One of the most fascinating nature documentaries I have watched is The Queen Of Trees. It depicts the complex interdependency among organisms in nature by using the example of a fig tree and wasps. I watched it with my son as part of his homework over six years ago and it was full of TIL (today I learnt) moments. The description of this documentary states that each fig is a microcosm—a stage set for birth, sex and death. After watching this 52-minute film (thanks, YouTube), you can never see a fig as just another fruit.
Fig is an easy-to-grow shrub in a pot. Once it starts fruiting, it will yield a few handfuls of figs every few days in the season, provided you get to them before the birds do. In my garden, the fig leaves are favourites of a bird who finds them to be big enough to make a roomy nest for its eggs and little ones. It combines the edges together with a sort of glue and then puts in all the required cushioning by way of straw and soft materials to make this architectural wonder. The large fig leaf is also a metaphor for hiding something embarrassing or dishonest.
Turkey and Egypt are the top producers of fig. A ripe fig has a very short period during which it is edible, spoiling rather quickly. It is the reason why, worldwide, only 3% of the fruit is eaten fresh; 85% is dried and 10% is canned.
The soft seedy fruits have a complex sweet flavour. The next time you eat a fig, take a moment to appreciate its seductive texture. Break open a perfectly ripe fig into halves. You will notice that the skin, the pulp and the seeds each have their own mouthfeel and flavour. It seems apt that the fig was Cleopatra’s favourite fruit. Before taking her own life, she went through the rituals of a bath and a fine meal that included figs.
According to Moroccan custom, figs and raisins are showered on newly-weds to wish them a fruitful life, similar to the way newly-weds in many Hindu culture weddings are showered with rice in blessing. Nutrient and energy-dense dried figs were used as a substitute for bread to feed the marching armies in Rome.
Figs, fresh, dried or preserved, occupy their rightful place in a mezze platter or a cheese or charcuterie board. If you want to put in a little more effort, cut the figs crosswise but not all the way through, wedge a piece of brie (or feta) in the gaps, top with honey and bake until the figs are a bit caramelised and the cheese melts. Fig and caramelised onions (or onion jam), goat cheese and rocket leaves are hands down my favourite things on a pizza. Oven-roasted or air-fryer roasted figs with rocket and thinly sliced onions make for a delicious winter salad.
If one of your 2023 resolutions is to have brunch parties (it is one of mine), then it’s time to befriend the fig to raise the IQ (Instagram quotient) of your menu. Fig’s IQ is right up there with avocados. Quarter some ripe figs and serve with cheese and crackers for some nibbles, along with mimosas. Try roasted figs served with whipped feta or ricotta along with sourdough bread for that addictive sweet-salty kick. Bake fresh focaccia with sliced figs and rosemary as the topping.
Ripe figs are at home in a Turkish or Mediterranean mezze platter, along with hummus, labneh and mutabal, halloumi cheese and other fresh fruits like grapes and strawberries, both in season now. Bruschetta with chopped figs, olives, crumbled cheese and basil is Gram-worthy all right but delicious as well. Two brunch-worthy recipes with figs below.
Fancy fig flatbreads
Half cup whole wheat flour
Half cup all-purpose flour
Half tsp instant yeast
1 tsp sugar
Half tsp salt
2 tsp olive oil
3 ripe figs, sliced
50g feta cheese
A handful of rocket leaves
A pinch of red chilli flakes
1-2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
Combine the flours, yeast, sugar, salt and olive oil in a bowl. Add sufficient water to make a smooth dough. Coat the ball of dough with a few drops of oil. Keep covered for 15-20 minutes.
Preheat the oven at 190 degrees Celsius. Line a baking tray with parchment paper or a silicon mat.
Divide the dough into three portions. Roll each portion into a ball. Using a bit of flour, roll the dough into an oval shape, thicker than a paratha, around a quarter-inch. Place the rolled-out flatbreads on the baking tray and poke a few holes all over using a fork. Brush with olive oil. Top with sliced figs and crumbled feta.
Bake at 190-200 degrees Celsius for 10-12 minutes, or until the bread is cooked and browned.
Remove from the oven, top with fresh rocket leaves, sprinkle chilli flakes and some extra virgin olive oil. Slice and serve warm.
Fig Granola in a pan
Makes 2 cups
2 tsp coconut oil
1 cup rolled oats
Half cup mixed chopped nuts
(cashews, walnuts, almonds)
Quarter cup mixed seeds
(sunflower, pumpkin, sesame)
A pinch of salt
Quarter cup sliced dried figs
1 tbsp chia seeds
To prepare the bowl
Yogurt, honey or maple syrup
In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat the oil and toast the oats, nuts and seeds for eight-nine minutes on a low flame until the oats are golden brown. The nuts and seeds will turn crisper on cooling. Add this to a large bowl along with the salt, dried figs and chia seeds. Once cooled, keep in an airtight container.
To prepare the granola bowl, take some yogurt in a bowl. Top with quarter-cup or more of granola. Top with honey/maple syrup and chopped fruits.
Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer’s latest book is The Great Indian Thali—Seasonal Vegetarian Wholesomeness (Roli Books). @saffrontrail on Instagram and Twitter.