Fancy me some Figs
For those of us who didn’t grow up in California, it’s understandable that our only association with figs may be as the sticky sweet filling for the Fig Newtons of our childhoods.
In most parts of the country, fresh figs make only a brief appearance in our supermarkets–for a small window in the summertime (that’s NOW!)–and when they do, they’re not always cheap. Plus, they’re quite perishable, so once you buy them, they’ll only last a few days in the fridge.
But since I’ve been home from Provence–where fig trees literally grow wild along highway roads, where every breakfast table is accessorized with a fig jam, where markets offer multiple varieties of fresh figs for the same price per kilo as apricots–I’ve had figs on the brain. While our lovely community garden in Jersey City is home to 2 enormous fig trees, our East Coast figs aren’t quite ripe for picking yet. (Figs don’t ripen after they’re picked, so you really do have to wait). So when I spotted an 8oz clamshell of fresh California “Brown Turkey” figs priced at a relatively affordable $2.99 at Whole Foods today, I decided to pick some up to keep the spirit of France alive in my kitchen for another few days.
Nutritional benefits of figs
One medium-sized fresh fig has about 35 calories and 1g of fiber.
Dried figs are an excellent source of fiber and a respectable source source of calcium. A very modest 1/4 cup serving of dried figs contains about 90 calories, 4g of fiber (!) and 6% of the daily value for calcium; in fact, a 2005 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition that compared the nutritional benefits of a variety of dried fruits found that dried figs contained the highest amount of both fiber and calcium of all other fruits tested (which were apricots, dates, cranberries, raisins and prunes). According to the same study, dried figs also appear to have the highest in vivo antioxidant capacity of most commonly-eaten dried fruits. (In other words, they may not have the highest antioxidant content of all fruits tested when measured outside the body, but they induced the highest antioxidant response in the body after they were eaten.)
How to enjoy figs
Fresh figs work well with both savory dishes and sweet ones.
While sliced fresh figs on a cheese platter is an elegant and delicious pairing, there are so many additonal and creative ways to feature fresh figs in summer meals. Martha recommends using sliced fresh figs in her very Napa-inspired, picnic-friendly and vegetarian Fig, Goat Cheese and Caramelized Onion sandwich… which, I should mention, would be a perfect use for some squishy, GF-sandwich bread.
Alternatively, fresh figs can be grilled and served atop salads and desserts alike to add interesting flavor and texture: in fact, I chose to use my figs in this delicious savory-sweet recipe for Grilled Fig Salad from Whole Foods. (I used pre-washed arugula and the recipe took me all of 6 minutes from start to finish. It was very delicious, but I think it may have benefited even more from a light shaving of parmesan for good measure.) Grilling figs results in some caramelization of their natural sugars, which adds a fantastic dimension to their flavor. Of course, you can also grill or roast figs to serve them atop a scoop of ice cream in a compote-like fashion. On our Provence vacation, I had a heavenly dessert consisting of hot, roasted figs served atop a scoop of caramel ice cream. The contrast of temperatures (hot vs cold) and textures (smooth ice cream vs pulpy, seedy fig) was positively divine.
To grill fresh figs, just slice them in half, toss them in a little bit of balsamic vinegar with a touch of brown sugar and grill on a lightly oiled grill about 3 minutes each side, or until good grill marks appear. If you’re using a countertop grill/panini press like I did, just spray the grill with some oil, keep the grill open as you cook the figs, and use tongs to flip them when ready; if you close the grill, the weight from the top surface will squash your figs. (In the interest of time, you may gently close the press on the figs so long as you hold the handle while the figs cook to prevent the full weight of the top surface from flattening them.) Alternatively, you can roast figs in the oven much to the same effect; for inspiration, check out this recipe for Roasted Figs with Fig & Wine Sauce from Food & Wine.
Of course, fresh figs won’t be around for long, and since dried figs are lovely and super-nutritious in their own right, it’s worth mentioning some fun ways to enjoy them, too.
You can cut dried figs into little pieces and use them in lieu of raisins in any baking, granola or trail mix recipe. You can also toss them into salads: can’t you just picture the sweet and tangy loveliness of biting into a forkful of arugula salad with goat cheese, walnuts and dried figs? (In keeping with the theme, I’d go so far as to top it with one of my favorite gluten-free salad dressings: Wild Thymes’ Fig & Walnut Balsamic Vinaigrette…)
While attending this year’s Fancy Food Show in New York, I came across a company called Figamajigs. They market a 130-calorie Fig Bar that consists of dried figs mixed with cocoa powder, shaped into a bar, and covered in a thin layer of dark chocolate. It really hit my chocolate spot and satisfied that craving, but due to its fig content, contained an impressive 5g of fiber, along with a decent amount of iron (8% of the daily value… every little bit counts!) and modest amount of calcium (4% of the daily value). A chocolate fix that actually provides some appetite satiety (due to the fiber) and contributes to some of my harder-to-get mineral needs? Seemed like a pretty good idea to me. Personally, I think their Fig Bar is a better choice than their Bite-Size candy-coated product, which have more calories and less fiber due to the higher coating-to-fig ratio.
So there you have it. Now get on out there and get your fig on.
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