A jam would seem an unlikely ingredient to be overlooked.
After all, legions of parents rely on the many offerings of the grocer's PB&J aisle to maintain peace with the lunch box crowd.
Except that when you peer past the usual suspects — strawberry, raspberry, grape, apricot — you find some seriously wonderful hidden jam gems that belong as much at the dinner table as they do slathered between slices of bread.
My favorite? Fig.
Fig jam has a thick, almost dense consistency and a rich, full sweetness that isn't cloying the way many preserves are. My theory on that? Much of the sweetness comes from natural sugars; figs have one of the highest sugar contents among fruits.
Except they aren't technically a fruit. Figs actually are flowers folded in on themselves. The tiny, crunchy seeds inside are the fruit.
Fig jam loves to be paired with Mediterranean flavors, from oregano and feta cheese to almonds and just about anything lemony.
And it's great with meat, in part because it is loaded with an enzyme that is a potent (and delicious) tenderizer.
Which means you should consider adding a bit to your next beef stew. Or rub it under the skin of a chicken or turkey before roasting. Or substitute it for the apricot jam called for in many sweet-and-sour chicken recipes.
And that's just the start. To make the best grilled cheese ever, slap some cheddar, a bit of sliced ham or prosciutto and some fig jam between slices of sourdough, then toast until oozy and crisp.
For more ideas for using fig jam, check out the Off the Beaten Aisle column over on Food Network: http://bit.ly/yKcrmb . Or try it in this crazy good tomato, avocado and feta salad with fig vinaigrette.
Tomato, Avocado and Feta Salad with Fig Vinaigrette
Start to finish: 25 minutes
6 thick slices sourdough bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 1/4 cup
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic
3 tablespoons fig jam
1 tablespoon white wine or water
3 large tomatoes, cut into wedges
2 avocados, pitted, peeled and cubed
1 bulb fennel, trimmed and chopped
6 ounces crumbled feta cheese
3 cups arugula
Heat the oven to 400 F.
In a large bowl, toss the bread with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Arrange the bread in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast for 15 minutes, or until golden. Let cool.
Meanwhile, in a blender, combine the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil, the red wine vinegar, garlic, fig jam and white wine. Blend until smooth, then season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
In a large bowl, gently toss together the tomatoes, avocados, fennel and feta. When the bread has cooled, add it to the vegetables. Drizzle the dressing over the tomato-bread mixture, tossing gently to coat.
Place 1/2 cup of the arugula on each of 6 serving plates. Top each with the salad mixture.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 609 calories; 246 calories from fat (40 percent of total calories); 27 g fat (7 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 25 mg cholesterol; 75 g carbohydrate; 19 g protein; 9 g fiber; 1,014 mg sodium.
J.M. Hirsch is the national food editor for The Associated Press. He is author of the recent cookbook, "High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking." His Off the Beaten Aisle column also appears at FoodNetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch.