I’ve always wanted to use fig leaves in my cooking and considering that I’ve always made it a point to grow my favorite fruit no matter where we’ve moved, it is odd that I’ve skirted this topic. One reason might be and I admit I do this, I tend to treat the produce I grow a little preciously, and consequently, I wait till the very last minute to eat them. I like to see fruit sit on my trees for as long as possible.
The fig tree is spectacular, it’s large rounded forked leaves with its juicy little bags of fruits. Some of you who follow me on Instagram and are following the progress of the new garden landscaping already know that I own three varieties – a Black Mission Fig, a Black Jack, and a Tiger/Panache fig tree. Fig trees are easy to propagate, you take a cutting from a branch in fall or winter when the tree goes dormant and stick it into the soil. By Spring you will see new leaf buds emerge.
When fig leaves are cooked, they turn edible but they also release a wonderful aroma. This week, I encourage you to grab a handful of fresh fig leaves and dry them out in your oven. Your kitchen will smell the most delicious toasty coconut aroma, it’s absolutely amazing how this transformation happens. You can steep fig leaves in hot sugar syrup to make a flavored syrup to be used in drinks or even in sweets. Fig leaves are often steeped in hot milk to make fig leaf ice cream, in fact, I first learned about fig leaves in cooking via Berkley’s Chez Panisse restaurant.
This week’s recipe is from my friend Mark Diacono’s new book, Herb A Cook’s Companion (Quadrille). This is an excellent book for those of you that want to learn more about herbs but also for those of you that like to garden. Mark’s filled this book with helpful notes and ideas and it’s a joyful book that’s brought much-needed enthusiasm to my gardening and cooking. Use this fig leaf syrup to make drinks or even add it to lemonade, gingerade, and limeade. You can incorporate it into panna cotta and other desserts. The options are endless.
3 fresh fig leaves
1 lb 2 oz sugar
2 cups water
Take fig leaves and dry them at 250F/130C until they turn crisp, not brown, about 15 minutes.
Prepare a simple syrup by bringing the sugar and water to a boil until the sugar is dissolved completely.
Add the dried fig leaves and steep overnight in the refrigerator covered. You could also use a shorter steeping time for a milder flavor.
Store in a sterilized airtight bottle in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
When picking fig leaves avoid coming into contact with the plant’s sap. Fig sap contains a substance called ficin which irritates the skin (I know from personal experience because I went to the dermatologist to get treated after I accidentally let it get on the back of my neck while trimming a fig tree). I’ve been told that the sap levels of ficin are lowest before sunrise and at sunset, so you could collect the leaves then or simply just use gloves and be careful. Heating the leaves destroys the ficin so it is not an issue during cooking.