Give a Fig
Dried or fresh, this ancient, fiber-packed fruit has become a foodie favorite.
By Lisa James
If the amount of media attention (including a ton of cooking shows) is any indication, we have become a nation of foodies. And part of this trend involves finding creative new uses for overlooked traditional ingredients.
The fig is a good example. Once consigned to holiday dried fruit platters, fresh figs have found a home in upscale eateries. “It’s the new secret ingredient,” says Robert Del Grande, executive chef at RDG + Bar Annie in Houston. “With one bite, you can taste 1,001 possibilities for new flavors and ingredient combinations.”
The fig’s current popularity belies its pedigree as a sweet treat in the ancient world. The Roman writer Pliny the Younger believed figs to be restorative, saying, “They increase the strength of young people, preserve the elderly in better health and make them look younger with fewer wrinkles.” Modern nutritionists might not agree with that statement but do attest to the fig’s high fiber and antioxidant content.
Figs were first brought to America by the Spaniards who settled California, where most of the country’s figs now come from. Fresh figs are available from mid-May through October—Brown Turkey, Black Mission, Kadota and Calimyrna are the most readily available kinds—and the dried fruit is available year round.
Figs and honey with a little fresh rosemary or thyme provides a simple yet elegant end to a good meal. However, the dessert table isn’t the only place for figs in today’s kitchen. Figs and cheese is an easy-to-prepare appetizer (the turkey sliders in the recipe below also make good meal starters). Some cooks sear fresh figs in a skillet or even grill them. Figs can be used in sauces to accompany pork and other meats, or skewered with vegetables for kabobs. And drying is only one way to preserve figs; many people also make preserves with them.
When buying fresh figs, look for clean, dry fruit with unblemished skin that yields when gently squeezed. Hold them in the coldest part of the fridge for up to two days.
Want to expand your culinary repertoire? Then it’s time to reimagine the fig.
Turkey Sliders with
California Pepper Fig Salsa
2 1/2 cups diced fresh figs
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed, seeded and minced
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp ground ginger
20 oz lean ground turkey
1 cup finely minced dried figs
1/4 cup sliced green onions
2 tbsp chopped fresh herbs, or to taste
3/4 tsp sea salt
1 cup baby arugula
12 small dinner rolls sliced in half horizontally
1. Combine salsa ingredients in a medium bowl, stir, cover and chill for several hours.
2. Combine turkey, dried figs, green onions, herbs and sea salt in a medium bowl; combine well. Divide and shape into 12 small, flat burgers. Generously oil a grill and cook over medium-high heat for 3 to 5 minutes a side until done (165°F).
3. Arrange a few arugula leaves on the bottom half of each roll; top with burger and some salsa. Replace tops and serve with additional salsa.
Yields 12. Analysis per slider: 240 calories, 12g protein, 6g fat (1.5g saturated),
4g fiber, 35g carbohydrate, 340 mg sodium
Reprinted with permission from California Fig Advisory Board (www.californiafigs.com)