Sometimes Tastes Change

February 21, 2012

I have heard, and maybe you have too, that your tastes can change every few years.  Something that you once hated can, miraculously, become something that you love.  I witnessed this phenomenon happen with my middle brother.  Alex was a very picky eater as a child.  My mom tells of him eating only applesauce, yogurt, and toast.  Slowly but surely he grew into an amazing eater who not only loved food but loved huge quantities of it.  Except for three things.  Mushrooms, olives, and artichoke hearts.  Three things, it just so happens, that I love dearly and cannot imagine my life without.  His mother, sister, and wife are all vegetarian so he will taste the things on his NO! list periodically to make sure his tastes haven’t changed.  One day he tasted an olive, after not having tried one in a long time, and fell in love.  So now, his NO! list only consists of mushrooms and artichoke hearts.  Progress.  It is for this reason that I force Randy to try beets at least once a year.  I am every hopeful that he will see the light and fall in love with beets.  So far, not so much.

All of this was on my mind when I found this salad recipe.  I don’t consider myself a picky eater.  There are very few things, besides meat, that I won’t eat.  But figs are on my NO! list.  I don’t mind the flavor but the texture is tricky for me.  Perhaps it is the fourth grade mean girl who told me that the crunchy bits in my Fig Newton were actually bug bodies.  Or perhaps it is the way that figs grow, but I just can’t eat them. I can do fig jam but can’t do figs themselves, especially if they are fresh.  But I found the idea of this salad intriguing.  The figs are marinated in a balsamic/sugar/thyme/garlic mixture and then a dressing is made from that mixture along with a healthy dose of walnut oil.  The figs are seared in a hot pan and the bitter greens (watercress and arugula) are tossed with toasted walnuts and the whole thing is garnished with, if you are lucky enough to get your hands on it, a Brie like cheese from Vashon Island called Dinah’s which is named after a cow.

I taught this salad at my February Seasonal Feast classes.  People raved.  I always test a recipe multiple times before I teach it and the first time I tried the figs.  Nope.  Still can’t go there.  I loved the dressing and the greens and the walnuts and the cheese.  And everyone else loved the figs.  They particularly loved the contrast of the warm fig with the cool salad, so if you make this lovely salad, sear off the figs right before you serve it.

One Year Ago:  Asparagus Risotto with Orange Pepper and Orange
Two Years Ago:  Paparadelle with Herbs, Lemon, and Ricotta Salata
Three Years Ago:  Palmiers

Watercress Salad with Marinated Figs and Walnut Dressing

Adapted from Vegetarian
Serves 4

½ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup sugar
2 garlic cloves, bruised
6 thyme sprigs
6 plump figs, halved
4 tbsp. walnut oil
4 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch watercress, leaves trimmed, stems discarded
2-3 ounces baby arugula
8 slices Brie or Camembert
Small handful of walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Place the vinegar, sugar, garlic and 4 of the thyme sprigs in a saucepan and add ½ cup of water.  Bring to a boil and simmer for a minute to dissolve the sugar.  Cook for another 3 minutes then set aside to cool for 5 minutes.  Pour over the halved figs and leave to marinate for an hour or two.

Discard the thyme sprigs and garlic from the marinade and spoon about 5 tablespoons into a small lidded jar.  Strip the leaves from the remaining thyme sprigs and add to the jar with the walnut oil, olive oil, mustard, a pinch of salt, and a few grinds of pepper.  Screw on the lid and shake well to make the dressing.  Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking.

Heat a non-stick pan over medium-high heat and sear the drained figs, cut sides down, for a minute or so until they caramelize.  Remove the pan from the heat, turn the figs over and set aside.

In a large bowl, place the watercress, arugula, and walnuts.  Sprinkle with a pinch of salt.  Drizzle the dressing over top, you will not need all of it, and toss well.  Serve onto salad plates and tuck the figs and cheese among the leaves.




  1. I’m with you on figs. I don’t think even this lovely salad will temp me. I’ll eat everything else though.

    Comment by Charlotte — February 21, 2012 @ 8:10 pm

  2. Are the figs in this salad fresh or dried?

    Comment by Michelle — February 21, 2012 @ 9:48 pm

  3. I hate to even admit it, but I still don’t really like beets! I do try them every year though and I can handle small amounts if cooked a certain way, progress! This salad sounds delicious though!

    Comment by Jacqui — February 21, 2012 @ 10:06 pm

  4. In this instance, they are dried. I would use fresh when they are in season which is around the end of the summer in Seattle.

    Comment by dana — February 21, 2012 @ 10:38 pm

  5. I LOVE figs, and I love the look of this recipe. Though I’m really wishing I didn’t click on that link. My Nonna has a fig tree & we’ve always eaten them growing up, I don’t like them dried so much, but fresh? They’re heavenly! I’ll have to go visit Nonna and see if I can steal some to try out this recipe!

    Comment by Liv B — February 21, 2012 @ 11:58 pm

  6. Try it with dates instead of figs.

    Comment by Lynn D. — February 22, 2012 @ 4:21 am

  7. Somehow, some way I totally forgot that you don’t like figs…probably because I adore them so much! I grew up with two fig trees in my backyard so I’ve been eating them practically since birth. it’s okay…I don’t like mushrooms (or beets) so we’re even. :P

    Comment by Joanne — February 22, 2012 @ 4:24 am

  8. I don’t really buy fresh figs since they are expensive and hard to find in Canada but like the fig jam. Your salad look yummy! I find that goat cheese goes well with fig jam.

    Comment by Helene — February 22, 2012 @ 1:36 pm

  9. Dana – I know Randy hates beets, but I thought you might like this recipe: As for your salad above, it looks amazing to me. One of my good friends has the biggest fig tree I have ever seen in Seattle growing in her backyard (original Columbia City fruit orchard). I will be passing this along to her as well. Thanks for another beautiful recipe idea!

    Comment by Mary Miller / A Passionate Plate — February 22, 2012 @ 7:28 pm

  10. I will never stop loving FIGS! but it’s been 47 years, and I still hate bananas……xo

    Comment by stacey snacks — February 23, 2012 @ 1:09 am

  11. I hate to say it, but your friend was partly right about the dead bug in figs. The crunchy bits are indeed seeds, but each fig contains the dead (though completely broken down by enzymes) wasp that pollinated it. If you have any doubts, google it. This doesn’t stop me from eating figs, though.

    Comment by Holly — February 23, 2012 @ 11:10 am

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