Behind the fig leaf
Food for thought

Behind the fig leaf

Sweet biblical treats rich in Vitamin B

Phyllis Glazer is an American-born food journalist based in Tel Aviv, Israel. She is the author of several cookbooks that have been published in Hebrew, German, and Italian, and appears frequently on television and radio in Israel.

Figs for sale at a stand in the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90)
Figs for sale at a stand in the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90)
The greens, browns and pinks of a fig and goat cheese salad) (Courtesy Phyllis Glazer/photo credit: Dania Wiener)
The greens, browns and pinks of a fig and goat cheese salad (Courtesy Phyllis Glazer/photo credit: Dania Wiener)

“All parts of the fig are edible, as all parts of the Torah are valuable.” — Yalkut Shimoni Yehoshua 4:2

The markets are bursting with luscious, fresh figs, and in my garden, the boughs of the small potted fig tree are still offering green globes of this end-of-summer fruit. This is definitely the time to enjoy them — before the birds do.

The fig tree is an illustrious sapling; it’s the first plant mentioned in the Bible by name and figs were part of the produce of the land brought back by the spies sent by Moses into Canaan, as well as one of the fruits longed for by the Children of Israel in the desert. In ancient times, sites with plenty of fig trees were named accordingly, such as Te’enat Shiloh (the Fig of Shiloh), Beit Pag (House of Green Figs) and Beit Te’enah (House of the Fig).

The fig tree was also a sign of peace and tranquility. One of the most popular quotes from the Bible when expressing the desire for and vision of peace is found in the book of Micah: “They shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid.”

Ripening early in the summer, mid-season and again at season’s end, the various types of figs were eaten fresh, or dried under trees or on rooftops on special drying racks for winter, sometimes brushed with olive oil to preserve them. Over-ripe figs were used to make wine and sweet syrup, and sap from fig trees or fruit was used to curdle cheese.

Today, many of us pass by figs in the markets because we don’t know what to do with them, and they tend to spoil quickly. My advice is to choose carefully, selecting firm but not hard figs that offer a little “give” to the finger. Keep them on the top of your shopping cart, and refrigerate them covered as soon as you get them home.

Finally, here’s a deliciously simple and special way to enjoy figs in a salad rich in magnesium, calcium, iron, B vitamins, potassium and phosphorous and antioxidants. What could be better?

Salad of goat cheese, arugula and figs

Serves 4

I recommend using the larger and spicier arugula leaves for this salad (you can find them in open-air markets and greengrocers) rather than roquet (rocket) leaves (which are smaller and have longer stems). Feel free to substitute baby spinach leaves or loose-leaf lettuce (not iceberg) for part of the arugula, if desired. Serve at room temperature or saute the cheese circles in butter as an added treat.

  • 4 cups arugula leaves (stems removed)
  • 300 grams of log-shaped packages Boucheron or regular soft goat cheese
  • 8 large or 12 small fresh ripe figs
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2-3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • ½  teaspoon grainy Dijon mustard
  • 4-5 teaspoons honey
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup fresh raspberries or blueberries (optional)
  1. Remove the stems of the arugula, rinse well and pat dry. Divide the leaves among four serving plates, or place on one large serving plate.
  2. If using large figs, cut them in quarters (leave each two quarters attached at the top). If using smaller figs, cut them in half.
  3. Cut the cheese into ⅓”- ½” (¾ to 1¾ centimeters) pieces. Divide the figs and cheese between the salad  plates.
  4. Prepare the dressing: Whisk olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, mustard and honey in a small bowl. Season with salt and black pepper, and pour over the individual salads.
  5. Serve with a sprinkling of berries on top, if desired.

*To serve warm: Lightly flour the cheese circles and sauté in butter until just lightly browned on both sides. Divide between the serving platters, scatter the figs around and pour the dressing over.

Adapted from “The Essential Book of Jewish Festival Cooking” by Phyllis Glazer and Rabbi Miriyam Glazer (Harper Collins)

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