Today I was having a conversation (in my head) with Pierre Hermé, the internationally famous French pastry chef. “Monsieur Hermé, would you taste this humble fig compote, created by no less humble Lebanese countrywomen with their winter provisions, some dried figs, a handful of walnuts, a fistful of sesame seeds, a dash of anise, a smidgeon of miske (mastic) and tell me if you can top that! “
To which he replied, lifting his toque, “Non, Madame, je m’incline!” (I bow to you).
After all, Monsieur Hermé, you borrowed from our patrimoine (heritage), you created your famous macarons with our rose and pistachio flavors! You called your pastries Ispahan (if I am not mistaken where is that from, China?!!)
Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, this is what Monsieur Hermé would reply; the complex yet immensely satisfying medley of flavors created by humble Lebanese countrywomen ( and men) is it!
A few things you need to know about this compote:
- You can make it in less than 30 minutes.
- It will last up to a year if preserved in a jar and sealed properly.
- It is the one of the best and simplest desserts you will ever experience.
- It is also “good for you”, very “healthy” and nutritious.
To sum it up, here is what you will do: You will cook cut-up figs in a simple anise-scented sugar syrup along with some walnuts, until the figs are totally imbibed with the syrup; you will “finish” it off with a swirl of toasted sesame seeds and a dash of mastic (if you like that exotic flavor-I am under its spell!)
You will keep a jar of it close by when the urge for ” a little something sweet” tugs at you.
- 1 pound of dried figs
- 1 cup of walnuts
- 3/4 cup of sesame seeds
- 1/2 tablespoon of ground anise
- 1/4 teaspoon of mastic pebbles (optional)
- 1 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 1/2 cups of water
- 1/2 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
What you can do ahead of time:
- Cut up the figs in little pieces and discard the hard tips.
- Chop the walnuts in coarse bits.
- Place the sesame seeds on a baking sheet or in a skillet and toast gently for a few minutes till golden.
- Squeeze the juice of half a lemon and measure to get one half of a tablespoon.
- Place the mastic pebbles in a small mortar and crush with a pinch of sugar till powdery.
When you are ready:
- Place the sugar and water in a heavy-bottomed pan. As soon as the syrup boils, add the lemon juice and stir. If you find some froth at the top, remove it and discard it.
- Add the anise and the walnuts. Let them simmer for a minute, then add the cut up figs.
- Simmer the mixture gently for about 15 minutes or so, stirring frequently so as not to let it stick to the bottom of the pot. When the syrup has almost evaporated, add the sesame seeds.
- Stir for a few minutes until the mixture is very thick. Turn off the heat, add the ground mastic and stir vigorously to mix it well.
- Let the mixture cool. Pour into a sterilized jar and close tightly. It will keep for up to one year.
NOTE: To sterilize jars: Follow the directions.