Need a little “luck” in the kitchen?Don’t we all? Food scientist Paige Luck spends her days at N.C. State teaching her students the science behind taste, texture and richness, often cooking in the classroom to demonstrate concepts. Raleigh Magazine asked her to work a little magic with something in-season that you might not know what the heck to do with.
We’re not talking Fig Newtons either—that sad little sleeping bag of a cookie stuffed with fig paste. Fresh figs are another creature altogether. Think of figs as the sister fruit to melon and berries, pairing well with goat cheese or prosciutto. When roasted, figs will remind you of raisins.
Most figs at the farmer’s markets in North Carolina are the Brown Turkey or Celeste varieties. These figs are like geodes—the exterior a lackluster mottled brown green, the interior a sumptuous rose. Figs go bad quickly, so use within a day or two of purchase. They are at the peak of ripeness when the exterior yields slightly to the touch and is blemish-free. Figs don’t ripen once picked, so avoid the firm ones. Follow the recipe below for a delicious fall salad featuring, you guessed it—figs!
Barley and roasted fig fall salad
¾ cup barley
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cup water
½ teaspoon salt
Bacon, 3 thick slices cut into 1” pieces
⅓ cup red onion, chopped
2 cups figs, halved if small, quartered if large
2 cups arugula
⅓ cup slivered almonds, toasted
Fresh figs for garnish
Honey Lemon Vinaigrette
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons honey
⅓ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a 12-inch skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil and barley. Cook barley, stirring occasionally, until it smells nutty, about 5-8 minutes. Add the water and salt. Reduce heat to low and cover. Cook for one hour or until al dente.
While the barley is simmering, cook the sliced bacon over medium heat in a skillet until fat is rendered and bacon crispy. Drain bacon on paper towels. Place figs on a baking pan lined with aluminum foil. Grease the foil and place the figs cut side up on the foil. Roast the figs in the oven for 20 minutes or until caramelized and brown.
For the vinaigrette, mix the lemon juice, zest, honey, salt and pepper together with a whisk until the salt is dissolved. While whisking, slowly add in the olive oil. The dressing should become thick.
Mix the cooked barley, crispy bacon, roasted figs, almonds, onion and arugula together in a large bowl. Dress the salad with approximately half the dressing or more if desired. Mound the salad onto a serving plate. Place halved or quartered fresh figs around the salad as garnish.
Serves 4 as a main dish or 6-8 as a side dish.
Want to make it ahead?
Mix all the ingredients except the arugula, bacon and almonds. When ready to serve, reheat the salad to room temperature or slightly above to soften the barley, then stir in the arugula, bacon and almonds.
Hearty enough for a main dish but would partner well with roasted pork or beef.