Ingredient Focus: Figs

FigsThis is a part of a series where we discuss a special ingredient and how it can be used in the kitchen.

What fruit tree served as a resting place for twins Romulus and Remus before their founding of Rome?
Which fruit’s leaves were used to cover Adam and Eve after their fall in Genesis?
Under what fruit tree did the Buddha receive enlightenment?

Figs have provided sustenance, literary inspiration, and enlightenment since the dawn of time, so trying to encapsulate their cultural, religious, and nutritional significance in one blog post is a little intimidating. Figs are ancient, like 9400 BC ancient, and aside from being mentioned in various religious texts, they also happen to be pretty delicious.

For those who are unfamiliar with this delicate fruit, figs are tear-drop shaped with smooth skin and a sweet, red, slightly crunchy interior. There are many varieties of figs, with colors ranging from green to red, but the most common fig variety has a deep purple hue. Figs originated from western Asia and were cultivated throughout the Mediterranean, and although their trees are drought-tolerant, they’re extremely perishable once picked. That’s part of the reason why they’re either only found in dried form or just ridiculously expensive.

To be honest, I didn’t try figs until well into my adulthood because as a kid I had equated them with Fig Newtons (imposter cookies!) and bowel movements. It turns out that figs aren’t just high in fiber and good for digestion, but they’re also rich in potassium, calcium, and antioxidants. They’re even said to lower blood pressure, triglyceride levels, and blood sugar levels in diabetics. It’s no wonder that so many writers waxed poetic about the fig.

I hit the jackpot this past month when I happened upon a giant fig tree right around the corner from my house. I usually keep my eyes glued to the ground because my dog eats everything in sight, but I noticed a sweet and peppery aroma coming from a tree with small purple fruits. I rallied my sister to join me on my fig-picking mission, and we picked a basket-full of plump and juicy figs. I love figs, but I love them even more when they’re free!

If you’re wondering what you can do with figs (aside from devouring them right away), there are many options at your disposal. An obvious choice is to make a fig roll (a pastry like a Fig Newton) or fig jam, or add them to other sweets like scones, tarts, and cakes. Figs also pair well with cheese and salty meats, so figs stuffed with ricotta or wrapped in prosciutto make savory appetizers. I love the combination of the fig’s sweetness with salty bacon and creamy brie cheese, so I opted to make a gourmet sandwich reminiscent of those fancy brunch places my sister likes to frequent. You just need some whole grain bread, bacon, brie cheese, arugula, and voila! You can have you very own B.A.F. (bacon, arugula, fig) grilled cheese sandwich at home (no tip required).

Sandwich collage FINAL

The B.A.F. Grilled Cheese Sandwich(Yield: 2 servings)

Ingredients:
Butter (optional)
4 slices whole grain bread
5-7 figs, cut into four pieces each
3 ounces brie cheese, sliced
¾ cup baby arugula
6 slices of bacon, cooked

Directions:

  1. Lightly butter the outside of each slice of bread, then layer the cheese, bacon, figs, and arugula on top. Cover with the other slice of bread.
  2. *Heat a pan on medium-high heat and grill both sandwiches for 2-3 minutes on each side. Be careful when flipping – if you have a second pan, it may be easier to heat the pan and place on top to “grill” the top of the sandwich. When the bread is grilled and the cheese is melted, serve and enjoy.

    *If you find it difficult to grill your sandwich this way, a better option is to use a toaster oven to grill just the bread and cheese, then assemble the sandwich afterwards.

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