pretty. They aren’t easy to chop, but thinly sliced or cut in half and squeezed at the waist, their deep purple outer and milky white inside with shades of red from delicate pink to intense ruby red make them a stunning addition to any fruit or cheese platter.
Figs are both meaty and delicate, with a grainy texture, and they are jam-packed with nutrients and healthy goodies like potassium; magnesium and iron; vitamins A, E and K; natural sugars and soluble fibre, which is excellent for weight loss.
They also contain calcium, excellent for enhanced bone density and prebiotics, which help the good bacteria in the gut keep intestinal health at an optimum.
When choosing figs, select those that are plump and tender with a deep, rich colour, but don’t squeeze or manhandle them – they bruise easily and are quickly perishable.
Do not wash until you are going to eat them and if unripe they can be stored at room temperature to open them up. Dried figs obviously keep much longer than fresh, and are best stored in a cool, dark place.
Winter salad with figs and pomegranate-balsamic reduction
• 3 cups salad leaves such as butter lettuce, rocket and radicchio
• 4 fresh, ripe figs, quartered
• 125g halloumi, sliced
• Handful cherry tomatoes, halved (optional)
• ¼ cup walnut halves.
For the dressing
• ¼ cup pomegranate molasses
• ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
• 2 tbs brown sugar
• 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil.
In a small saucepan, combine the
dressing ingredients and cook until all the sugar is dissolved and the liquid is syrupy and reduced.
Cut the halloumi into 2cm thick slices, then again lengthwise.
Lightly fry until golden brown.
Toss salad greens, figs and tomatoes with olive oil, add the halloumi and drizzle with a good helping of pomegranate-balsamic reduction.
Divide equally onto plates and scatter the walnuts.
Serve while cheese is warm.
Note: The remainder of the dressing can be bottled and saved for later. It is simply sublime drizzled over vanilla ice cream.