There are over 600 species of fig plants that produce fruit across the planet—yet despite their diversity, they all have one thing in common—their fruit is naturally sweet, flavorful, and highly nutritious.
Figs have a fairly short market life as they don’t store well and we typically see them sporadically in the grocery store at the end of summer. Because they don’t have a long shelf life, they are a bit more expensive than other fruit. Yet, they are easy to grow in many regions (I’ve grown them in Washington state, Arizona, and Florida), so consider planting a fig tree in your yard with the right species for your region.
Most figs are sold as dried fruit (dried figs), yet when you find fresh figs, they are a great treat. Dried figs, like most dried fruit, have concentrated sugar and a medium-high sugar content (glycemic load for a serving of dried figs is 16), yet fresh figs have a fairly low sugar load per serving and are loaded with antioxidants, fiber, and other nutrients. They clearly should be encouraged as part of a healthy diet.
Caution when picking figs. First, because they don’t last and if they are ripe you’ll want to consume them within 1-2 days. Second, if they are overripe, they may have firm seeds that are dry and crunchy and makes them less desirable. Overripe figs are also prone to mold and will need to be thrown away if they go bad.
Over the last two months, Nicole and I have been sailing along the coastlines of Spain and Portugal, and the figs in the markets have been amazing. I’ve been working on an easy-to-prepare dessert recipe.
If you are lucky enough to find fresh figs in your market, try the recipe below.
Figs with Port, Yogurt, & Orange Rind
I’ve tried this recipe with different figs, including small and large varieties of purple figs, and small green figs. My favorite are small purple figs as they tend to have the most flavor.
As I’ve been testing this recipe here in Portugal, Port wine has seemed like a good ingredient to go with figs. I prefer Tawny Port, which is more complex and nuttier, although you could use Ruby Port which is more fruity and sweeter. Simmering Port wine creates a luscious syrup, and with cooking, it becomes essentially alcohol- free.
Prep Time: 15-20 minutes
Serves: Four to Six
1 cup Port wine
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
16 figs, sliced vertically into six thin slices
1 cup organic, plain yogurt (divided into four portions)
3 tablespoons chopped walnuts, toasted (or you could use sliced almonds or chopped filberts)
1-2 tablespoons freshly grated organic orange rind
In a saucepan, combine port wine, lemon juice, cinnamon, and salt. Bring to a gentle boil, then simmer for 4 minutes uncovered. Add sliced figs, cover, and simmer on low, stirring occasionally, until figs have softened, and the sauce has thickened about 4-6 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small sauté pan over medium-low heat, toast nuts until warmed and remove from the pan; don’t heat until browned.
Spoon yogurt into small bowls. Pour fig sauce over yogurt, and sprinkle toasted nuts on top. Lastly, grate orange rind as a garnish over the bowls, and serve warm.
Steven Masley, MD