Fig recipes to try now before the fruit’s all gone

Believe it or not, it’s rare that someone who develops recipes for a living gets to play with their food. But that’s what I’ve been doing with figs for the last couple weeks. I’m always one to become obsessed with a certain fruit while it’s in a fleeting season, and figs are my current obsession. I spent a lot of time eating them with odd ingredients or subverting their delicateness with intense flavors to see if they could handle it. The results are some really fun recipes that I hope you’ll try while the season lasts for just a couple more weeks.

After eating some leftover scraps of fig and watermelon on my morning toast one day, I thought, “Oh, this is great,” and immediately set about turning it into my favorite breakfast of the last month. Ripe purple figs and slices of watermelon balance out each other’s sweetness — the former rich and heady, the latter lean and refreshing — and pair perfectly with mild, creamy ricotta on sesame toast with a drizzle of tahini and some lime zest. Some recipes just develop themselves.

In the preserving category, I went two routes: One was a simple pickle where slices of fig are cold-soaked in vinegar with some mild Marash chiles and toasted, cracked fennel seeds. The spices enhance the earthiness of the figs, which — oddly — brings out more of their sweetness to balance the vinegar brine.

The other was a more assertive preserve in the form of a quick kimchi. Gochugaru, minced scallions and fish sauce combine to make a fragrant paste that coaxes the sugar from the figs while balancing their sweetness with loads of umami. Eat them on the first day for a punch of flavor; wait till the fourth day for a more mellow, but more nuanced, savoriness. A couple of pieces of fig kimchi and a bowl of hot cooked rice has been sustaining me well for weeks.

And for dessert, I took it back to the cookie that fed me through my college dorm years for inspiration: the fig Newton. Using a hearty whole-grain flour to balance the floral sweetness of figs has always been an inspired match. But in my version, I use rye flour in the cake — which stays light despite the heft, I promise — and browned butter in the frosting to amp up the nuttiness.

Honey sweetens the jammy filling, which also gets used as a tart sauce on top after some of it is puréed with a bold amount of fresh lemon juice. It’s the type of cake that’ sweet but not incredibly rich — you can eat it for breakfast just as easily as for dessert or a snack around the afternoon blood-sugar lull.

I hope you find these recipes as fun to eat as I did to create. It was work, of course, but under such carefree circumstances, the figs did all the heavy lifting.

Fig And Watermelon Toast With Ricotta, Sesame And Lime

Rich, plushy figs are balanced with crunchy, lean watermelon in this odd but delicious pairing. If you don’t like watermelon, a ripe cantaloupe or other musk melon works well too, although the sweetness will be more pronounced. Greek yogurt, labneh or even cream cheese can work in a pinch if you don’t have ricotta.
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Cook time: 10 minutes.

Fig and Watermelon Toast with Ricotta, Sesame Seeds and Lime Zest

(Silvia Razgova/For The Times)

Pickled Figs With Marash Chile And Fennel Seeds

The figs are cold-pickled in vinegar with crushed fennel seeds and Marash chile flakes for a mild heat. Urfa, Aleppo or even half the amount in crushed red chile flakes would work as a substitute. These fig pickles are wonderful on a cheeseboard or in a sandwich paired with prosciutto or cured ham and a salty cheese such as feta or plain Parmigiano-Reggiano.
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Cook time: 15 minutes, plus 2 hours chilling.

 Pickled Figs with Fennel Oil, Pecorino and Thyme

(Silvia Razgova/For The Times)

Quick Green Fig Kimchi

Spicy Korean chile flakes and pungent garlic, ginger and fish sauce may seem like an overpowering match for figs, but the fruit holds its own. Serve the kimchi on its own or as you would any type of kimchi as a side to steamed vegetables or fish with a bowl of warm white rice.
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Cook time: 30 minutes, plus 1 day.

Fig Kimchi

(Silvia Razgova/For The Times)

Honeyed Fig and Rye Cake with Brown Butter Frosting

This cake balances honey-sweetened jammy figs with toasty, bitter rye flour in a simple two-layer cake covered in a thin layer of brown butter frosting. Some of the jam — puréed with lots of lemon juice — gets poured over the top of the cake to add a hit of floral tartness. Turkish or Black Mission figs make the best filling for this cake, but use your favorite type.
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Cook time: 2 hours, plus 1 hour chilling.

 Brown Butter & Fig Cake

(Silvia Razgova/For The Times)

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