Bon Appetit Wednesday! Figs Part 2: Greek Fig Cakes (Sykomaitha)

fig-929268_960_720Last week we told you a bit about the prehistoric history of the fig and how it spread to Greece and Rome, where it became a major dietary staple. This week we’re exploring more about the fig itself and as well bringing you a recipe for Greek fig cakes, called Sykomaitha. Just as figs have some unexpected palate-tickling qualities, these sweet little cakes up the deliciousness factor with a delightful surprise ingredient.

The common fig is native to the Middle East and Asia. It is a deciduous tree that grows to a height of approximately 6-7 meters. It is known for its smooth bark, dense fruit and large fragrant leaves. Perhaps one of the reasons it was so popular throughout antiquity was its hardy nature. It can grow in various types of soil and even “tolerate a 10-20 degree frost in favorable site.”[1]

Figs are extremely nutritious. They are an “excellent source of dietary fiber… and are fat free, sodium free, cholesterol free and gluten free!”[2] Just a few of these little gems provide you with one whole fruit serving. And their usefulness doesn’t stop at the fruit. An oil that is both edible and lubricating can be derived from the seeds. The leaves can be used as fodder. In France the leaves are used in producing perfumes with a “woodland” scent.[3] The tree produces a natural rubber, or latex, that can be used in a variety of ways, including as a medicine applied to “warts, skin ulcers and sores”.[4] Even the bark can be used to make clothing and the wood can be burned for a long-lasting fuel source.[5] In ancient times, the fig was even considered to be an antidote to poison.

Clearly, the ancients knew what they were doing when they incorporated the fig into their society. Today’s recipe is from the Greeks who have long appreciated the fig. Thankfully for us, the Greeks also love ouzo, the anise-flavored aperitif that gives these cakes their surprising and unique flavor. The way the flavors of the ouzo and the figs mingle together will make you wonder why you haven’t tried this combination before. So, get cookin’ with the inimitable, surprising and long enduring fig!

Sykomaitha

Recipe adapted from Hank Shaw and the Honest Food blog.

Serves 20

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of dried figs
  • 1 cup of chopped walnuts
  • Minced tops of a fennel bulb
  • 1 tablespoon of black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon of ground star anise
  • 1/2 cup of ouzo
  • A jar of saba, boiled-down grape must, or honey
  • 20 fig leaves

TOOLS FOR MAKING THE SYKOMAITHA

  • String and scissors
  • Your fig leaves
  • A little scoop to make the cakes (1/8 cup measure used for this recipe)
  • Your saba or honey, and a paint brush to paint the cakes with

 

Instructions

  1. Soak your fig leaves in ice water, and chop your figs fine. Once they are minced, soak them in ouzo.
  2. While the figs are soaking, mince your walnuts and fennel to a fine consistency.
  3. After about 15-20 minutes, your figs should be soft enough to work with. In a large bowl add the spices, the walnuts and the fennel. Mix and knead this mixture for at least 5 minutes. You want it to look like a meatball mix.
  4. Form your little cakes with the scoop just like a meatball, and pat them slightly flat. Paint them with the saba or honey all over, then place one on the rough side of the fig leaf.
  5. Cut a length of string long enough to tie your cake.
  6. Now that you have the painted cake on the fig leaf, take up one lobe of the leaf, then its opposite, and so on, using the largest lobe (the end of the leaf) for the end. It is a lot like wrapping a present or closing a folding box.
  7. Cut off about 1/4 inch of the stem end of the fig leaves to make them suppler, if so desired. This step is not absolutely necessary.
  8. Once you have the cake wrapped, you will need to tie it. Lay the string down on your work surface and place the wrapped cake on top. Bring up either side of the string and cross them over tightly. Switch the string’s direction 90 degrees, so now the string is headed down the other two sides of your little package.
  9. Flip carefully while keeping tension on the string and tie tightly on the opposite side. You will get the hang of it quickly. A glass of ouzo tends to help this process go more smoothly.
  10. Bake the cakes at 125 degrees for two hours.

[1] Fig. (n.d.). Retrieved January 23, 2016, from https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/fig.html

[2] Figs: An Ancient Fruit That Is Truly Sustainable. (2012). Retrieved January 23, 2016, from http://www.theorganicview.com/environment/figs-an-ancient-fruit-that-is-truly-sustainable/

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Figs.

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