Rise of the Alien Fruits

IMG_2570As four-legged creatures, we’re inclined to get a little grossed out by things with “too many” legs, or seeds, or eyes. Centipedes and millipedes and spiders are the creepy crawly stuff of nightmares. Many people can’t stomach kiwis, with their fuzzy exterior and billion-seeded exterior. And watermelons, in a semi-abuse of science, have been genetically altered to be seedless.

However, the last few years have bucked that trend. Heirloom tomatoes, or ugly tomatoes, as they’re affectionately called, appeared in gourmet stores, then in large supermarkets. They’re still sold for unholy prices, but that has done little to dampen increasing demand. And other strange fruits and vegetables have begun to appear on the Whole Foods shelves. I literally don’t even know who buys them, but clearly there’s somehow a large enough market for them.

As people strive to be healthier, they’re embracing chia seeds, and flax seeds, and almonds and pistachios, and the general diet of our dear squirrel friends. Trader Joe’s now sells cartons of just pomegranate seeds, and Whole Foods carries horned fruits, which are basically all seeds (and some extraterrestrial green goo). And everyone and their mother suddenly loves figs.

Though my fight-or-flight instinct remains strong when I see a fly or a centipede or a giant spider, I’ve come to appreciate foods with “too many” seeds. Like this horned fruit I got for free the other day, which seriously looks like alien food, but kind of grows on you after a while. And figs, which I absolutely hated as a kid, but now use for “healthy” desserts and “healthy” salads (that are really more like desserts masquerading as salads by the time I’m done with them…).

Fig, Pear, and Candied Walnut Salad – makes 4 light servings

~2.5 oz arugula
10 figs, quartered
Salt
1 pear (Bartlett for more sweetness, Asian for more crunch), sliced lengthwise
1 1/2 cup walnut halves
1/2 cup brown sugar
Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

For the dressing:

1/4 cup + 2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp dijon mustard
Salt to taste

Heat oil at medium heat on a non-stick skillet. Place fig quarters on skillet, sprinkle very lightly with salt, and cook until all sides with seeds are golden-brown. Set aside.

Combine walnut halves and brown sugar at low heat, then bring heat up to medium-high. As brown sugar melts, use wooden spoon to move nuts around, ensuring all nuts are coated and the sugar does not burn. Cook for 5 minutes at most, then remove to a parchment-lined baking pan and quickly spread nuts out to prevent them from drying in clumps. Allow to cool for a few minutes.

Toss together the arugula, pears, figs, walnuts, and a handful of crumbled gorgonzola. Mix together the salad dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Drizzle dressing on top of salad. Serve immediately.

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