Grilled honeyed figs and labneh cheese salad (infused with middle eastern flavours)

grilled honeyed figs and labneh cheese salad
I wanted to create a salad suitable for the colder weather. (Yes, you can eat salads in the autumn and winter!) I wanted something that looked pretty on the plate, which reflected the warm muted colours of an English autumn. Seasonal figs seemed perfect in every way; such a beautiful colour both inside and out, as well as sweetly delicious. I couldn't make up my mind whether to serve the fig salad as a savoury course or a dessert, but my nub of saucisson sec won me over to the savoury side, which worked beautifully with the sweet perfumed flavour of the figs.

I also made balls of labneh cheese (from a large pot of natural yoghurt - it takes a few hours or overnight, but is great fun and worth the effort). Roll the balls of labneh cheese in either chopped nuts, Aleppo pepper. sumac or za'atar for interesting flavours and textures.

I was so pleased with the results, which we had with some grilled lamb, that I entered it into The Guardian's Readers' Recipe Swap for the theme of Autumn Salads. I was unbelievably chuffed to find that Allegra McEvedy who was judging the results wrote:

Impressed doesn't even touch the sides of what I felt while looking over and then cooking up your autumn salad recipes. In fact it was more like: "Dammit Allegra, time to retrain and get another string to your bow – the pack ain't that far behind at all!" Seriously good job guys, and I don't mind fessing up I've already pocketed the simple, but somewhat ethereal, dressing for the honeyed figs.
While my recipe didn't win, both it and my butternut squash salad were shortlisted. And Allegra loved my salad dressing. I won't let it go to my head, but I may let it go to my stomach. And can I just say "whay-hayyyy"! Very happy!

Serves 2
Skill level: Easy

4-6 figs
baby greens (I used red chard)
labneh balls (see below), ricotta or feta cheese
cured meat (I used saucisson sec)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tsp orange blossom water
½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
a pinch of ground toasted fennel seeds or anise
salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Make the dressing by combining all the ingredients in a jam jar and give a good shake until emulsified. Check the seasoning.
  2. Pre-heat the grill.
  3. Halve the figs, lengthways. Lightly coat in the dressing, and then place cut-side down on the grill. Grill until lightly caramelised (about 2 minutes). Turn and grill on the other side for 1 to 2 minutes.
  4. Scatter 2 plates with baby greens and top each plate with 4 fig halves.
  5. Add the labneh, dollops of ricotta or crumbled feta cheese.
  6. Dice the cured meat and scatter over the plate.
  7. Drizzle over a little more of the dressing.
  • To make labneh, place 500g natural yoghurt with ½ tsp salt in a sieve lined with 3 layers of muslin, cheesecloth or J-cloths, suspended over a bowl. Leave the yoghurt for at least 4 hours (or overnight in the fridge) to drain. Eventually the whey will drain off and you will be left with a soft creamy cheese, which is thick enough to hold its shape.
  • Roll the balls in za'atar, sumac, chopped hazelnuts or Aleppo pepper.
  • If you place the balls in a jar and cover with olive oil, the cheese balls will last for several weeks.

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