Jicamas – hard on the lips, tasty on the tongue

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 8, 2011

I bet you don’t have jicamas in your garden! They are a staple in Latin America and can be found in the markets here in the states as the Latin community continues to grow. Their origin is Mexico or South America, but they have spread far and are grown all over Asia.

I found them listed in my “Asian Grocery Store” book. They require a long growing season and are not ready until about frost time here in the South. I have seen them in the grocery recently. They look a bit like a turnip and are usually larger. Buy some if you can find them and give them a try. If you like them. then add them to your garden for next year.

Jicama, pachyrhizus tuberosus, a legume, is a tender perennial vine that grows to 20 feet. (Pronounce the J as an “H” – hi-ca-ma.) It is planted from seeds (not found in all seed sources so check around) and takes eight to nine months to produce the tubers. Dig the tubers after the plants have died back in the fall. They do not store well in the ground if there is a hard freeze. They do flower and can make a good cover for a fence or trellis. My source says to fertilize and keep watered, but they are more drought-tolerant than a lot of things in the vegetable garden. And I suspect fertilizer may give you more vine than you want!

The tubers are crispy and slightly sweet. They are often eaten raw. Peel off the brown skin and slice. In Mexico, jicama is often dipped raw in chili powder and/or lime juice and eaten as a crudité. They are more fibrous than water chestnuts but can be used as a substitute for them.

Jicama is a rich source of fiber, and a good source of potassium and Vitamin C. It is low in sodium, has no fat and a cup contains only about 45 calories.

Fresh whole roots should be stored in a dry place, no colder than 50 degrees. It can be stored for a month or two. Once sliced, keep in a plastic bag in the refrigerator where it can keep for about two weeks.

Get your veggies with a Jicama Salad

Mix together 3 medium fresh and shredded jicama, 1 sliced apple and ½ cup chopped pecans in a small bowl. Prepare the dressing by mixing in another bowl: ½ cup sour cream, ½ cup mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon fresh and grated lime peel, 2 teaspoon lime juice, 2 ½ tablespoons honey, ½ teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper and ¼ teaspoon marjoram. Thoroughly blend the dressing into the jicama mixture and chill before serving.

Another delightful jicama salad is taken from the book, Cooking from the Garden, by Rosalind Creasy.

Cool White Salad

Serves 6

tablespoons lime juice

¼ teaspoon cumin

Salt to taste

Freshly ground white pepper to taste

Pinch cayenne pepper

6 tablespoons light, extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped fine

1 large or 2 small jicamas

1 slice red onion, one-half sliced orange for garnish

In a mixing bowl combine lime juice, cumin, salt, white pepper and cayenne pepper. Slowly whisk in olive oil until dressing is emulsified. Add cilantro and mix again. Peel jicama and cut into thin, matchstick-size slices. Pour dressing over jicama and mix well. Garnish with onion and orange. Place salad in refrigerator to chill.

Jicama spears with lime juice and chili powder are a popular street snack in Mexico. Crunchy, tangy, tart and spicy all in one bite, they are refreshing on a hot day and have the bonus of being fat-free. This recipe, from The Gourmet Cookbook by Ruth Reichl, can be doubled.

Jicama and Cucumber Chili Spears

2 (½ -pound) pieces jicama, peeled and cut into 2 ½ -by-1/3-inch spears

1 seedless cucumber (usually plastic wrapped), halved lengthwise, seeded, and cut into 2½ -by-1/3-inch spears

4 teaspoons fresh lime juice

¼ teaspoon chili powder

Pinch of cayenne

1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

Toss all ingredients together in a bowl and serve.

Try this stir-fry:

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 /4 lb. jicama, peeled and julienned

2 tablespoons chopped red bell peppers

2 teaspoons olive oil

1/8 teaspoon paprika

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil, once hot, add the jicama, garlic and bell peppers, sprinkle with the paprika, salt and pepper. Sauté for five minutes, stirring frequently.

I just ran into this jicama appetizer in Saveur.

Thinly slice the jicama. Spread on a brunoise (diced finely and braised in butter) of potatoes and carrots. Sprinkle with a “confetti” of jalapeño.