I was close to eighteen years old the first time I laid eyes on a fresh fig. It was at Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu in the Beit She’an Valley, where I was volunteering in the children’s house. We were frolicking in the kibbutz fields with some 30 pre-schoolers when the teacher leading the field trip stopped at a tree hung with round, green fruits and proceeded to pick and hand them out to the eager kids. I had no idea what I was about to bite into, and once I did, saw no connection between that fresh, sweet, exotic gem and the dried figs I’d seen all my life.
Growing up in the American Northeast, the figs I knew were always hard, chewy and an unappealing brownish gray. The only time I bothered to take a nibble was at the school Tu Bishvat seder, and my reluctance was probably because my sister had convinced me that the seeds inside the fig were, in fact, bee larvae.
Now, however, I consider fresh figs to be one of my favorite treats and look forward to their arrival each summer. Fig trees, which are actually part of the ficus species, are all over the place, growing in many a backyard or park and often freely available for the picking.
The culinary world is awash with different ways of presenting these purplish-green parcels, from sweet desserts to savory accompaniments for main dishes, and there is no shortage of methods to incorporate figs into a menu. I’ve chosen to present them here in a fresh yet filling salad, using a soft goat cheese as a classic fig pairing. This salad is so versatile that it can be great as a starter to a meal or as a main course served with some crusty bread and a glass of chilled white wine.
Silan Roasted Fig and Goat Cheese Salad (This recipe is for a single-serving plated salad, but can easily be adapted for a larger crowd)
- 4 fresh baladi figs quartered (baladi figs are purplish in color with a softer outer skin)
- 1 tablespoon silan (date honey)
- Coarse sea salt (to taste)
- 2 large handfuls rocket lettuce leaves
- ¼ cup chopped walnuts
- 4-5 slices soft goat cheese
- Freshly ground pepper
- Coarse sea salt
- 1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Balsamic reduction (see directions below)
- Fresh chives for garnish
- Preheat oven to 200°.
- Place the figs on a piece of parchment, and lightly drizzle the figs with silan and sprinkle sparingly with salt.
- Roast for approximately 10 minutes until the edges begin to brown.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool.
- Arrange salad leaves, nuts, and goat cheese on a plate. Add the cooled figs and season with salt and pepper.
- Before serving, dress with olive oil and the balsamic reduction (see below). Garnish with chives.
To make a balsamic reduction:
- In a small, non-reactive pot, bring one cup balsamic vinegar to a low boil.
- Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes until the vinegar reduces by almost half; be sure not to overcook. Vinegar will appear syrupy as it begins to cool. Use more sparingly than regular balsamic as the final product is concentrated and has a stronger flavor.