Last weekend, at a wine tasting party, I met a woman named Barb over the cheese plate. We chatted about the merlot as we cleaved moist slabs of Red Darla and crumbling Black Creek Buttery off the serving platter with small knives. I picked up a small, ripe fig and absentmindedly opened it, stuffed it with soft, fresh goat cheese, and popped it into my mouth.
Barb – I think it was her – looked at me in confusion. “What was that?” she asked. She’d never seen a fig before, and admitted that she’d assumed they were some sort of teardrop-shaped grape.
I picked up another one, rolling it around between my thumb and forefinger to show her its natural softness. I picked the stem off, held the fruit between the fingertips of both hands, and broke it open with my two thumbnails, revealing the nest of pink flesh and white seeds inside. She looked closer. “You can eat that?” You can, and you should, I said. I taught her how to stuff them with cheese, and drifted along to another conversation.
Ten minutes later, I heard someone squeal with delight from across the room. There was Barb, still standing at the cheese table, showing a gaggle of forty-something women how to do the same. I smiled, happy to see the experience propagate, listening to them coo over the figs like they were babies.
This morning, I found ripe, sweet, healthy figs at the market, and brought them home for lunch. I nestled them into a salad, and topped them with a vinaigrette made with the tangy, slighly sour verjus I brought home from the wine tasting.
Verjus is the unfermented juice of unripe grapes. You use it like you would a vinegar, for dressings or marinades, or even for poaching fish or chicken. But though I’ve tasted it at restaurants, it’s as new to me in the kitchen as the figs were to Barb; I think I bought it because I wanted to remind myself how many discoveries still await every cook, no matter how experienced.
As I ate, enjoying how the small fig seeds made tiny, weak pops between my teeth compared to the assertive crunch of the granola I sprinkled on top at the last minute, I thought of Barb, and hoped she’d find more figs.
Sweet Cress and Fruit Salad with Grapefruit-Verjus Vinaigrette (PDF)
Recipe 303 of 365
Here’s a vinaigrette recipe that has lots of sass – for kick, it relies on verjus, plus some of the grapefruit vinegar I found recently at Trader Joe’s. Use it to dress a salad with soft, sweet leaves, figs, and the first small oranges of the season, so there’s a contrast to the sharpness of the vinaigrette.
TIME: 10 minutes
MAKES: 4 servings
1 bunch watercress or Bibb lettuce
8 small, ripe Mission figs (the purple kind), sliced
2 Satsuma tangerines, sliced or sectioned
2 teaspoons grapefruit vinegar
2 tablespoons verjus
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Granola, croutons, nuts, and/or crumbled bleu or goat cheese, for garnish
Arrange the watercress, figs, and tangerines on salad plates.
In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar, verjus, and mustard to blend, season with salt and pepper, and whisk the oil in until emulsified. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the salad, and top with granola and bleu cheese, or whatever you have on hand.