This is a rather special salad. Actually, figs have the capacity to render pretty much anything special: their appearance is lush for starters – they have but to lie down on a plate or pose in a fruit bowl and they steal the show. They are also fêted for their aphrodisiac properties: yup – they are the all-round floozy of the fruit world.
Fun fig fact: they would not have survived as a species if it wasn’t for a tiny critter known as the fig wasp, Blastophaga grossorum (a name straight out of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, surely), pollinating them. This must be the only useful recorded function of any wasp, anywhere.
Preheat the grill. Mix the spices, mint and salt with the honey. Make a cut through each fig from the top to within a few millimetres of the base, followed by another at right angles to the first cut, so that you effectively end up with a cross cut through the top of the fruit. Pinch the 4 quarters created by the incisions so that the fig opens a bit like a flower, and divide the spiced honey between the figs. Grill them for around 1½ minutes until the fruit starts to sizzle. Turn the grill off, but leave the figs sitting there to retain their heat.
Slice the merguez on the diagonal into 1cm/½in thick oval slices. Heat a soupçon of oil in a pan and cook the sausage for around 3 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon. Toast the almonds in the same pan for a minute or so until they start to colour.
Toss the green leaves and lettuce in a bowl. Whisk the ingredients for the dressing together. Arrange the figs on top of the salad, and scatter with the merguez and almonds. Drizzle with the dressing and serve with crusty bread.
This started off as a fig, prosciutto and pistachio salad, but I decided that that was too predictable: if something weathers the storm of culinary cliché it becomes a classic, but fig and prosciutto ain’t there yet. It is, however, undeniably delicious, so here’s a quick summary. Prepare the figs in the same way, but instead of spice just top them with a little brown sugar. Mix the grilled figs with some strips of prosciutto, sliced pistachio kernels and salad leaves, then drizzle with a dressing of olive oil, raspberry vinegar, fresh mint, salt and pepper. Add crumbled ricotta or goat’s cheese as optional extras.
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