My favorite yakitori restaurant around the corner always serves a little appetizer to tide you over until your food starts to arrive. It’s usually something seasonal: fish in a dashi stock, blanched vegetables with bonito, icefish with grated daikon. I can usually take it or leave it, because I’m 100% there for the perfectly-grilled chicken. When we sat down the other night, they brought over the little bowls and I peeked inside. A vibrant green piece of okra rested on a few slices of chicken and an indeterminable fruit or vegetable, topped with a drizzle of some kind of sauce. I took a cautious bite and discovered that the mystery food was half of a beautifully ripe fig with a creamy, nutty sesame dressing. It was both sweet and savory, and I was sad when it was gone.
But why couldn’t I tell that it was a fig? Because it had been peeled. It was a revelation. I love the taste of figs, but the skin can be a little fuzzy and tough for me sometimes. Problem solved! The Japanese actually peel a lot of fruit that most of the world doesn’t bother peeling, like peaches (ALWAYS), grapes (usually), apples (often). And figs, apparently. Brilliant.
I couldn’t get the combination of sweet fig and nutty sesame out of my head, and I even bought a sesame dressing at the grocery store to try to recreate it. Too much vinegar and not enough sesame. Back to the drawing board (it’s ok, it sort of felt like cheating to begin with). As I was considering making my own sesame sauce by blending thousands of tiny sesame seeds until they were smooth and creamy, I realized that I had thought about doing this before to make my own tahini. A lightbulb went off over my head: just look outside of the Japanese grocery store to get the same flavor profile. I even had a jar of tahini in my refrigerator already.
Tahini on its own is pretty intense stuff, so I added some honey because it’s best friends with figs. A pinch salt to balance the flavors, then a little bit of water until it’s silky smooth. Now I just needed something crunchy for texture. Little pieces of a crunchy, almost granola-like topping made from black and white sesame seeds, honey, sugar and salt added the perfect contrast. Voila! Figs with tahini & honey sauce and a sesame crunch.
This is a dish I am going to make every single time I can find fresh figs. I intend to convert everyone I know into a fig-lover. Get ready, friends. If you’re coming over for dinner in the next month or so, you’re eating this. I just haven’t decided which form it will take.. It might be on Greek yogurt with extra honey, over an olive oil cake with a fig syrup, or on its own out of bowls. It might be an appetizer, dessert, or breakfast. You’ll just have to come over and find out!
- 1/3 c sugar
- 2 T honey
- pinch of fine sea salt1/2 c mixed raw black and white sesame seeds (or whatever color you can find)
- 1/4 c tahini
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 3 T water
- pinch of fine sea salt
- 4 ripe figs
- Combine the sugar and honey in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until honey dissolves.
- Add the sesame seeds and cook until the mixture starts to caramelize, about 10 minutes (if you have a candy thermometer, let it reach about 300 degrees F). Remove from the heat and stir in the salt.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with nonstick cooking spray. (You can also use a silpat.)
- Pour the mixture out onto the baking sheet and let it cool for about 20 minutes. Break the mixture into small pieces.
- Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
- Whisk together the tahini and honey in a small bowl. Add the water 1 tablespoon at a time and whisk to combine. You may need more or less water depending on how thick your tahini is, but you want the end result to be creamy and a little runny (not watery, just thin enough to drizzle over the figs).
- Add a pinch of salt to taste.
- Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Bring to room temperature before using.
- Trim the stems off. Cut each fig lengthwise into eighths.
- Place one of the segments skin-side down on a cutting board. Using a very sharp paring knife, slide the knife between the skin and the flesh at the narrow end of the segment. Anchor the skin to the cutting board with your finger, and slide the knife along the inside of the skin to separate it from the flesh. This should be quite easy to do with ripe figs. (This will sound strange, but it's a very similar technique to removing the skin from fish fillets!)
- Place the figs in a layer on a serving dish. Drizzle the tahini sauce over them. Generously sprinkle the sesame crunch on top. Enjoy!