I remember the two steps to the entrance of our yellow bungalow; I remember eating cold whipped cream “Ledo” with a square plastic spoon on our way to the beach; it was packed in a paper cup and it tasted like milk, vanilla, and freshly churned butter; I remember holding several really big, skinny books Mother and Father bought me at the fair; I remember the feel of hot pebbles and cool Adriatic caressing my chubby, four year old feet; I remember the ease with which my younger sister made friends with the kids next door, while I hid behind a huge aloe vera plant and bit my nails; I remember a paper cone filled with warm figs Father brought from the market and spilled on top of our oversized striped beach towel; and I remember how I watched the weird-looking fruit with suspicion, doubting its real identity, invoking the images of Christmas Eve and amber-colored, chewy, and wrinkled pillows filled with sweet seeds that exploded when bitten.
Father bit into a slightly soft, light brown fig to reveal fleshy pulp the color of my tongue, and when his eyes closed in delight I trusted him without a question. I reached for one tentatively; my sister followed, and pretty soon we were running to the sea to wash off the sticky, pink rivulets that laced our tanned limbs, as we crunched the small seeds between our molars, trying to extract the last traces of the exotic honey taste that enchanted us.
For years, the only time I enjoyed figs was on the beaches of the Adriatic, and I almost forgot my initial infatuation. It all came back eight years ago when my sister and I took my three girls to the seaside in the town of Igalo in Montenegro. We were too lazy to go to the farmers’ market in the heat of the midday, and not willing to wake up at the crack of dawn to avoid it, but dark-haired and handsome teenagers who patrolled the beaches were not offering only small frosted bottles of Fanta and chocolate-covered mini donuts that would invariably attract the girls’ attention, but also baskets of warm figs, as ripe and swollen with seeds as that long-gone day Father offered them to us as a gift.
My daughters were older and not as trusting as we were. Anya was skeptical and doubtful, squeezing one unfortunate specimen between her fingers, dissecting it with her nails, breaking small pieces off and placing them carefully in her mouth, taking her time in getting to know this new fruit. Zoe, on the other hand, mesmerized by the dark rose interior and completely beguiled by the honey-taste and tiny crunchy seeds, grabbed a handful. My sister and I did not need a prompt, and our pile disappeared quickly, leaving our fingers, mouths, and cheeks sticky and sweet, and our faces brightened with smiles of contentment.
We ate our weight in figs that summer and my girls fell in love with that dowdy-looking Mediterranean fruit that hides its brilliant essence so skillfully. For years to come that was the only thing they wanted from friends and relatives who vacationed on the Adriatic coast when we happened to spend our summers in Serbia.
But now we live in Southern California and even though figs are everywhere, in grocery stores, at farmers’ markets, on neighborhood trees, I behave as if I still had not received the memo and grab a box greedily every time I see one. And the fruit disappears as fast, sneaky long fingers plucking them one by one, until only their plastic containers remain.
Even though I admit to absconding with a few of the figs myself, I managed to save a dozen to use in the salad that all of a sudden is not a luxury. It came together so easily, as if I had been making it for years. Yes, my fingers tried to steal a few slices before they hit the salad bowl, but my restraint was formidable and we were rewarded with a glorious mound of spring greens dotted with crumbled goat cheese, sparkling candied pecans, and soft, sweet wheels of figs. Not even the presence of arugula, whose bodacious flavors the girls still have to discover, managed to deter them from clearing their plates and proclaiming it one of the best salads ever.
- A big pile of mixed spring greens (enough for everyone)
- 6-8 ripe figs, sliced into rounds
- a handful of candied pecans
- 4 oz crumbled goat cheese
- balsamic vinaigrette:
- 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- ½ tsp coarse salt
- ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
- Mix all the ingredients for salad in a big bowl.
- Pour balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper into a small glass jar (I save the jars from salsa, capers, artichokes, etc. and use them for emulsifying my dressings).
- Close the lid tightly and shake vigorously for ten seconds, to allow vinegar and oil to become friendly.
- Pour immediately on top of salad and toss lightly.