Push yourself to try a new ingredient by quickly caramelizing figs, super healthy ancient fruits. Though not a staple in American diets, figs are versatile ingredients and easy to prepare. Don’t be intimidated and break out of a dessert/breakfast rut.
Figs are an ancient fruit popular even in biblical times (one may recall the story of Adam and Eve covering themselves with fig leaves). Their lingering popularity is no surprise, as the fig is packed with antioxidants, fiber, calcium, and other vitamins. But the figs that come to mind are dried and brown, rather than fresh. At Whole Foods the other day I stumbled upon fresh figs and decided to challenge myself with a new ingredient (I’ve been watching a lot of “Chopped” and “Top Chef”). Fresh figs are very pretty, dainty looking objects. The ones I bought were purple at the bottom and turning a mottled green towards the stem. When I returned home, I immediately set about to find a delicious and simple fig dessert. Little did I know that this ancient fruit has astonishing versatility, fitting into both sweet and savory dishes. Figs and cheese on pizza, fig and prosciutto pasta, fig tart, or fig jam. The possibilities were endless. Unfortunately, the weekend was not. Suddenly it’s Wednesday night, the figs are plenty ripe, and I’m exhausted from a hot and slow metro ride home. Looks like none of my more ambitious plans panned out. But luckily the fig is a simple fruit that can be eaten plain or quickly caramelized. I decided to attempt caramelizing the figs in honey, unsure of what to expect.
To caramelize the figs, I melted a tablespoon of honey in a skillet and then added the halved figs (that I had also de-stemmed). I simply cooked them for about ten minutes (that may have been a bit long, but I hadn’t taken them out of the refrigerator early enough so it took them longer to heat through). The honey browned and smelled similar to the honey syrup on baklava, reminding me of the pleasant smells of a Middle Eastern dessert. I bit into my first fresh fig and understood how the fruit could work as a savory or sweet ingredient. Not overly sweet, the fig has firm flesh similar to that of an eggplant. Still, it tasted good and looked beautiful. I ate another one atop a small mound of vanilla Icelandic yogurt with a slight drizzle of honey to bring out the sweeter notes of the fruit. Icelandic yogurt is a lesser-known yogurt that beats Greek yogurt any day. Similar to Greek yogurt, Icelandic yogurt is thick, tangy, and fat-free. I find it has a more mellow yogurt taste and is actually thicker than its Greek counterpart. Called Skyr, it is becoming increasingly available in US grocery stores. But no matter what kind of yogurt you serve it on (or oatmeal, for that matter), it makes for a deceptively decadent dessert or an indulgent breakfast. If you don’t like honey or don’t eat honey or don’t have honey, try caramelizing the figs in maple syrup. Though this method is untested, I’m hopeful it would yield equally as satisfying results.