Figs are a strange and wonderful fruit (although not actually a fruit – more on that in a minute). As fig season draws near, we thought we’d take a look at all things fig.
First; it’s a California thing: California produces 100% of the nation’s dried figs and 98% of the fresh figs. California grows many varieties of figs, but the two most common are the amber-colored, slightly nutty-flavored Golden and the dark purple, sweet Mission. (The Spaniards introduced Mission figs to the California territory in the early 16th century.)
The soil and climate in California’s San Joaquin Valley are ideal for growing figs. These tasty nuggets thrive in the Valley’s hot, dry summer sun. Fig trees have tremendous longevity, and astonishingly, some trees planted at the onset of California’s commercial fig production are still actively bearing fruit today, almost 100 years later. Although figs are harvested year-round, most of the activity in the orchards begins in May as the fruit appears on the tree and culminates in October when the final “picking” of the dried fruit is completed (yes, figs dry on the tree!)
Unlike other tree fruits or nuts, fig trees have no blossoms on their branches; the flowers are inverted and actually develop inside the fruit. So those crunchy little seeds you taste when you’re eating a fig? Those are actually tiny flowers that give figs their unique texture.
We recently lucked into a bounty of figs, thanks to the Valley Fig Growers, and it gave us an opportunity to create one of our favorite fig-themed meals by incorporating them into a salad. This hearty Fig Millet Kale salad has a great deal of crunch and lively flavors. It makes a nice companion to grilled meats or fish, but it can also stand alone as a main-course salad.
- ½ cup millet
- 1 cup vegetable stock
- 1 medium bunch kale
- ¾ cup Mission figs, coarsely chopped
- ½ cup cashew pieces
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2 T. fig preserves (or substitute raspberry preserves)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- In a medium saucepan, bring the vegetable stock to a boil. Add the millet, return to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook the millet, covered, for 15-20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Stir with a fork to fluff up and set aside.
- Remove the thick stalks from the kale and chop the leaves finely. Place the kale leaves in a large salad bowl along with the figs, cashew pieces, and millet (breaking up any chunks of millet that might have stuck together during the cooking).
- In a small container, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, fig preserves, and salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to combine thoroughly.
For this salad, we used Blue Ribbon Orchard Choice Mission Figlets (chopped) and Blue Ribbon Orchard Choice California Orange Fig Spread (for the dressing). (Side note – we’re going to use this orange fig spread instead of jelly for peanut butter and jelly from now on – Heavenly!)
You can find figs and fig products at most grocery stores (see more at the Valley Fig store locator), or you can order the ones we used at the links above. And if you happen to want a real deep-dive into fig life, history, and science, see “Love the Fig” from the New Yorker last fall. We love the fig!
Blogger disclosure: I received samples from Valley Fig Growers. I did not receive compensation for this post. All opinions expressed are my own.