I love autumn for many reasons. The leaves are turning, the air is crisp, and many of my favorite fruits and vegetables are in season. One of my favorite fall fruits is the fig. Figs are delicious, and they also have a rich Biblical history. They are one of the “Seven Species” of Israel referred to in Deuteronomy. Going back even further to the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve covered their nudity with fig leaves.
As my regular readers know, I traveled to Israel this summer. On this trip I was very fortunate to meet with Biblical food expert Dr. Tova Dickstein, who helped me to better understand the foods that were enjoyed in Israel at the time of the Bible. Lately I’ve been challenging myself to combine ingredients that were eaten by the ancient Israelites into new dishes we can enjoy today. I love experimenting and combining ancient ingredients to create new flavors; it gives me a feeling of connection to our Biblical ancestors.
This tasty appetizer is the result of my experimentation with Biblical cuisine. The recipe combines a few ancient ingredients into a sweet and savory treat. In Biblical times, goat cheese was made from the milk of goats that roamed the Judean hills. Salt was harvested from the ocean and the Dead Sea. Walnuts are referenced repeatedly in the Talmud, and of course Israel is known as the “Land of Milk and Honey.” Put all of these ingredients together and you get one delicious treat!
I have to warn you, these are kind of addicting. I served these for a dairy dinner gathering recently and they were a big hit. They’re also vegetarian and gluten free. Enjoy!
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STUFFED FIGS WITH GOAT CHEESE
12 purple/black figs (large ones work best)
3 oz. soft goat cheese
¼ cup chopped walnuts
¼ tsp sea salt
¼ cup honey
You will also need: Coffee/spice grinder or food processor, aluminum foil, cup with spout or small bottle for drizzling honey.
Kosher Key: Dairy
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Start with one fig. Slice the stem tip off of the fig to create a flat surface.
Stick a sharp steak knife into the center of the flat surface till it is ¾ of the way inside the fig. Twirl the steak knife clockwise and counter-clockwise to hollow out the center of the fig, pulling out the fig flesh and seeds that stick to the knife.
The top of the fig should look like the top of an olive. Repeat for the remaining figs.
Place goat cheese into a small plastic bag (or, if you have a pastry bag, you can use that). Warm the goat cheese by massaging it in your hands for about a minute. If it’s a cold day you may need to warm your hands under hot water before doing this. You want to make sure the cheese is soft and squeezable.
Push the cheese to a bottom corner of the bag. Cut the very tip of that corner off the bag with a pair of scissors. Squeeze the cheese through the hole in the corner. Pipe about a teaspoon of cheese into the center of each fig.
Cover a small cookie sheet with foil. Place the stuffed figs onto the sheet, evenly spaced.
Take the chopped walnuts and pulse them in a spice/coffee grinder or food processor till they become a coarse powder, or “meal.” Don’t over-process or you’ll wind up with almond butter!
Spread the walnut meal into the base of a small skillet. Toast the meal over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly, till the powder becomes fragrant and lightly browned. It will burn if you’re not careful, so keep an eye on this until it’s done.
Immediately pour the toasted walnut powder into a small bowl and mix in ¼ tsp sea salt, stir till well blended. Set aside.
Warm up the honey in a small saucepan over medium heat till it becomes soft and fluid. This should only take about a minute. Pour the honey into a small cup with spout or bottle. Drizzle the honey evenly over the top of the stuffed figs.
Sprinkle the salted walnut meal evenly across the top of the figs. Some of the meal will stick to the honey, some will fall onto the tray. Just make sure that all exposed areas of honey are evenly coated with walnut meal.
Place the tray on the middle rack of the oven. Cook for 10-12 minutes till the figs and cheese are heated through. Don’t over-bake them; the fig flesh is delicate and will fall apart if you let it bake too long.
Serve figs warm as an appetizer to a dairy meal. They will be bursting with juice, so make sure you have napkins on hand. Enjoy!