Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. -Mark Twain

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Behold the Humble Jicama

Have you made the acquaintance of the humble jicama root yet? No? Well, don't be put off by its homely appearance. You know what they say about not judging a book by its cover.

Jicama (pronounced HEE-kamah), originated south of the border. Also known as yam bean, Mexican potato or Mexican turnip, it's a cousin of the sweet potato and it can be found in the produce department in most supermarkets. True, it's not much to look at but under its unprepossessing brown exterior lies a real treasure of sweet crispiness that lends itself to endless ways of preparation.

With hot summer weather on the way, I'm concentrating on uncooked dishes, as it is a perfect food to enjoy either on its own or as an ingredient in salads. My personal favorite way to eat it as a snack, sliced or diced then sprinkled with lime juice and chili powder, as shown in the picture above. You will often find it sold this way at street stands all over Latin America.

Another goodie, this one for the microwave: Peel and cut one pound of jicama into cubes or julienne strips. Place in 2-quart covered casserole with 1/4 cup water; microwave on high for 8-9 minutes. Stir once. Serve with honey, butter, salt and pepper, sweet and sour sauce, sour cream or yogurt dressing. Note that a one pound jicama yields about three cups chopped or shredded flesh.

There are plenty of salad recipes available, too, and you can take any of those and riff off it to invent your own.

Here are a few of my favorite salads. Are they authentically Mexican? Well, who cares? The jicama and many of the ingredients are Mexican, and when it's hot outside that's good enough for me.

PREPARATION: Choose jicama roots that are heavy and dense with a smooth, firm exterior; avoid any that are soft or look discolored. You can keep unpeeled jicama in the vegetable crisper in your fridge for up to three weeks. Remove the outer peel and underlying woody part with a paring knife (a vegetable peeler doesn't work well on jicama). Rinse under cool water, and you are ready to slice and dice.

Jicama and Apple Salad: Shred 3 medium-sized jicamas into a small bowl and mix them with 1 diced apple (I like Granny Smith, but you may prefer a different brand), 1/4 cup of raisins (optional) and 1/2 cup of nuts (your choice-- I like pecans). For the dressing: In another bowl prepare the dressing by mixing together 1/2 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon freshly grated lime peel, 2 teaspoons lime juice, 2 teaspoons honey, a dash of hot sauce, a small pinch of powdered marjoram and salt/pepper to taste. Thoroughly blend the dressing into the jicama mixture and chill before serving.

Jicama-Pineapple Salad: This salad is from the excellent Eating Out Loud blog; it was adapted from the Mexico: The Beautiful Cookbook. I haven't made any changes because I think it's perfect just as it is.

  • 3 cups cubed pineapple
  • 3 cups cubed jicama
  • 2 serrano peppers, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
The salad is quick to make — simply toss all of the ingredients together in a bowl and allow to chill for at least 15 minutes before serving. It makes a great appetizer, just provide toothpicks or other skewers. Delicious!

Jicama Slaw:

# 2 large carrots, julienne
# 1 cup red onion, finely sliced

  • 1 large jicama, peeled and shredded
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and shredded
  • 1 cup red onion, finely sliced
  • 1 tomato, julienned
  • 1 red pepper, julienned
  • 1/2 cup radishes, shredded
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely julienned
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. ancho chili powder
  • 2 tsp. honey
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely minced
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Place shredded jicama, carrots, onion, tomato, red pepper, radishes, and cucumber in a large salad bowl. Whisk together the lime juice, vinegar, ancho chili powder, honey and olive oil. Stir in the cilantro and season with salt and pepper. Pour over the jicama salad. Allow the flavors to marinate for about 30 minutes at room temperature before serving.

Serves 6.

All of these recipes go especially well with anything grilled or barbecued.

For those of you on an Atkins Diet, Jicama will make you happy. It is high in carbohydrates in the form of fiber. Sugar is only one type of carbohydrate and jicama is low in sugar. 100 grams of jicama is about 9 grams of carbs, of which 7 grams are fiber and only 2 grams are sugar. It's a good source of potassium and Vitamin C, is low in sodium, has no fat and one serving (1 cup, cubed) contains only about 45 calories.

Buen provecho!

If you have a favorite recipe for a Mexican or Mexican-inspired dish, I'd love to add it to our recipe box! email (and put "recipe" in the subject box so I'll know what it's about)