Figs: sweet and unique

March 31 2015

The fruit of the ficus tree, figs may be a well-known fruit, but they aren't commonly used in Western cooking. This fruit has a unique, sweet flavour and was once used to add sweetness to foods before sugar was commonly available. Figs also have a chewy yet crunchy texture and they are often used in Greek, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes.

Due to their delicate and perishable nature, figs are often dried and preserved. They also come in a number of varieties, which have different shapes, skin colours ranging from bright green to dark purple and slight variations of flavours.

Why cook with figs?

Figs have a mild fruity taste and an unusual texture that can add interest to many dishes. The fruit is also full of fibre, vitamins and minerals including potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and copper, as well as antioxidant vitamins A, E and K.

How to prepare a fig

Fresh figs are somewhat unusual in appearance and even the most seasoned chef might find themselves perplexed at how to prepare the fruit.

A perfectly ripe fig will be slightly soft and have a strong, sweet aroma when poked. Avoid figs that have a slightly sour or mouldy scent.

Rinse the figs under cold water - don't scrub them, as the fruits are delicate and will bruise easily. Then slice them into wedges or slices - the entire fruit can be eaten, so the direction of the slices depends on what you plan to do with the fruit. Figs can also be poached or grilled whole and then cut before serving.

Adding figs to your menu

Figs are versatile fruits that be used to add interesting flavours and textures to a range of dishes. If you're thinking about adding figs to your menu, here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Salads - Figs can add a pop of sweetness to a salad, so scatter some of the dried fruit over a bed of romaine hearts. Add other ingredients like prociutto, mozzarella and basil. Top with extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  • Appetizers - If you're looking for a unique starter, consider something that includes fig in the recipe. Try topping pieces of the fruit with chunks of blue cheese, then wrap them with thinly sliced ham. Or thinly slice some of the fruit and use it as a topping on bruschetta, along with roasted red peppers and toasted almonds.
  • Sauces and glazes - As a sauce or glaze, figs can add a sweet flavour to meat and vegetable dishes. For example, a Balsamic fig glaze works well on roasted beef or pork. Combine chopped dried figs with Balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, chopped onions, olive oil and rosemary and use it to baste the meat.
  • Drinks - Figs work well with alcoholic drinks like bourbon and vodka, and they can be used to create some unique cocktails. Try adding a bit of sweetness with honey, or pair the mild fig flavour with ginger ale.
  • Desserts - Like most fruits, figs lend themselves perfectly to a number of sweet treats. Try them as a topping on cheesecake, along with other dark fruits like blackberries and blueberries. Figs can also be used to create delicious fillings for tarts and pies.