About two years ago, Plan to Plate was just getting revved up, and I was shooting entirely from the hip. A sweet friend, who I had grown to love while we waited tables, introduced me to Charli, owner of local food business “Beyond the Measuring Cup”, with the hopes that she would be a mentor for me as I delved into a completely new arena. Charli and I met over coffee and connected instantly, and I quickly learned that she is a Jack (or Jill)-of-all-trades. Not only does she cook for people who are ill, she gives sewing lessons, teaches music, and utilizes her nursing background to pursue avenues of natural healing. She’s a calm, centered dynamo. At the end of our first meeting, she invited me to her house to pick figs. I’d never even thought about picking figs, but Charli has a gigantic fig tree in her front yard, and I was eager to learn everything I could about food. When I arrived, we pulled out a ladder that would have made my acrophobic husband quake in his boots. Intrigued, I began climbing and pulling sticky figs from the branches, following Charli’s advice about choosing the ones that were ripe and ready.
I filled several buckets with the sweet summer fruit and felt exhilarated by this new experience.
Then, I got home and wondered, “What the heck am I gonna do with all of these figs?!?!?!” Call me crazy, but my mind went straight bacon and blue cheese. I wrapped about a million blue cheese stuffed figs in bacon and roasted them to crispy perfection. I wish I had a photo! I remember having trays upon trays of them ready to eat- and I was home alone. I entertained the possibility of wandering through the streets of Decatur handing the sweet and savory treats to anyone I came across. Instead, I ate until I could fit no more in my belly, satisfied and excited about my expanding horizons, and packed the rest up for friends.
This week, when Mecca told me that our CSA community would be receiving figs, I thought back to that tree-climbing day fondly. I’ve learned so incredibly much about food since then, and I feel intensely grateful. I knew that the sugary qualities of the figs would make for an amazing barbecue sauce.
So, today I give you Figgy Piggy Pops with Okra Cakes and Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Tomatoes. You know I love me some food on a stick. I have deep affection for portable edibles – and I’d say that the bone is the original stick. So fire up your grill and get ready for some deliciousness.
Adam started by making a simple dry rub of
2 heaping t paprika
1 heaping T chili powder
1 T dried mustard
1 T granulated garlic
1 T brown sugar
1/4 t cayenne
and a healthy pinch or two of salt and pepper
Mix your spices together and taste. It should be salty with a sweet background and a hint of smokiness.
Then rinse and pat the ribs dry and pull the membrane off the back of the racks. This can be a tedious process, but it’s totally worth the work.
Sprinkle your spice rub over both sides of the ribs, patting it on with your hands. And let the ribs sit, covered in the fridge for an hour or so.
This gives you plenty of time to build the sauce.
1 yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 pint of figs, diced (plus a few more figs to add once the sauce has cooked down)
1 red jalapeno or other chili pepper for heat (optional- you could also use a pinch of red pepper flakes)
3 T whole grain mustard
3 T Worcestershire sauce
2 Cups ketchup
1 Cup water
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper to taste
Heat a medium sized pot with a good drizzle of canola oil to medium heat. Add your onions and a pinch of salt
and let them cook down for five minutes or so. Go ahead and cut your figs while you wait.
Once the onions are soft, add your garlic and cook another minute.
Then, add your chopped figs and, if you like, a jalapeno or other hot pepper to bring some spiciness to the sauce.
Let those flavors melt together for a few minutes.
Then add the remaining ingredients.
Stir it all together
and bring it to a simmer.
You want to let your sauce hang out for at least 20 minutes, but you can allow it to bubble for quite a while. The goal is to reduce and thicken the sauce so it will coat the ribs beautifully.
After 20 – 45 minutes, use a stick blender or a food processor (very carefully) to blend the ingredients until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. At this point, I couldn’t really detect the fig flavor, although the sweetness was evident and mingled spectacularly with the heat from the pepper and the quintessential bbq tang factor. I added a few more fresh figs to bring them up to the forefront.
And then I set the sauce on the back burner over low heat to become all the more tasty…
Pull your ribs out of the fridge about 20 – 30 minutes before you’re ready to cook them. Taking the chill off of meats always helps them to cook better. Adam set up the grill so the ribs would be over indirect heat, and we let them go for about an hour and a half,
flipping once during cooking.
Meanwhile, time to prepare the spaghetti squash.
This is super simple. Cut the squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds as you would with butternut or acorn squash.
Drizzle with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Then, wrap each half in aluminum foil and place it on the grill. (You can totally do this in a 400° oven as well. But, our grill was already workin’- so why not?)
The goal is to let the insides become tender. And this took about 45 minutes on our grill. Time enough to put together the okra cakes.
So, as I’ve mentioned before, I prefer my okra crispy. And I am scared of its slimy factor- unless it’s being employed to thicken a soup or gumbo. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of roasting okra.
All you gotta do is preheat your oven to 400°, and slice the pods in half long-ways.
Drizzle heartily with canola oil and season however you like.
Toss to coat the okra and lay them out on your pan.
Let them go about 10 – 12 minutes and then start flipping. The smaller ones will cook faster, which is why I like to separate them. (It’s not just because of my OCD.)
Once brown on the first side, flip them over and cook another few minutes. Then, begin pulling the okra halves off as they become crisp. You need to keep checking in to prevent burning- at least I do. Place toasty okra on a paper towel lined plate and try not to eat them all before the batch is finished. You do have to taste one or two, just to see if they need any extra salt. And voila! Crispy okra.
Anyway, we thought about making crunchy okra fritters to go along with our ribs, but we figured that not everyone has a deep fryer in their kitchen. And when we take ours out, it tends to live on our counter for a week frying every manner of food in our house. And that makes for one unhealthy week. We opted for an okra cake instead.
It was our first shot at making these. And I was in the minority of the crowd- not loving them completely. I think the batter needs tweaking- or maybe we could cut the okra thinner. But, here’s what we did:
1/2 vidalia onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1/4 Cup milk
1/2 Cup flour
1 T paprika
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
Slice your okra into little wagon wheels and combine with all of the other ingredients.
Toss to coat the okra well.
Set the mixture in the fridge for 20 minutes to come together.
Around this time, our ribs were ready. When you take your ribs off the grill, wrap them in foil and let them rest on your counter for 20 – 30 minutes.
When your squash is nice and tender,
remove it from the grill too and place both halves on a platter.
Use a fork to scrape the flesh away from the shell. Any accumulated liquids laying on the top of the squash will get absorbed into the threads. It will look like spaghetti- ergo the name…
All I did was stir a pat of butter into the squash itself and then chopped up two of my beautiful, hearty, farm-fresh tomatoes (and seeded them too). I added a squeeze of lemon juice, a handful of fresh chopped parsley leaves, and another sprinkling of salt and pepper.
YUM! Straightforward and divine!
We cooked off our little okra cakes in a nonstick pan over medium heat with a little canola oil.
And we drained them on paper towels once they were golden brown. It only took a couple minutes per side.
Lastly, we turned our sauce out into a bowl
and painted our ribs with it.
Oh my goodness! Time to plate.
Those ribs were unbelievable. They had that bacon-y, savory, barbecued crust. And the meat was superbly tender, pulling off the bone cleanly with each bite. Adam has gotten the grilling of ribs down to a science, and that figgy barbecue sauce was an explosion of flavor in my mouth. Sweet, tangy, spicy, rich. Mmmm. A figgy piggy pop. Yes. I sucked every morsel of goodness from each and every bone (which was seriously encouraged in my house growing up- complete with warm washcloths on the table for wiping your hands and face). The spaghetti squash was light and totally worthy of sitting next to the ribs. The freshness was wonderful and the simplicity was spot-on. Those tomatoes are magical. The okra cakes tasted very okra-y. Like well-seasoned okra. I didn’t mind the flavor at all. It was the slimy texture that turned me off. As I mentioned before, everyone else ’round the table enjoyed them. Maybe it’s just me. But, I’d try them differently next time. Don’t worry, I’ll work it out the next time we have okra in our fridge!
And that is that. A lovely summertime meal, created and enjoyed with friends- inspired by a woman who has taught me so much. I hope that this post finds you happily navigating through the end of the work week. I know I’ve been busy as all get-out, now that the new school year is up and running. Speaking of, I’ve got to get going. Two families to cook for today- and I need to run to the market. Soak up every last drop of these summer days, as September and fall are just around the corner. Here’s to growing and learning and becoming better versions of ourselves all the time.
Happy cooking and eating to you,