January 13, 2010
I’ve always like jicama (pronounced HEE-kuh-muh), a starchy, slightly sweet root popular in Mexico. It looks like an ugly brown turnip (and is sometimes called Mexican turnip) and, when raw, has the crunchy texture of a firm pear or a raw potato. Until a few weeks ago, raw was the only way I’d ever had it, usually on a crudité platter or in a salad. It had never occurred to me that it could be eaten cooked—but there it was recently, on a restaurant menu, in a jicama and roasted red pepper risotto. I ordered it out of curiosity, and I was pleasantly surprised by how good it was. In the risotto dish it was diced into small pieces and retained some of its crunch, its texture providing a nice counterbalance to the creamy rice.
The experience made me wonder, what other creative ways are there to prepare jicama? It’s not the most nutritious vegetable, but it’s a good source of fiber, potassium and vitamin C.
1. In a Mexican fruit salad. In Los Angeles, where I grew up, Mexican street vendors sell fresh fruit—like mango on a stick—from push carts. But the best thing they offer is a delicious fruit salad, with some combination of chunks of mango, pineapple, jicama, watermelon and cucumbers, seasoned with lime juice and chili powder. The combination of textures and flavors is divine, and beats the heck out of the flavorless melon melanges so many places pass off as fruit salad.
2. Sautéed. I’m guilty of being pretty unimaginative with vegetable side dishes, rotating among a few standard steamed or sautéed veggies that my fiancé and I can agree on—broccoli, green beans, spinach (sadly, I have not found the recipe that will convert him to brussels sprouts—yet). Epicurious suggests a bright-sounding jicama and celery sauté that might enliven the rotation.
3. As a canapé canvas. Perhaps the most surprising recipe I found was one for jicama-date canapés, also from Epicurious. Again, something that never would have occurred to me, though reviewers said it was a cocktail-party hit and a refreshing palate cleanser. I imagine jicama wedges would make a great platform for all kind of toppings, including (judging from my risotto experience) a roasted red pepper spread.
4. In a stir-fry. Jicama has a similar texture to water chestnuts, so it makes sense that it would work well in an Asian stir-fry. Cut it into chunks and throw in anywhere you’d use water chestnuts, or try this Chinese stir-fry recipe at Cooking Crave (in China, apparently, jicama is known as yam bean). I would probably leave out the cuttlefish, mostly because I don’t know where I’d find them where I live, but otherwise it sounds delicious.
5. As mock green papaya. The only salad I might love more than Mexican fruit salad is Thai green papaya salad—the mixture of tangy, sweet, salty and crunchy is the best of all worlds. But where I live, far from an Asian grocer (and far, far away from the tropical climate that produces the fruit) the chances of finding anything but an overripe papaya are slim to none. As Mark Bittman points out, though, jicama makes a pretty good substitute (and travels a lot better than papaya).
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