Just before Christmas I bought a packet of dried figs with the idea that I'd stuff them with some goats cheese and wrap them in proscuitto to have with drinks, but they were the wrong sort to do that. These are the really dehydrated, scary, shrivelled up, kangaroo poo looking pellets, not the slightly moist, chewy things you need for that idea. Sure, I could have soaked them but things are busy enough around Christmas. I bought them as an easy-to-prepare idea, and they weren't easy to prepare, so I threw them up on the shelf, where they remained, occasionally being subjected to my accusing beady eye. I felt like they were taunting me with their shrivelled ugliness and I wanted to soak the hell out of them and make them scream ....umm.... restore them lovingly to life. Yes, that's it. A beautiful reincarnation. Ahem.
So, I flicked through a few books and found something that jumped out at me towards the end of Nigella's book, Feast, in her chapter on mezze feasts for Honeyed Figs. They used cardamom pods, bay leaves, pistachios and orange peel as well as honey, which made it sound an interesting combination of sweet, savoury and spicy. It was really easy to do; I had the pot bubbling away while I made something else at the same time. I halved the recipe to fit the amount of figs I had, and hit a problem near the end when I found most of my liquid had boiled away, leaving me with none to boil down further. This may have had something to do with me getting distracted and popping into the study to check my emails.... :-), but I just added a few splashes of water and all seemed fine. In fact, I think it's even better for the syrup boiling down because some figs became really dark and sticky where they sat on the pan (see the bottom fig in the photo). Hey, I created a version of Fig Pot Stickers!
These figs are still seedy; their seeds seem to explode throughout the syrup too, so if you're one of the many not keen on the texture of figs, you may not like it. The combination of flavours, though, is wonderful; it tastes really exotic and middle-eastern - the cardamom especially adds a great touch.
But I find myself with a dilemma. They are lovely on their own or with some yoghurt. But I think they'd also be wonderful used with my original idea of some goats cheese and wrapped in proscuitto. Alternatively, I'm also having ideas of dipping them into dark chocolate - I think they'd work that way too. I don't have enough to do both, so what would you recommend???
Read on for the recipe:
Note: This recipe uses the 'ugly' organic, real dried figs which are truly parched and need a lot of liquid to rehydrate. If using those squishy plump dried figs from a packet, reduce cooking time and halve the water and honey.
1 litre water
3 bay leaves
2 cardamom pods, bruised (I'd recommend more than this. Maybe 4?)
2 strips orange peel, about 12cm
60ml fresh orange juice
500g organic dried figs
1 tablespoon nibbed, splintered or chopped pistachios
Creme fraiche or Greek yoghurt (optional)
Put the water in a pan and stir in the honey to dissolve over a low heat. Add the bay leaves, bruised cardamom pods, orange peel and juice, and bring to the boil. Let the syrup bubble for 10 minutes.
Add the figs and cook for 30 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the figs stand in the hot liquid for 10-15 minutes. Remove the figs to a contained using a skimmer. Put the syrup back on the heat and bring back to the boil, letting it bubble away for 5 minutes. It should have reduced to about 375ml or just over a third of your original liquid. Put the figs back into the reduced syrup and let cool. Store in a jar until you want to use them.
To serve, put the figs in a bowl, pouring over a scant amount of syrup and scatter over the pistachios. And pass around the creme fraiche or Greek yogurt.