Ah, figs! I have a soft place in my heart for figs after working for two years at Brainfood—the best little youth development organization in the world. The Brainfood Youth Garden, located on an inauspicious plot of K Street in Washington, D.C., was a hidden beauty, lush and prolific. Cultivated by our students and staff, the garden’s produce was used for cooking classes, for a summer CSA, and in products for our entrepreneurship wing, Brainfood Homegrown. One summer, the Brainfood fig tree produced so many figs that besides eating them by the handful, we were able to make fig jam, and even fig focaccia. Now that Brainfood has closed its doors 😭, I think often of our beautiful fig tree and regret we never got to try this fig salad with blue cheese!
Here in Paris in early September, the greenmarkets are bursting with fresh figs. I bought a basket of them the other day, and served them as an appetizer just sliced open with a bit of goat cheese tucked inside. With the rest, I made this fig salad. Figs pair beautifully with meats, strong cheeses, and nuts, so I decided to throw them all into this fabulous salad. And really, it is fabulous. I spent over an hour happily photographing it because it was so stunning, and then ate it in minutes (seconds?). So let’s get to it.
How do you make fig salad with blue cheese?
To start, you will caramelize some pecans to top the salad. Now, you don’t need to do this, but I would at least recommend toasting your pecans. And if you’re going to toast your pecans, you might as well toss them with some maple syrup and caramelize them instead! So preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Then add 1/2 cup of pecans and drizzle over a tablespoon of maple syrup. Toss together with your hands, and then toast the nuts in the oven for 9-10 minutes, until they smell fragrant. If you think your oven runs hot, check early—these nuts go from caramelized to burned quickly. Remove from oven, and let cool. They will harden as they cool, and you can break them apart later to top your salad.
Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette by whisking together balsamic vinegar, 1 teaspoon of maple syrup, and olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. This is a simple vinaigrette, but the balsamic vinegar is a perfect pairing to the salad, and the maple syrup adds a touch of sweetness.
To build the salad, first dress the mache and/or baby spinach with about half of the dressing in a large salad bowl. If mache isn’t available near you, just spinach is totally fine. You could easily use arugula as well. Add more dressing if your salad seems dry. Add fresh figs and crumbled blue cheese. Any type of blue cheese is fine—my favorites are roquefort and gorgonzola. Just try to buy a block of blue cheese rather than the pre-crumbled variety, because the blocks are nearly always better quality and less dry. Tear proscuitto into pieces and tuck in next to the figs, then sprinkle with toasted pecans. You can also drizzle the extra salad dressing on the top if you’d like.
When are fresh figs in season?
Figs are in season generally from August through early October. Fig trees thrive in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean climates, as well in California, where fig trees were introduced in the late 1800s. 90% of global fig production comes from the Mediterranean region. Fig trees don’t like extreme cold, so they are difficult to grow in the Northeastern U.S., but our little Brainfood fig tree managed to survive the Washington D.C. winters!
How do you prepare figs?
Fresh figs need very little preparation. Give them a very brief rinse and pat dry, or just wipe gently with a damp paper towel. Cut off the stem if it is hard. You can eat figs as is, or cut them into halves or quarters. Or make vertical and horizontal cuts without cutting entirely through the fruit to make it look like a flower.
Are figs good for you?
Definitely. Figs are high in fiber, low in calories, and contain calcium, potassium, magnesium, manganese, iron, and vitamin K. Dried figs provide even more fiber and higher percentages of recommended daily nutritional value of vitamins and minerals. As a result, dried figs in particular are great for treating constipation.
What else can I do with fresh figs?
Fresh figs are delicious in so many other applications besides fig salad. Here are some fresh fig recipe ideas for you:
- Top oatmeal or yogurt with fresh figs
- Make fig jam or chutney (try this fig jam recipe from queen of all things jam Cathy Barrow)
- Roast figs with honey
- Roast figs wrapped in bacon and stuffed with blue cheese or goat cheese
- Serve fresh figs on a cheese plate with cured meats and nuts
Is there a dead wasp in every fig?
I have to say, I was not aware that this was a concern that people have about figs until I began researching figs for this post. Figs are fascinating because rather than a true fruit, they are really inverted flowers pollinated by the fig wasp. Female fig wasps crawl into unripe figs to lay eggs. They pollinate some of the female flowers inside the figs, then die. The eggs later hatch into baby wasps who are able to burrow out and fly away with the fig pollen they carry, thus repeating the cycle. The fig with the dead female wasp digests it completely as it (the fig) ripens. So no worries, by the time you eat a ripe fig, there is no evidence of the wasp that pollinated it. All the crunchy bits are seeds!
That said, vegans do not eat figs because of this concern. Though there is hope for vegans, as some varieties of figs are called “parthenocarpic”, which do not require pollination and so do not rely on fig wasps to grow fruit. This is the same type of innovation that brought you seedless watermelons! The world is truly a fascinating place.
- 2 oz. pecans (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 1/3 T. maple syrup (divided)
- 1 1/2 T. balsamic vinegar
- 3 T. olive oil
- kosher salt, to taste
- freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 5 oz. mache and/or baby spinach
- 8 fresh figs (about 12 oz), quartered
- 4 oz. blue cheese, crumbled
- 2.5 oz. prosciutto, thinly sliced
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Put the pecans on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, and drizzle 1 scant tablespoon of maple syrup over them. Use your fingers to mix the maple syrup so it covers each nut.
- Put baking sheet in the oven and toast for 9-10 minutes, until the nuts smell fragrant. If you think your oven runs hot, check early—these nuts go from caramelized to burned quickly.
- Remove baking sheet from oven, and let cool. They will harden, and you can then break apart for your salad topping.
- Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette by whisking together balsamic vinegar, 1 teaspoon of maple syrup, and olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- To build the salad, first dress the mache and/or spinach greens with about half of the dressing in a large salad bowl—add more dressing if it seems dry.
- Add quartered figs and crumbled blue cheese.
- Tear proscuitto into pieces and tuck in next to the figs, then sprinkle with caramelized pecans.
If you didn't use all the dressing on the greens, you can drizzle the rest of the salad dressing on the top if you’d like.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 429 Total Fat: 30g Saturated Fat: 8g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 21g Cholesterol: 34mg Sodium: 958mg Carbohydrates: 29g Net Carbohydrates: 0g Fiber: 5g Sugar: 22g Sugar Alcohols: 0g Protein: 14g